Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Protein...It does a body good

After taking two gym classes yesterday (BodyStep and BodyPump) my legs felt a bit jello-y this morning. But despite that, I was still able to pull together a pretty good 4-miler...

This afternoon I'll try out that yoga class again at my gym. I think my muscles will enjoy the stretching!!

I've gotten a few questions recently about protein so I thought I would do a post today to explain a little about this very important nutrient.

Protein is an essential nutrient required by our bodies in order to maintain health and vitality. The primary function of protein is to build and repair body tissues and structures, like muscle, bone, and skin. Protein also has important satiety factors, helping you to stay more satisfied between meals.

Protein is made up of amino acids, the basic building blocks of cells. Your body MUST get these amino acids from the foods that you eat in the form of protein. If you fail to take in enough protein, your body will start to metabolize itself (breaking down muscle to provide the needed protein requirements.) And because your body doesn't have any way to store protein, this can start happening within 1-2 days of insufficient protein intake. Many people who want to lose weight, mistakenly cut way back on their protein intake as well as their overall number of calories. This will usually result in a loss of lean muscle mass, making a person weigh less, but giving them a "skinny-fat" appearance since they also lost the muscle mass that would have given them a leaner appearance.

Unfortunately, once that lean muscle mass is lost, it is hard to gain it back after a person is done dieting down. This is often the reason people will gain their lost weight back fairly quickly, they simply don't have the muscle mass and metabolism necessary to maintain the hard-earned weight loss. Getting enough protein in your diet while trying to lose weight ensures that you won't deplete your lean muscle mass while still enabling you to get rid of fat.

If you don't need to lose weight, protein is still essential for your overall health and well being since it is used to build and repair muscle tissue. If you don't have enough protein in your diet, you won't be able to see the effects of all those miles pounded, laps swum, or biceps curled!

So how much protein does a person need? Of course there are many factors that go into determining a person's protein requirement including age, gender, size and activity level. The minimum requirement is thought to be about about 1 gram for every .37 pounds of body weight. So a 130-pound sedentary woman needs a minimum of 48 grams of protein each day. Again this is the very MINIMUM. A basic rule of thumb for those who lead a more active lifestyle and engage in working out on a regular basis is to aim for about 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight (so a 130-pound active woman should aim for about 130 grams of protein each day.) This does get a bit tricky too because it has been found that your body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein at a time, hence the need for eating 5-6 times each day. I try to aim for 20-25 grams of protein at each meal. Obviously some meals are a bit less, and some a bit more, but if I can get that amount with each of my six meals, it puts me right where I need to be protein wise.

A lot of times when we think of protein, we think only of meat. And of course lean meats are a great source of protein, but there are a myriad of protein sources out there to choose from. Here's a list of some good dietary protein sources...

•Most cuts of beef (per oz)=7 g
•Chicken breast (3.5 oz)=30 g
•Pork loin or tenderloin (4 oz)=29 grams
•Ham (3 oz)=19 grams

•Most fish fillets or steaks (per oz)=6 g
•Tuna (6 oz can)=40 g

Eggs and Dairy
•Egg (large)=6 g
•Milk (1 cup)=8 g
•Cottage cheese (½ cup)=15 grams
•Yogurt (1 cup)=usually 8-12 g
•Soft cheeses (per oz)=6 g
•Medium cheeses (per oz)=7 or 8 g
•Hard cheeses (per oz)= 10 g

Beans (including soy)
•Tofu (½ cup)=20 g
•Soy milk (1 cup)=6-10 g
•Most beans (black, pinto, lentils, etc. per 1/c cup)=7-10 g

Nuts and Seeds
•Peanut butter (2 Tablespoons)=8 g
•Almonds (¼ cup)=8 g
•Peanuts (¼ cup)=9 g
•Cashews (¼ cup)=5 g
•Sunflower seeds (¼ cup)=6 g
•Pumpkin seeds (¼ cup)=8 g

Also, I have become a huge fan of Greek yogurt. It's thicker and creamier than regular yogurt and packs an amazing protein punch. Here's a comparison for you...

Light Yoplait Yogurt (Strawberry Shortcake Flavor)...

This 6 oz yogurt has 110 calories, 6g of protein and a whopping 15g of sugar (Plus it has lots of artificial sweetener it it too.)

In comparison, here's a 6 oz container of Chobani Nonfat Greek Yogurt... This Greek yogurt has 100 calories, only 7g of sugar and a whopping 18g of protein!!

(I do have to admit that the Yoplait yogurt is much better tasting than the Greek yogurt by itself, but combine the greek yogurt with a few berries, perhaps a bit of honey if you like it a little sweeter and some GoLean Kashi cereal (to add a bit of crunch!) and you have a complete snack packed full of antioxidants and protein!!)

Another good source of protein can come from protein powders. There are lots of different kinds on the market, with probably the two most popular kinds being whey and casein. Whey and casein proteins (the primary proteins found in milk) are both high-quality proteins meaning that they contain all the essential amino acids needed by your body. Whey is known as a fast protein because it is quickly absorbed and broken down by your body. This is why whey protein is best used after a hard workout to quickly replenish your depleted muscles. Casein is a slow protein, providing your body with a steady stream of amino acids over time. This is best used between meals (to help keep you fuller longer) and before bed so that your body can use this protein for muscle repair while you sleep.

I personally use this whey protein...

GNC Pro Performance 100% Whey Protein powdered drink mix

It has few ingredients and contains no artificial sweeteners (I try to avoid these when I can.) It can be costly, but I usually order it only when I can get a good deal online with free shipping and order multiple cans at the same time. I actually don't like this particular kind plain, but I love it when combined with a banana in a smoothie, in my morning oatmeal and in my protein ice cream too.

Talking Point: How do you feel about protein? Do you think you get enough of it during the day? What are your favorite sources of protein in your diet?


  1. WOW, That was So informational. I had NO idea. I am sure I definitely do not get enough protein. I think I am going to go buy that powder and I can drink that when I get home from basketball. I haven't ever heard about proteins. I just learned last year that you were suppose to get at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day and at least 25 grams of fiber. Man, if I strive to put the food in my body that I am suppose to have in me, there isn't room or need to put the junk inside. Thanks for all of this!

  2. Trying to get all the protein, fruits and veggies, and fiber in that I am suppose to have every day is hard. I am definitely thinking about what I am eating more. I went and bought a smaller thing of protein powder and just tried it in milk, sort of thinking it would be good and taste like chocolate milk. So...I was REALLy wrong about that. I definitely did not like it plain. Today I made a smoothie and put it in and it was SO yummy. I got my fruits in for the day, along with some fiber and protein. There were a lot of calories though. I am at least putting good stuff in my body.