Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The most effective way to eat protein
Athletes need protein for a variety of reasons, but muscle recovery and muscle building are the two most important. Unfortunately, athletes can get so fixated on just "eating more protein" that they hurt their exercising body more in the process. To most effectively meet your body's protein needs, follow these steps....
1. Choose well
The first rule of protein intake is choosing great sources of protein. Athletes need to focus on lean proteins that offer the body clean protein without extra sodium and saturated fat. Some examples include:
-skinless chicken or turkey breast
-broiled or baked pork or fish
-non-fat or low-fat dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese
-nuts and nut-only nut butters
-beans and lentils
-protein-rich grains such as quinoa
-when needed: pure whey protein powder (nothing else added)
2. Time well
The key to muscle recovery or building is timing of protein intake. Most athletes need to take in from 10-20gm protein within the first 30 minutes post-workout depending on their workout. In addition, the muscle thrives on a constant supply of protein. So separate your protein intake throughout the day - or every 3-4 hours. Athletes often struggle with getting adequate protein at breakfast and need to cut down on too much protein at dinner. A deck of cards worth of animal meat is already 25-30 gm protein, so be weary of portion size. Around 20-30 gm of protein at meals and 10gm protein at snacks is typically a good rule of thumb, though individual needs vary.
3. Combine well
While protein is important for muscle, view carbohydrate as the key that opens the door to the muscle and assists with the process. Therefore, avoid eating protein alone if your goal is muscle recovery or building. For example, instead of a pure protein powder shake post-workout, add a large banana. Instead of a snack of just almonds, add a handful of dried fruit. Think of eating about twice as much carbohydrate as protein at each sitting.
4. Don't overdo it
I mentioned the importance of portion size in point #2, but I will emphasize to not overdo it when it comes to protein intake. I have had multiple athletes who - in an effort to build muscle - started downing protein shakes and bars throughout the day, thinking that would lead to muscle gain. After body composition assessment, it revealed that their weight gain was mainly fat instead of the muscle they were hoping for. Appropriate protein is good but too much is just too much. Extra calories to an extreme lead to fat storage. If you are not sure if you are overdoing it with protein, it is time to see a sports RD who can evaluate your body's needs for your activity level and goals and get you on track.
Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artbystevejohnson/