Its no secret we lose muscle as we age. Our metabolism goes down and so does our lean muscle mass. There are many benefits to maintaining as much lean muscle as we can. Lean muscle will:
* Help maintain a strong metabolism at any age
* Increase physical strength and bone density
* Reduce the risk of injury
* Combat obesity
* Improve blood glucose and control insulin sensitivity
* Increase performance
* Improve energy
* Increase confidence
* Slow the process of aging
* Improve heart health (because you need to exercise to gain muscle!)
Strength training and proper nutrition (ensuring enough protein) is fundamental to building and maintaining as much lean muscle as possible. We all know protein is important but most people do not get enough of it! The RDA for protein is based on minimal needs for survival for sedentary adults. The RDA reccomendations are not based on thriving, exercising, or building muscle. So if you are only ingesting the recommeded daily allowance, you should probably increase your protein intake!
What else does the RDA not take into consideration? Essential Amino Acids with protein. There are over 20 amino acids that we need, 9 of these are essential amino acids that must be delivered to the body through food, in the form of complete proteins to be exact. Our bodies can not produce these 9 EAAs. So if we dont ingest them in adequate quantities our muscle protein synthesis suffers.
What is MPS (muscle protein synthesis)? In the very most simple terms (although it is not a simple process), MPS is the process of using protein to repair muscle damage from exercise/strength training. MPS occurs when we exercise and have enough protein and EAAs for muscle repair. You need both exercise and complete protein for MPS to occur. Complete protein is protein with the 9 EAAs mentioned above.
The opposite effect is of MPS is MPB (muscle protein breakdown). This happens naturally and intentionally when we exercise. We breakdown muscle tissue during strength training. However, ingesting 25-30 grams of protein immediatly after exercise will trigger MPS, and stimulate muscle growth and repair.
Our bodies need protein for more than just building muscle. Our bodies need protein to maintain muscle and for every day body function processes. At any point in time if our body does not have enough protein, our body will break down muscle tissue for its protein needs. Simply put, not ingesting enough protein (and the 9 EAAs) will minimize your lean muscle gains! Your body may even break down muscle faster than you can build it.
So how much protein should you eat? For the average person with a moderate activity, 85-100 grams is what I recommend. But, our body can not absorb more than 25-30 grams of protein every 2 -3 hours. Three is better. Two is ok if you have a lot of lean muscle. The more lean muscle you have, the more protein you need. You will see many food posts with meals or snacks in excess of 30 or 40 grams of protein! All the excess (above the 25-30 grams your body can absorb at one time) is just excreeted. Wasted. It is not used.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is super high protein meals (40 grams +), two times a day. In this scenario, the body is only absorbing 50-60 grams of protein, not 80 grams as most people beleive. Just because you eat it, it doesnt mean your body is going to be able to absorb it. It is more beneficial to eat 25 grams of protein, spaced over 3 meals, which totals 75 grams of absorbable protein.
A very easy to follow plan for most people is 25-30 grams of protein at each of your 3 meals. Add 2 snacks (we all snack) of 15-20 grams of protein during the day, all spaced 2-3 hours apart. Simple and easy to follow. If your snack can be 25-30 grams, great! If 15 grams is hard, aim for 10. Just try to include protein each time you eat and slightly increase the amount of protein you are eating now. Swap out empty calorie foods for nutrient dense foods with protein. This works for most people who want to be healthy and increase their lean muscle mass. Athletes and competitors, and those that exercise more intensely require even more!
Some of my favorite high protein snacks are greek yogurt (Fage 0% fat or Fit & Light), egg whites (omelettes), protein shakes, and protein bars. Be aware of calories in protein bars though. They can be very high!
Most proteins in their natural state, like anything else, are going to be better for the body and contain the 9 EAAs mentioned. Eggs, meats, etc.. but that does not mean processed protein is bad! My recommendation is to ingest as much clean protein as you can (meat, eggs, dairy, etc..) and supplement with processed protein as needed (protein bars, tofu, etc..). Its still protein, it still counts! I am a vegetarian and consume a lot of tofu.
Another good source of protein is shakes. Protein shakes are popuar and for good reason. They can be fortfied with vitamins, minerals and most importantly the 9 EAAs we need for MPS. They are also one of the best ways to get easily absorbable protein into your body quickly after exercising. However, dont assume all protein powders are equal! They are not. Many have added sugars, empty calories and only some of the 9 EAAs. When choosing a protein shake look for one that is low calorie, has plenty of milligrams of each of the 9 EAAs, and minimal added sugars. Also, make sure you enjoy the taste! Protein in its natural form is 4 calories per gram. So it is reasonable to find a shake that is around 120-130 calories and includes 25 grams for protein.
There are many types of protein available, but the very best for immediate post exercise consumption is a Whey Isolate Protein (if you consume dairy). An isolate protein is going to have most of the fat and lactose removed and be more easily absorbable. I can not stress enough how important it is to ingest 25-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes post exercise.
Although there are 3 macros we must consider in our diets, as well as many vitamins and minerals, this post is focused on protein needs. Protein will curb hunger and help build and maintain lean muscle. Protein will also help build, repair and create new cells in your body on a daily basis and after an injury or surgery. Protein also helps oxygenate your body through your red blood cells. The benefits of protein are endless! And one of the easiest things your can do to start taking better care of your body is giving it enough protein to thrive not just survive!
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