I haven’t written about protein for awhile, and it’s coming up a lot for me lately in my day-to-day work, so I’m here to share the good news about protein! Lol, ok, let’s ground this in some details & facts. But first, a little story.
I used to think protein was just for bodybuilders – bulky people in pursuit of every gram of advantage, who broke their day down into tedious portion management and drank 3 shakes a day. However, when I was doing a lot of weight lifting, I experienced protein hunger, and it was shocking. It was 2am and I was unable to sleep, until I went to the kitchen and devoured an entire can of tuna, straight from the can. Sleep returned almost immediately. Night after night, my sleep was disrupted as my body tried to do its work with hardly any of the raw materials needed. I barely made the connection between the hours I was spending working out with heavy weights, and that powerful hunger for protein.
In our culture of teaching through selling, this is common. We don’t know a lot about exercise/nutrition/weight management, unless someone’s trying to sell us something related to it. I’m not ashamed to admit that, at the time, women were strongly discouraged from gaining weight even if they were getting stronger and healthier, and I had only ‘educated’ myself about pre-workout supplements (in the 90s, these were mostly just stimulants, like caffeine and ephedra, but at unhealthy levels). So, as I got stronger and lifted more, the nightly urge to find anything protein-dense would keep me from sleeping, and in the daytime, I was not informed enough to do research, find a nutritionist, or even a coach. I just stumbled along with this situation until I moved to a different city & didn’t have a local gym, and gave up working out totally.
Fast forward a bit – 20 years – and I now see very clearly how lack of information can keep a person from achieving their goals. So here’s the information you may find useful about protein & you.
Note: if you have any questions about customizing your exact nutrient levels, talk to your doctor. If they’re not helpful, search for a nutritionist. If you have any issues with digestion, kidney function, etc, this is a perfect time to get the medical details on your own health that will help you make the best decisions, NOT after you’ve gotten yourself into some avoidable situation. Involve your doctor in your health & if you don’t like your doctor, find another one.
How much protein do you need? Here’s some quick facts from the ACSM:
There is a modest recommendation of 0.8 grams per kilo of body weight, largely driven by activity levels (and most Americans are more sedentary than they should be). This recommendation comes from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, this is a recommendation for the under-50 crowd. As we age, our protein needs actually increase, and the recommendation for a very active person approximately 50+ is 1.2 – 1.7 grams per kilo. How do you figure that out? It’s pretty simple. Just divide your weight in pounds by .453592 and there you go!
Ok, if you perceived that it’s roughly half, you get a gold star – just halve your weight & that’s your minimum protein level for maintaining muscle.
We’ll talk about sources of protein next time, with some tips for spreading portions out throughout the day.
Hope this helps you in your fitness journey!