You just finished with an intense weightlifting session. You can barely walk or maybe you can barely lift your arms. You think, “I am really going to feel this tomorrow!” Recovery is a very important part of working out that is sometimes overlooked. Stretching, foam rolling, drinking water, and EATING FOOD are all necessary parts of the recovery process. Protein is very important, especially after exercising, because it is used to repair and build muscles and tissues.

During exercise, muscles and tissues are broken down due to all the work they were just put through. By eating protein, the body can repair more quickly and even repair better to make you stronger or faster! It is important to note that consuming too much protein throughout the day can be potentially harmful to the kidneys. This is because the body does not have an efficient way to store excess protein, so the kidneys do extra work to breakdown the excess protein.

The take home message is to eat lean sources of protein throughout the day, especially after exercise. When eating a carbohydrate, pair a protein source with it to help keep you full longer!

The science breakdown

Okay… this part is for all you science people! Protein is made up of 22 amino acids, each with its own job. These amino acids link together in different formations to make various proteins, which then perform specific jobs in the body. Out of the 22 amino acids, nine are essential and the other 13 are nonessential. Nonessential amino acids are produced by our bodies. Neat, huh?! Essential amino acids must be ingested because the body cannot make them. How do we get all nine of these essential amino acids in our diet? By eating protein-rich foods, of course!

Okay, they’re essential. But are they complete?

Additionally, there are foods that are considered either complete or incomplete proteins. Complete proteins provide the body with all the nine essential amino acids, and do not need to be complemented by other protein-containing foods. These proteins are usually found in animal sources, including meats, fish, eggs, and dairy. Incomplete proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids. In order to get all 9, the food must be eaten with foods that contain the other amino acids to complete the amino acid chain.  Most of these types of proteins are found in plant sources such as grains (such as rice, wheat, barley), legumes, nuts, and beans.  These incomplete proteins can often be paired together to form a complete protein. Some examples of meals are beans and rice, hummus and whole grain pita, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter on whole grain toast, and lentils and rice.  There are plenty of other examples, so if you are interested, feel free to search for some more ideas!

It is good to eat a variety of protein containing foods for a well balanced diet.  However, some are better than others.  It is best to eat lean sources of meat as the primary source of protein.  These include fish, turkey, chicken, low-fat diary, and eggs.  Certain meats should be eaten more in moderation due to their high saturated fat content.  Some of these include beef, pork, and high-fat dairy.  If consuming a diet with little or no meat, it is important to get protein from plant sources by pairing up the plants to form complete proteins.

Here are some ways to get the correct amount of protein in your diet.

  1. Protein intake is important whether you are trying to gain some muscle, lose some weight, or maintain what you already have. According to the RDA, it is recommended to eat 0.4 grams per pound or 0.8 grams per kilogram of protein per day to maintain muscle mass. However, newer research is showing that closer to 1.0 gram per kilogram of protein may be more beneficial. Research shows there is no scientific evidence to support that consuming more than 2 grams per kilogram of protein is beneficial. Here is a table that outlines protein recommendations for adults.

 

Gram of protein per pound of body weight Gram of protein per kilogram of body weight
Current RDA for sedentary adult 0.4 0.8
Recreational exerciser, adult 0.5-0.7 0.8-1.5
Endurance athlete, adult 0.6-0.7 1.2-1.6
Growing teenage athlete 0.7-0.7 1.5-2.0
Adult building muscle mass 0.7-0.8 1.8-2.0
Athlete restricting calories 0.8-0.9 1.8-2.0
Estimated upper requirement for adults 0.9 2.0
Average protein intake of male endurance athletes 0.5-0.9 1.2-2.0
Average protein intake of female athletes 0.5-0.8 1.1-1.7

Table adapted from Clark, N. (2014). Nancy Clark’s sports nutrition guidebook. Fifth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

  1. Here’s how to calculate it.
    1. Weight in pounds x protein factor = grams protein per day
    2. Weight in pounds / 2.2 = weight in kilograms x protein factor = grams protein per day
    3. Example 1: 180 pound adult male, building muscle mass
      1. 180/2.2 = 81.82 kg x 1.8 = 147 g protein per day
    4. Example 2: 160 pound adult female, recreational exerciser, restricting calories
      1. 160/2.2= 72.73 kg x 1.6 = 116 g protein per day
    5. If you do not want to do the math, or do not want to track your food, a good general tip is to eat a source of protein with every meal and snack!
      1. Check out this list of healthier snacks that pair a protein and carbohydrate