Lately, fads like the “If it Fits Your Macros” diet have insisted we eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This is terrible advice. The actual recommended daily allowance of protein for most adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram (roughly 0.4 grams per pound) of body weight. For physically active adults, the most protein needed is about 1 - 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight (for a rough approximation, divide your weight by two).
While high-protein diets like the Zone and Atkins diets do frequently lead to short-term weight loss, it is important to keep protein intake within the recommended range: 10-35% of total calories. Diets with more protein than this are often unbalanced, leaving out entire food groups and failing to meet vitamin, mineral, and fiber needs. Also, diets high in animal protein have been shown to increase the risks of kidney problems, osteoporosis, and some cancers.
What about protein intake immediately before and after workouts? Emphasizing carbohydrates before a workout is the best way to ensure you have enough energy to get the most out of your exercise session, while emphasizing protein after your workout will help rebuild muscles. It’s best not to have that protein smoothie in the morning before going to the gym because protein takes a long time to digest and can cause discomfort during exercise.
Who May Need More Protein?
The following groups may need more than others:
- Elderly individuals
- Obese individuals following a medically-supervised very low calorie diet
- Individuals with chronic inflammation, infection, or a recent trauma/injury
- Competitive athletes (such as professional athletes and Olympic athletes)
Although many people associate dietary protein with eating meat, it can also be found in dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, and many whole grains. Remember, many plant foods are wonderful sources of protein, and they are also higher in fiber, lower in saturated fat, and generally less expensive than animal protein sources. Try incorporating these plant-based proteins in your diet:
- Beans and legumes: Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, and other beans and legumes are excellent sources of protein. With so many varieties to choose from, it’s easy to find your favorites and incorporate them into your weekly meals.
- Nuts and seeds: These are great sources of protein, healthy fats, and many vitamins and minerals. Toss them with some fresh or dried fruit or yogurt for a filling, nutritious afternoon snack.
- Soy products: Edamame, tofu, and tempeh are packed with protein. They also contain other important nutrients, like fiber, healthy fats, and B vitamins.
- Grains: Although we think of grains as carbohydrate foods, they also contain small amounts of healthy fat and a healthy dose of vegetarian protein. Check out our Lunch N’ Learn presentation on whole grains July 15th for more information on these nutritional powerhouses.
During strength training, you'll want to inhale during the eccentric phase of the movement, and exhale during the concentric phase. Don't worry, that's not as complicated as it might sound. Briefly:
- The concentric phase of an exercise is the phase during which a muscle shortens in order to exert force. In a biceps curl, the biceps muscles in the front of the arm contract and shorten as you bring the weight up toward the shoulder.
- By contrast, the eccentric phase is that during which the muscle elongates, resisting a force that's applied against it (such as gravity.) During the eccentric phase of a biceps curl, you lower the weight back down, the muscle still maintaining tension to control the weight against gravity.
So to put that into simpler terms, concentric is the "work" phase, and eccentric is the "return" phase. So you want to exhale through the "work" phase, using steady controlled breathing. Then inhale as you return to the start of your movement. Back to the biceps curl, inhale before you begin, exhale as you lift the weights, then inhale again as you lower them. Exhale=work, inhale=release.
How structured do your breaths need to be? Should you count them? Probably not. Breathing comfortably is important, so pace yourself accordingly. Before you begin a strenuous activity, such as lifting (whether it's dumbbells in the gym or the sofa in your living room), "warm up" by practicing a few proper breaths, exhaling as you mentally rehearse the movement to come.
But what if you do it backwards? Don't worry! Breathing is better than not breathing. So above all, just be sure you're doing it!