Week 11: Protein – just the facts, ma’am

protein facts and exercise

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!

Week six: Super grains!

gluten free grains bowl abstract

If you’re familiar with the recent trend of farm to table, you’ve probably heard the buzz words “super grains” or “ancient grains.”  What are they, and, if they’re so super and ancient, why are we just hearing about them now?  As you’ve probably guessed by now, we’re going to answer that question in this week’s nutrition article!

Super grains are referred to as “super” because they’re powerhouses of nutrition.  And, as you’ll soon find out, some of them are not grains at all but seeds.  Ounce for ounce, they pack a solid punch when it comes to fiber, protein and a host of other good-for-you nutrients.  Occasionally you’ll also hear them referred to as “ancient.”  What this means is that they’re been around since ancient times and have changed relatively little or none at all.  They’re organic, haven’t been genetically modified, unrefined and there’s very little processing.  Why we’re hearing about them now is, due to the healthy lifestyle trend in recent years, they’re coming to the forefront as good alternatives to grains that are heavily processed.

Other than health reasons, there’s another reason that was a key factor to the almost disappearance of super grains in the United States.  Early in the 20th century, the public demand turned to quick, instant solutions for meals.  In turn, the food market industry put aside these super (ancient) grains in favor of wheat that was bred and modified for rapid growth and easier milling.  The new wheat was cheaper to manufacture and process, therefore much more profitable.  This lead to the super grains being put aside and the supermarket shelves were flooded with modern, highly processed (albeit much less healthy) wheat.  The kicker is that, for decades, very clever marketers have done a great job of convincing the general public of how healthy modern wheat actually is for you, when it’s so highly processed it can’t hold a candle to the super grains!

To those of you in marketing please don’t send me hate mail.  You’re only doing your job.  And, I’ll let you in on a secret – my full-time job is in that very same field!

We do need to address one more issue before we go into the health benefits of super grains.  Many people shy away from grains because they shudder at the very mention of a carbohydrate.  My advice to you is to immediately jump off of that brain-washing train.  For years diet marketers have convinced you that carbohydrates are evil and should be avoided at all costs.  However, your body needs carbs for energy and, the plain truth is, that the right kinds of carbs are very, very good for you.  Think about this:  Carbohydrates are the only source of energy your brain can use, as well as a source of energy to your body’s cells.  Grains are not the enemy; the key is choosing the right ones (i.e. unrefined and not processed).

While the list of super grains is long, we’re only going to focus on the top five that are easy to find at just about any grocery store.  I live in a very rural area and can find these at my local, run-of-the-mill grocery and super stores.  As an added bonus, if you can cook processed white rice and pasta, you can cook any of these grains.  Boil water, add grains, set a timer and go do something else until the buzzer goes off.  And why wouldn’t you do something that easy that is so incredibly good for you and your family vs. the highly processed, low nutrition, starchy carb, weight-gain-inducing rice and pasta?

Not only are the super grains ridiculously easy to cook, as mentioned earlier they’re pretty impressive nutritionally and packed with fiber and protein.  These two nutrients not only help you to stay fuller longer, they aid weight loss as well as weight maintenance, boost your energy levels and help to stabilize moods.

Now that we have that straight, let’s talk about a few super grains!

  1. Quinoa (keen-wah).  Quinoa is native to Bolivia and comes in white, red and black and is a nutritional powerhouse.  One cup contains 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 15 percent of your daily iron, 30 percent of your daily magnesium and 19 percent of your daily folate.  It also has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and – get this – is a complete protein by itself, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids.  Simply put, it’s a one-stop-shop when it comes to protein; you don’t need a meat protein with it unless you choose to!  It is small, similar to soft grits in texture and can be used in the place of rice and pasta.
  1.  Farro.  Farro can be traced back to ancient Egypt.  It has twice the protein and fiber than modern wheat.  One cup contains 10 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and 120 milligrams of magnesium.  It is rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients (antioxidant and immune system health), lignans (cancer prevention and promotes heart health) and betaine (promotes heart health and muscle gain).  The carbohydrates in faro are called cyanogenic glucosides, which stimulate the immune system, lower cholesterol and help to maintain blood sugar levels.  Slightly nutty and chewy in texture, farro is similar to a large grain of rice in size and is great in soups (doesn’t get mushy), salads and as a side dish.  It is the star of this week’s Unity recipe!
  1. Chia.  Yep, this is the same chia that was used years ago in the chia pets and chia heads ( I know, I know, I’m dating myself with that comment!).  However, other than the sprouting green pig I remember from my Grandma’s dining room, the black seeds are edible and extremely healthy.  Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica and dates back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures.  Unprocessed and considered a whole-grain food, one ounce has 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 18 percent of your daily calcium and a massive amount of nutrients with very few calories.  Chia seeds are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and have a high amount of anti-oxidant properties.  Though they have relatively little taste, they can be added to just about anything.  Blend in smoothies, sprinkle onto oatmeal and salads, bake into desserts, swirl into yogurt for a little crunch.
  1. Oats.  Oats are loaded with dietary fiber, which helps to reduce the risks of both heart disease and colon cancer.  The specific type of fiber in oats, beta-glucan, helps to lower the level of LDL (low-density lipid, or bad) cholesterol.  One cup has 8.2 grams of fiber and is high in manganese, selenium, magnesium and zinc.  Oats are also rich in carotenoids (antioxidant), vitamin E (antioxidant) and flavonoids (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties).  Oats are most familiar to us as a breakfast food, but can also be used in breads and sprinkled over salads.  However, remember to use whole grain instead of instant.  Instant is highly processed and a lot of the good-for-you stuff is gone!
  1. Flax.  Flax was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 B.C.  Both the seed and the oil are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, and fiber and help to reduce the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers.  Flax also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure and aids in controlling blood sugar.  Flax is slightly nutty in flavor and can be bought ground (flax flour) and in oil form.  If purchasing the oil, be sure it’s non-GMO and organic.  Add flour or oil to salads, cereals, oatmeal, smoothies, soups and yogurt.

Now that super grains have been demystified, be daring and try one of them this week.  Check out this week’s recipe, Unity’s Farro Salad!


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