Remember the old 60’s show, Dragnet? At some point during each weekly episode, Sergeant Joe Friday would utter the now-famous phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am” whenever someone would was eloquent with a lot of unnecessary details. The phrase kept coming to mind when I was writing this article. When it comes to protein and exercise, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around. Let’s clear up any confusion on how to best utilize protein when it comes to exercise and building muscle. Therefore, today it’s protein – just the facts, ma’am.
The most common misconception I encounter is that you should “protein-up” (my invented term) before exercising. However, when you exercise, your body breaks down protein and protein production slows down. Your body also uses the carbohydrates it has stored, lowering your glycogen (form of energy storage) levels. Eating a protein-rich food after a workout will make sure your body has a positive protein balance, which is crucial for post-workout muscle recovery and growth.
Also, for about an hour after your workouts your body acts like a sponge as your muscles use stored nutrients to repair and build from the exercise. That is why it is important for you to have a quality source of protein immediately after exercising.
The second most commonly misunderstood fact about protein and exercise is the more the better. You’ll see all sorts of protein bars, shakes and other supplements advertising mega amounts of protein per serving. When you try to compare them all it can get confusing. Just how much do you really need? The good news is that your muscles only need about 10 – 30 grams of protein after a workout; it really just depends on the intensity and nature of your exercise. If you’re getting in a good walk, your protein intake only needs to be on the lower end of the scale. If it’s moderate intensity aerobics or resistance training, aim for mid-scale protein intake. High intensity aerobics, jogging or resistance training, you need the highest amount of protein.
Another issue with the bars, shakes and supplements that hawk high protein content is the cost. Per serving it can get pretty expensive. More good news – your muscles don’t care if the protein comes from a hard-boiled egg, a cup of yogurt, a handful of peanuts or a protein shake. After an intense workout, one of my favorite protein snacks is one cup of plain Greek yogurt with three tablespoons of peanut powder and some stevia to taste mixed in. I’m getting 30 grams of protein and it tastes very much like creamy peanut fudge. The point is you don’t have to buy the expensive protein bars, powders and shakes. You probably already have a good protein snack in your refrigerator.
If you exercise later in the day, it’s best to try to get your workout in before supper. You can then protein-up at your evening meal from whole foods such as meat, fish, milk, super grains or beans.
- If you do choose a protein bar, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One, read the ingredients. If you don’t know what the majority of the ingredients are and can’t pronounce them, leave it on the shelf. Two, check the amount of sugar. You should keep your sugar intake under 30 grams per day. If you eat a protein bar that has 10 grams of sugar, you’ve just taken in 1/3 of what you should have for the entire day.
- If you choose a protein powder to make at home or a pre-made shake, check the calories and sugar per serving. Many of them are high in calories and/or sugar. If you choose a powder and like to make them yourself, be sure to consider the calories and sugar you’re adding if you mix them with milk and add in fruit or yogurt.
Post-workout snack options
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons peanut powder, stevia to taste
- 1 hard-boiled egg
- ½ cup quinoa
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, blueberries/strawberries, sprinkling of cinnamon spread on ½ whole-wheat tortilla wrap
- 4 oz chicken or turkey, ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, lettuce and tomato in ½ whole-wheat tortilla wrap
Want more ideas? Email me at kim@inperfectunity and I’ll come up with some ideas tailored to your tastes!