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Becoming A "Pro"tein At This

Hello again! I hope you all were able to take time off to celebrate with family and friends last week. Thank you for tuning in and as promised, this blog will cover the topic in the title above. What is it, how much do we need, when is the best time to eat it, and why is it important to us? All this and maybe a couple surprises are in store as together we become experts and conquer the subject of protein. Protein...what is it exactly? For most of you, when you hear the word, you most likely think of bars, cookies, powders or shakes that surround us in gyms, health food stores and supermarkets across the country. Ranging from 12-30 grams of protein per serving, these products are readily available and sold almost everywhere. Since becoming hugely popular, consumers are purchasing them by the box or case. But do we know what we are actually buying? Keep reading to find out. By definition, the macronutrient protein, which is derived from the Greek word "protos," is actually large branches or chains of amino acids that serve as building blocks in muscle tissue and obtained primarily from animal sources. There are numerous amino acids and each one serves a specific purpose. They all work together, similar to how our muscles do, to supply our bodies with all the necessary ingredients for survival. However, the majority of these amino acids are not synthesized in the body so they must be obtained from outside sources (either animal or plant based). While most protein comes from eggs, fish, poultry and red meat, some plants also provide it. In a vegan or vegetarian diet, legumes, nuts, pea, soy and whey also contain protein and when combined with fibrous grains make a complete protein. For example, in the Hispanic and Latin American cultures, many meals are served with rice and beans on the side. While this tradition may seem like a lot of potentially unnecessary extra calories, putting these two foods together gives us almost as much protein as a quarter pound hamburger patty just without all the cholesterol and saturated fat. Other products such as kale, quinoa and tofu are excellent ways of getting protein without overdoing calories. As we learned earlier in part of its description, protein is a building block of muscle tissue. Keeping this in mind, when we exercise we create microtears in the muscle fibers (called myofibrils). In order to reconstruct new muscle, protein is essential for the healing process. During this phase of muscle growth, the amino acids found in protein are responsible for the development of "scar tissue" which essentially is stronger myofibrils. This is why when someone tears a muscle (such as a hamstring or quadriceps), and has recovered, that muscle will not tear in the same spot again. The same principle applies to bone, but I will go over that in a future post because different nutrients are used in those cases. Knowing what protein does for us, it stands to reason that consuming it is best done after an intense workout for maximum benefit. That is not to say that you shouldn't eat a little bit before you go to the gym, just understand that in most cases, your body won't use large amounts until it is needed. Of course, there are exceptions like bodybuilders, laborers, professional athletes and/or those who have very physical jobs, but normally eating bacon, eggs and sausage or a three egg omelet before working out defeats the entire purpose of what you're attempting to accomplish. So how much protein do we need on a daily basis? Well, that is a really good question and, like in many of my other blogs, it does vary slightly from one person to the next and quite drastically for the specific individuals listed in the previous paragraph. Regardless of what protein you choose to implement into your meal plan, most people need 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Certain instances such as heavy lift days and pregnancy require more while people with kidney problems should eat less. In any case, make sure that your protein consumption doesn't make up more than 35% of your total calories. Reading nutrition labels can help immensely in balancing your macronutrients outside the gym and keeping you as fit as possible when you're in it.

Lastly, studies have shown that eating protein makes a person feel full, reducing the incidences of excessive snacking. For this reason, a slight increase above the RDA may actually aid in weight loss. With the exception of the special incidences listed previously, be careful to not add additional saturated fat or exceed 1.2 grams per serving. Yes, sometimes there is too much of a good thing, especially if you suffer from kidney ailments.

Although this series discussing the three main macronutrient groups is coming to a close and we have simplified a complex subject, gotten the skinny on fat, and become a "pro"tein on amino acids, there is one more very vital topic to cover that really doesn't fit into this or any other category for that matter. It is often overlooked in nutrition textbooks and is put into a class all by itself, but is just as important (if not more) than the ones I have included the last three weeks. Any guesses as to what this substance might be? Sorry, no hints this time. Put your thinking caps on or join me in two weeks to find out more...

Until next time, remember during the holiday season it is more crucial than ever to be proactive so get up, get out, and get moving. We'll chat again soon...

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