Officially established in 1980 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Nutrition Month has been used as a vehicle by nutritionists, dieticians, and healthcare professionals to educate the public on the importance of proper nutrition to overall health. In addition to promoting general well-being, nutrition is incredibly important for athletes and individuals pursuing physical fitness.
One of the building blocks of an active lifestyle is protein. According to workout app Aaptiv, protein deficiency can be one of a few reasons you don’t see the muscle building progress you want, even if you’re living a fairly fit lifestyle. Check out the information below to learn more how protein impacts fitness, and see some of the best post-workout snacks to help your body repair and recover from an intense training session.
What is the impact of proper nutrition towards a healthy lifestyle?
Balancing the consumption of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) is essential for maintaining the overall health of your body, for weight management, and for having the energy you need to propel you through your workouts. Protein is especially important for optimum energy and recovery; this macronutrient plays a vital role in just about every process in the body, making it extremely important to be including protein-rich sources of healthy whole foods in your diet.
Proteins are large molecules made up of a smaller class of molecules called amino acids. There are a total of 20 amino acids, 9 of which you can only get from the foods you eat. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which play an incredibly vital role in the function of our bodies. They are essential for muscle and tissue synthesis, DNA replication, and the synthesis of enzymes and hormones. They are the building blocks of antibodies, which your immune system uses to fight off infection. Protein also helps to balance blood sugar, boost mood, and keep you feeling full and satiated.
What do proteins do for us before and after working out?
According to a study on nutrition and muscle protein synthesis by the Canadian Chiropractic Association, one important concept of the relationship between protein in nutrition and exercise is the balance of anabolism vs catabolism, also known as protein synthesis vs protein breakdown.
Muscles are constantly breaking down, or catabolizing, proteins. In order to maintain muscle mass, protein synthesis should be equal to the rate of protein breakdown. To gain muscle, protein synthesis must exceed protein breakdown. Following exercise, protein anabolism and catabolism are both present in the body, but if nutrition is absent after exercise (i.e., if you don’t intake more protein), protein synthesis reduces or stops altogether.
How much protein does the average person need versus an active person?
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of protein for a sedentary person is a modest .36 grams per pound of body weight, which is based off the guideline that one should get approximately 10-20% of their calories from protein each day. However, this recommendation is based on the minimum amount of protein suggested to keep from getting sick, and is not necessarily the amount one should be eating. Eating more than the RDI can be necessary and beneficial for those that are active or trying to lose weight.
As protein is the essential building block of the body’s muscle and connective tissue, the amount of protein you should consume differs depending on your activity level and whether you have goals for gaining or maintaining muscle. According to HealthTap doctor Dr. Dennis Giannini, “the optimal range of protein intake for an athlete trying to gain muscle is .72-.81 grams per pound per day. If your goal is to maintain muscle, the range is .54-.64 grams per pound per day.” For a 150-pound athlete attempting to gain muscle, this would mean an intake of 108-121.5 grams of protein per day. For a 150-pound person attempting to maintain muscle, this would mean an intake of 81-96 grams of protein per day. Resistance training, such as weightlifting, is much more effective with proper protein intake.
What are some signs that you’re not getting enough protein?
How can you tell if you are not getting adequate protein for your body? If you are not consuming enough of this macronutrient, you may exhibit specific symptoms that indicate you are deficient. According to HealthTap doctor Dr. Thomas Namey, some of the signs and symptoms to watch for are:
- Constant craving for carbohydrates
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Slow recovery from injuries
- Thin hair that falls out
- Brittle nails and ridges in nails
- Skin rashes and dry skin
- Feeling weak and tired
- Getting sick often
- Brain fog
- Fluid retention and swelling (edema)
Protein is essential to all of the body’s functions. HealthTap doctor Dr. Robert Kwok explains that protein is responsible for holding blood serum in the blood vessels, so when you don’t ingest enough, fluid can leak out and cause swelling (edema) in the face, ankles, legs, and feet. Without adequate protein, one also cannot make enough antibodies to fight of infections, making it hard to recover from illnesses and injuries.
Is it possible to eat too much protein?
Eating more protein than your body is capable of using will not cause you direct harm, unless you are suffering from a kidney disease. When protein is ingested, protein waste products are created, which the kidney helps to remove from the body. If you suffer from a kidney disease, eating too much protein can put unnecessary strain on the kidneys and impair their function.
According to Dr. Namey, even “if your liver and kidneys are healthy, and even if you are a competitive weightlifter or [more elite athlete], you only need at maximum 1 gram per pound of body weight. Any more than that is wasted.”
If you’re eating too much protein and too few carbohydrates for your body’s needs, there are some signs and symptoms that could indicate your diet is unbalanced and that you’re getting more protein than what you actually need. Some of these signs and symptoms include:
Increasing the amount of protein you ingest and cutting down on carbs could mean you’re not getting enough fiber, which aids in digestion and helps move things along. Fiber is also a prebiotic, which means that it fuels the probiotics of the gut, so an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria could also be contributing to constipation and digestive issues.
Carbohydrates help to spur the synthesis of serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, in the brain. If you are eating too much protein and too few carbohydrates, you may notice you have become moody and irritable.
- Bad breath:
When you eat a very high protein diet with very few carbohydrates, the body can enter into a state of ketosis. During ketosis, the body has basically burned through all of your stored carbs (glycogen) and is now burning fat for energy. As fat is burned for fuel, acetones are released that can give the breath a foul smell. Because this is not an oral hygiene issue, cleaning the teeth will not alleviate this problem.
Protein-rich snacks ideal for post-workout recovery
In order to enhance protein synthesis after a workout, getting in a quick protein-rich snack is key. Try some of the following snacks after an intense training session for a nutritious, healthy source of protein on the go!
- Greek Yogurt:
Greek yogurt is an excellent choice because it’s higher in protein than regular yogurts, and is full of probiotics for a healthier gut. It makes an excellent base for a blended smoothie and can also be used in dips and sauces.
- Hard-boiled Eggs:
Eggs are an incredibly versatile food, and are a healthy option whether they are fried, hard boiled, or scrambled. Rich in proteins and healthy fats, eggs are also full of additional nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin A, and iron. You can hard boil your eggs in advance, and set them aside for easy access post-workout.
- Trail Mix:
Trail mix is loaded with a variety of nuts full of healthy fats and protein, as well as dried fruits for added sweetness. Eat a handful after your workout, and try to pick a mix loaded with pistachios and almonds, since they have the highest protein content.
Aaptiv trainers also recommend mixing a protein powder into a smoothie chock full of fruits and vegetables for an additional boost of vitamins and minerals necessary for muscle recovery.
In conclusion, the body needs protein in order to survive and perform to its peak capabilities. It gives you the energy necessary to perform your best, has been shown to promote long-term weight loss, and it provides the body with countless other health benefits. In order to maintain a proper level of protein synthesis for your lifestyle, it’s important to consult a doctor or nutritionist and adjust your protein intake accordingly.