By Jill Lane, Pro-Athlete Health and Nutrition Expert www.JillLane.com
Protein comes from the Greek word meaning “of first importance,” which seems appropriate once you consider its numerous functions. Here are a few things protein (and its components known as amino acids) do for our health; support tissue repair, provide building blocks for mood chemicals, provide components for energy production and mitochondrial health, support muscle maintenance, signal new muscle growth (AKA protein synthesis), signal hormone cascade so fat can be let out of storage to be burned for fuel (if insulin levels are ‘normal’) and on and on.
Whereas higher-carbohydrate meals can spike and crash your blood sugar (unless you immediately use it for fuel, or are using it to recover from a long duration athletic endeavor), leaving you lethargic and hungry a few hours later, protein gives you slow, sustained energy that helps you run that last mile after your pasta-loading friend conked out.
Why protein is your best weapon to maintain and gain muscle, speed recovery, fight fat and boost performance:
Numerous studies prove protein superior to help you get lean, muscular, and in peak shape. One in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Link: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/164699777) for instance, showed that a high-protein breakfast suppressed your hunger hormone ghrelin better than a high-carbohydrate breakfast. Simply put, you stay fuller longer when you eat protein with breakfast.
You can try this for yourself. Eat a bagel (or any other ball of sugar…muffin, bowl of cereal…) with a banana and orange juice, and notice how you feel a few hours later. Odds are you’re lethargic, mentally foggy, and craving a late-morning snack. (Then again, maybe you shouldn’t try this yourself and just take my word!)
On the other hand, a protein-packed breakfast gives you slow, steady energy all morning (and workout and game for that matter). You don’t have that morning or mid-game crash, and the warm doughnuts your favorite co-worker brought to the office don’t tempt you as much.
Other studies confirm a higher-protein diet helps you burn fat, stay full, build muscle, and sustain energy (Links: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15466943, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175733 and www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18769212)
Why is protein so important?
If you recall your high school biochem textbook, you’ll remember your body breaks down protein into amino acids, which serve numerous functions including recovery and repair. Amino acids help build antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and many other structures (like muscle) that help your body function. Shortage of just one amino acid will limit production of these crucial molecules. Protein consumption should be taken seriously. How do you find out how much of it to eat each day? Athletes and parents of, I give you the exact formulas I teach my athlete clients in my FREE videos located at www.JillLane.com…non-athletes can start with at least 20 grams of protein at each meal and maybe 1 snack.
You can’t store protein, so you need a continuous supply coming in at every meal. In other words, don’t think you can just eat a big protein-based breakfast and (literally) call it a day.
Smart protein sources:
- Grass-fed beef and bison
- Wild-caught salmon and other non farm raised fish
- Free-range poultry
- Organic, pasture-raised eggs (if you don’t have egg sensitivities)
- Greek yogurt (if you don’t have dairy intolerances)
Getting enough protein as a vegetarian or vegan can be a challenge. Many people rely on soy, which is low in the amino acid methionine (not to mention that some literature suggests that regular soy consumption may negatively impact thyroid health and lower testosterone-not optimal for athletic performance and recovery). You can derive some amino acids from quinoa, lentils, beans, and raw nuts, although they don’t always pack the same health punch of animal protein (for more check out this former blog of mine 8 Strategies for Peak Vegan/Vegetarian Athletic Performance)
Protein powders are popular for athletes. I highly recommend you skip soy protein based powders and instead choose either a high-quality whey or pea/rice blend. Avoid those warehouse mega-tubs of protein powder, which are loaded with junk (artificial sweeteners and colorings and toxic fats), and buy a professional-grade powder. If you’re vegetarian or otherwise not getting optimal protein, you might also want to supplement your meals with a high-quality pea/rice protein or amino acid blend (I use VegaLite and Amino Acid Complex by Thorne).
Optimal protein throughout your day:
A protein smoothie, in fact, makes the ideal breakfast. Simply load high quality pea/rice/whey powder with berries, ground yellow flaxseeds, and coconut milk for a fast, filling protein-rich meal that will keep you full while your co-workers are having those late-morning sugar crashes.
Incorporating protein into lunch and dinner meals is a snap. A salad loaded with chicken and sliced egg, for instance, makes an ideal lunch. Or roll a rice wrap with nitrate-free turkey. For dinner, try athlete and kid-friendly favorites made healthy, such as almond-crusted baked chicken fingers and grass-fed beef sliders (you can make these minus the bun by using lettuce or GF buns).
If you’re an athlete, you’ll probably also need a few snacks to boost stamina and achieve your protein requirements. My favorite protein-rich snacks include hard-boiled eggs, sliced grilled chicken, plain unsweetened Greek yogurt (not the loaded-with-sugar fruit-on-the-bottom stuff!), nitrate-free jerky, and of course protein shakes.
Another favorite is apple slices with almond butter. The protein and good fat in the almond butter will buffer out the apple’s sugar and give you sustained energy to be on top of your game 24/7.
© 2014 Lane Consulting, www.JillLane.com
Blom WA, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):211-20.
Brehm BJ, et al. Benefits of high-protein weight loss diets: enough evidence for practice? Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2008 Oct;15(5):416-21.
Clifton PL. Long-term effects of a high-protein weight-loss diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jan;87(1):23-9.
Halton TL, et al. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85.