We’ve all gotten the finger-wagging lecture about protein from fitness trainers. Their demands for more of it leave us picturing a Henry VIII turkey leg in one hand and a dumbbell in the other. Many of us already eat meat, so what are they talking about?
Protein provides us with amino acids, the “building blocks” of our bodies. Something (muscle, tissue repair, enzymes, hormones, hair) needs building? Amino acids do the job. Now imagine trying to build a skyscraper, but the concrete trucks aren’t arriving on time. That’s your body waiting on protein.
Nutritional recommendations on protein intake can be confusing, especially with messages flying at us from 100 different directions, many of those messages conflicting.
USDA guidelines make recommendations based on percentages, but textbooks base it on body weight. USDA guidelines also assume a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, which may or may not be comparable to yours. Some diet gurus believe in “high protein,” and some say you can get by on significantly lower amounts.
I prefer to calculate (yes, I said calculate; math is coming) protein needs based on body weight. Sedentary people are encouraged to get 0.8 g/kg body weight per day. Don’t freak out, you don’t need a slide rule to do this. Just grab a calculator. Divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert your weight to kilograms. Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8. Voila — that’s how much protein a sedentary person needs each day.
If you resistance train regularly or are an endurance athlete, your protein needs can range from 1.2 to 1.8 g/kg body weight. Repeat the calculation above but swap the 0.8 for your protein amount. Easy stuff, right?
Now, where do you get that protein? Start thinking “Where’s my protein?” in each of your meals and snacks. Add lean meats, eggs, dairy, beans, grains and nuts.
Don’t forget that protein has calories (4 per gram to be exact). You can gain weight eating too much of anything. Keep an eye out for fat that might be along for the ride, like in a marbled steak or in cheese.
To avoid overeating, keep a daily tally. You might find you need to swap some of your fat and carbohydrate calories for protein. After a bit of time, you’ll find the balance of foods that works for you. And if you’re having trouble, a round or two with a registered dietician can help.
You’ll have to be vigilant at first. Our typical, eat-on-the-go foods tend to be heavy on carbs and fat, and lighter on protein. But your efforts will pay off. The body’s internal construction crew will get the needed supplies and materials from your improved diet, and you’ll get your skyscrapers in the form of muscle, tissue and hormones.
• Shannon Sorrels is an NSCA-certified personal trainer and owner of Physix LLC in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 428-5660 or www.azphysix.com