The Power of Protein

Laura Brieser-SmithProtein is a very important nutrient. Your body uses it as energy, as well as for many other functions, such as the creation of new body tissues (for example, skin and muscle); building enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters; and regulation of acid/base and fluid balances. Recent research shows how important protein is not only for building muscles but also for maintaining them as we get older.

Loss of muscle mass and strength, also known as sarcopenia, can be part of normal aging. This can also occur with athletes of all ages who stop training. Normally these changes in muscle start when people are in their 30’s and continue all throughout the rest of life, with the loss becoming more pronounced when people reach their 70’s and beyond. For many older adults this can become a vicious downward spiral. As muscle is lost, physical activity levels decline, which leads to further loss of muscle. Other consequences of muscle loss include bone loss; drop in metabolism; accumulation of abdominal fat; and development of type 2 diabetes, hyperten­sion, and high cholesterol. Of course, just sitting around and eating a lot of protein is not going to build muscle; muscle-building physi­cal activity (such as resistance training) is a must!

The question is how much protein should you consume each day to maintain muscle mass and optimal health? While each person is different, the research shows that consuming 0.45-0.59 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day is a safe and adequate amount to meet the needs of healthy adults who engage in some type of regular physical activity. However, it is not just the amount that is critical, but the timing of protein intake, as well. Evidence suggests that there is an upper limit on how much protein can be used for muscle synthesis at a time. Take in more than that and your body can not use it. Take in less and you may not be getting enough to promote muscle synthesis. It appears that 25-30 grams of protein is the “magic” amount to consume in one sitting. It is also important to consume protein shortly after completing a resistance training workout to promote optimal muscle repair and recovery.

The last piece to consider is where does one get protein? While most foods have at least a trace of protein, the best sources are meats, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. For example, each ounce of meat provides approximately 7 grams of protein, as does ½ cup of legumes, 1 ounce of cheese, and 1 ounce of nuts or seeds. One cup of milk contains 8 grams and 1 cup of regular yogurt contains 12 grams (Greek yogurt contains more).

Laura Brieser-Smith, MPH, RD, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign@aol.com.

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