It has been two months since we made our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get healthier, or whatever yours might have been. Are you still following your New Year’s resolution? Maybe not, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has conveniently dubbed March as National Nutrition Month. This year the theme is to Put Your Best Fork Forward. All this month I will be writing articles to help you put your best fork forward and continue your healthy living.
This week it’s all about protein. My husband and I have been concentrating on our protein intakes because he is trying to bulk up for a power lifting contest and I am just trying to maintain muscle mass and boost my metabolism. This has inspired me to share with you the importance of protein in the diet.
How much protein does a person need to consume? The Institute of Medicine recommends between 10 percent and 35 percent of our calories should come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet this is 50-175 grams. For those who don’t eat 2,000 calories let me save you some math, aim for about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
When should I consume protein for best results? Research shows that Americans eat 42 percent of their daily protein at dinner and 16 percent at breakfast. Recent studies have confirmed that peak muscle syntheses occurs at about 20 grams of protein. This demonstrates that we should be eating approximately 20 grams of protein per meal evenly throughout the day. To promote healthy aging and help reduce age related muscle loss we may need closer to 30 grams. To help visualize this a 3-ounce chicken breast is about 25 g and 1 egg is 6 grams. This peak muscle synthesis research demonstrates that more protein does not necessarily mean more muscle mass. One research study proved that there was a 50 percent increase in muscle syntheses with both four ounces of beef and 12 ounces of beef. So higher intakes don’t really provide any extra benefit. My recommendation for eating protein should be around 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal. Ensure this amount is equal throughout the day or you could be wasting valuable protein.
Should I increase calories from protein? If weight loss is your goal reducing calories is the only way to achieve weight loss. This reduction can occur through what you eat or burn during exercise. Increasing calories from protein might cause you to gain weight. But increasing the percentage of calories from protein while reducing the calories from other nutrients may aid in weight loss and help control your appetite. Protein and fat both play an important role in helping you feel full longer. Making a science story short, the quicker your food is converted to glucose the quicker you get hungry. Carbohydrates are very quickly converted to glucose or sugar in the body, causing you to feel hungry and need more food. Protein and fat both have many steps to go through before they are converted to glucose so it takes longer for them to move through your system, allowing you to stay full longer. This longer process also keeps your blood sugar levels steady reducing the trigger to eat.
Proper protein consumption in conjunction with 150 minutes of physical activity a week, should increase your lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have the higher your metabolism. Put your best fork forward by adding some protein to your breakfast and lunch. This can be easily done by having a fruit smoothie or bean and egg breakfast burrito. For lunch add a lean chicken breast or garbanzo beans as a topping to a salad with a side of cottage cheese. You will be amazed with how just a little protein goes a long way in helping you feel full.
Monica Nagele is the County Extension Director and educator of health and human science for the Montgomery County Purdue Extension.