Protein: Your Secret Weapon for Fitness

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Two-thirds of the adult population in the United States is overweight, and 14 to 18 percent of our nation’s children are considered heavy or obese. While a balanced diet of carbohydrate, fat and protein is vital for proper nutrition, many people have a limited understanding of protein and simply assume it is derived from meat and should be eaten with dinner.

Proteins are comprised of amino acids and are essential components of every organ in the human body. Diets lacking enough protein cause the human body to cannibalize its own lean muscle mass and experience a weakened immune system, poor athletic performance, and inadequate recovery and fitness response.

It’s a myth that you need to get your complete protein from meat. While healthy ocean (not farm-raised) fish, free-range chicken, beef and even pork are all complete amino acid protein sources, it’s often not practical to eat these immediately after a workout, especially during the magical “30 minute post-exercise window” during which protein consumption is vital. Why is protein so important after hitting the gym? Resistance exercise breaks down muscle, and a fresh infusion of amino acids is required shortly after your workout to repair and rebuild muscle. “If you’re lifting weights and don’t consume protein within half-an-hour after your workout, it’s almost counterproductive,” says Ben Greenfield of Rock Star Triathletes. “Protein also helps build enzymes that allow your body to adapt to endurance sports like running and cycling.”

Consider using protein sources such as whey, rice, hemp or soy protein powder, all of which can be mixed in fruit, coconut water, regular water, almond milk, rice milk or soy milk and consumed as a post-exercise treat. Combined proteins, specifically from grains like whole wheat bread spread with almond butter, can also provide protein in the absence of meat. Other protein-packed snacks include hard-boiled eggs (19 grams protein for three eggs), chocolate milk (17 grams protein for 16 ounces), and Greek yogurt (15 grams protein for 5.3 ounces).

Protein should not be consumed prior to exercise. According to Greenfield, “Proteins will draw water and blood into the stomach and damage your exercise performance. Due to increased time of gastric emptying and digestion, complete proteins should be eaten at least two hours prior to a Spinning® class or other high intensity cardio workout. Proteins should only be consumed during a workout if an exercise session will last more than two hours, after which the body can begin to rely on protein as a fuel.”

How much protein should an average person consume? Most individuals will be just fine with 0.8 grams of protein per pound, but very active people or athletes may need as much as 1.2 grams of protein per pound. A moderately active, 140-pound woman needs about 112 grams of protein per day.

If you’re hungry throughout the day or feeling lethargic, your diet may be lacking in protein. Try increasing your intake to the recommended level, and you might actually lose weight because empty calories will be replaced with food that satiates you for a longer period of time. In other words, you’ll eat fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis — which promotes weight loss while keeping the muscle.

Barbara Hoots is a veteran Spinning(R) instructor at Tony’s Gym and a contributing columnist for Spinning News and Indoor Cycle Instructor Pro. She has designed award-winning studios for the U.S. Army, Half Moon Resort in Jamaica and numerous health clubs and universities. Visit her website at www.spinroomdesign.com.


toyavalon 3 years, 9 months ago

Are you available for consults?I am a 67 year old female and i really would like to know how to eat better.


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