HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU REALLY NEED?

 

 

This energy nutrient builds and repairs muscle after your workout, but studies are now linking too much protein to health dangers.  So now what?

 

It’s no big secret that protein is crucial for us.  It contains essential amino acids that help create muscle, maintain bone health and keep blood pressure in check.   This nutrient can also keep you slim.  Protein is slower to digest than carbohydrate, so a relatively small amount will help keep you full for hours, plus your body actually burns calories in order to digest and use it.   There seems to be a clear-cut case for the benefits of protein, but here is where things get complicated.  A growing body of evidence indicates that you can have too much of a good thing.  High amounts of protein can increase your level of growth hormone, insulin, and TOR (Target of Rapamycin), an enzyme that accelerates aging, all of which may promote tumor growth.  Loading up on protein can also increase your risk for heart disease. The key words in this research are animal protein.  Scientists are finding that the type of protein that you eat can make all the difference.  A higher intake of red meat, especially processed red meat, was associated with cancer and cardiovascular death.  (Note that meat lovers were also less likely to be physically active and more apt to have a poor diet overall.)   Eating less-processed types of protein was linked to a lower risk of mortality.

 

To get the benefits of protein, you should focus on lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, but eat high-fat and processed meats sparingly if at all.  Plant proteins can provide all the amino acids and other nutrients your body needs, so include beans, nuts, seeds and vegetables throughout your day, especially if you’re limiting or eliminating sources of animal protein.  Now that you know what sources of protein to eat, how much you should you aim for without going overboard?  The recommended dietary intake is .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, meaning that a 140 –pound woman requires at least 50 grams a day, an amount that most women easily hit.  But that’s the absolute minimum, the lowest amount you should consume to prevent deficiency.  Most people need more for optimal health and muscle maintenance.  This is especially true for individuals who exercise regularly, because their bodies require extra protein to build and repair muscle.  Active individuals should aim for .5-.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  Eat some protein at each meal and snack rather than consuming most of it at dinner, which is what many people do.  Your body is breaking down muscle all day long.  Eating the bulk of your protein at dinner can’t make up for the damage that occurred earlier.  Plus, your body can utilize only so much of the nutrient at once.  When you eat a day’s worth in a single sitting, some of it goes to waste.  Try for about one third of your needs during the morning (breakfast and snack), one third through lunch and mid-afternoon, and one third at dinner time.  Make sure to have a protein-rich meal or snack after your workout to boost muscle recovery.  You don’t have to chow down within 30 minutes of your sweat session to get the benefits.  If you can’t grab something right away, it’s fine to wait up to 2 hours to eat.

 

Lesley Rotchford