Protein and Your Exercise Regimen: All Your Questions Answered

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In honor of National Nutrition Month, let’s spend a little time talking about nutrition. Specifically, let’s talk about protein and your exercise routine.

Eat healthy and exercise to celebrate #National #Nutrition #Month #RGV Click To Tweet

We all know that – in general – we should maintain a healthy diet and engage in sufficient exercise to optimize our health. Most of us also know the basics of a balanced diet: plenty of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or leaner fats and proteins, and adequate portions of all foods.

But when it comes to what we should eat before and after exercise, most of us feel pretty lost. If you’re wondering how long and how often you should exercise, or what type of exercise is best for your health, or how much protein you need, you’re not alone.

Read on to find real, evidence-based answers to all your exercise and protein concerns.

 The Importance of a Balanced Diet

It’s important to keep in mind that muscles only grow when diet and exercise are combined in a balanced manner. So don’t buy into the idea that eating an excessive amount of protein will make you stronger and more toned, even if coupled with an optimal exercise routine.

When determining your protein needs, it’s best to look at your overall diet and the type of exercises you practice. Consuming a diet with an adequate amount of carbohydrate and fat means less protein is being used up for energy versus a diet high in protein. Protein that is not used for energy can go toward building muscles and maintaining lean body mass. Look at your intake as a whole, calories included.

On that note, people who engage in regular physical activity expend more energy than the average sedentary person. This means additional nutrients are needed to recover from bouts of activity. That’s where some added protein may come in handy.

Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet and is a critical macronutrient for building muscle mass. As part of a balanced exercise regimen, protein helps repair and strengthen muscle tissue when consumed in adequate amounts.

#Protein builds muscle and lean body mass but dont forget about your whole intake #RGV #healthnuts Click To Tweet

The Best Time for Protein Intake

As a general guide, protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts for those who engage in physical activity. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada recommend protein intake at 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The range is meant to adjust for the type of exercise, as well as duration and intensity of the activity.

Research shows that the timing of protein intake is key in helping your muscles grow. To enhance muscle growth and repair, reach for a high-quality protein food within two hours after exercise. High-quality proteins include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or soy. You can also combine your protein food with a carbohydrate to reach your calorie intake for the day. Chocolate milk, yogurt, or half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread are favorable blends of carbohydrate and protein for a post-workout snack.

 The Best Time for Energy Intake

If you’re the type to exercise first thing in the morning, pay close attention. You may feel sluggish before and during your morning workout, but don’t attribute that to lack of sleep.

Skipping breakfast before your exercise routine may be the culprit. Think about it. You’re trying to run, jump, and lift weights after you have been in a fasted state (sleeping). Your body doesn’t have any fuel for energy.

If you want to increase exercise performance in your morning workouts, eat something before you start. That morning meal will help steady blood sugar levels and replenish glycogen in the liver and muscles.

Can’t stomach breakfast so early in the morning? Try drinking a fruit smoothie or meal supplement instead.

Don't forget to eat before #morning #workouts. #FruitSmoothies are a great option Click To Tweet

Working out does not mean you should abandon all dietary guidelines and go overboard with calorie intake. You should only adjust or increase your energy intake during serious training periods. This may include a marathon or similar event.

The casual exerciser should maintain a healthy, balanced diet with portion control.

 Strength versus Endurance Training and Needs

Energy needs vary for everyone. Calorie and macronutrient intake will depend on things like age, body composition, and exercise routine.

For endurance training routines, calories should be consumed from a variety of sources. Endurance exercises include walking, jogging, running, swimming, dancing, biking, and moderate sports activities.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. An optimal diet for endurance training includes:

 Carbohydrates. Carbs are not your enemy! Some 50 to 60 percent of the energy used during one to four hours of continuous moderate to hard endurance training comes from carbohydrates, according to Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Carbohydrates should make up at least half of daily energy intake in individuals who exercise more than twice a week; they will help prevent early fatigue and even injury. How? Carbs are partially converted to glycogen which provides energy during workouts. Aim for quality carbs like whole grains, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables.

Fat. Fats are also not your enemy. Sure, the supermarket is riddled with fat-free options. But, the point is to stay away from trans and saturated fats. Include healthier fats in your diet to supply energy to your muscles during exercise, particularly for long low to moderate intensity activities. Fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories. Monitor portions with fats as they have just over double the number of calories as carbs and protein with 9 calories per gram of food. Healthy fats include avocados, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and trout, nuts and nut butters, canola oil, and extra-virgin olive oil.

 Protein. There really is no benefit to eating more protein than is necessary. Research supports that and even suggests that it could be harmful to the body. A diet with three daily servings of milk or other dairy products (low-fat and fat-free varieties) and three daily servings of protein foods (lean animal foods or beans/legumes) is adequate to reach protein goals. 

Did you know it’s harder to build and maintain muscle as you age? After 30, muscle loss starts and continues with three to eight percent reduction in lean muscle every decade after.

Muscle loss as we age happens as a result of a variety of factors including changes in hormone levels and loss of efficiency in some body functions. Men and women should engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. This includes activities like weight lifting and using resistance bands.

If you’re just getting into exercises for muscle building, your protein requirements may be higher compared to requirements for endurance training. This is simply because muscle gain is greatest during the initial stages of strength training. With more training, your body becomes efficient at using protein, so you may not need as much later on.

As a general rule keep protein at 10% to 35% of total energy intake Click To Tweet

Keep It Simple

Ultimately, establishing a balanced exercise regimen and diet is not rocket science. Don’t feel pressured into taking supplements and additional vitamin pills just because a gym buddy recommended it.

For the most part, you can achieve your dietary goals through foods without the need for protein drinks, gels, and energy bars. Use these items only to supplement where you may be lacking or when you don’t have enough time to consume regular foods.

Until next time RGVians. Stay healthy and eat well. And don’t forget to enjoy #National #Nutrition… Click To Tweet
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JoAnn is a graduate of the University of Texas-Pan American where she obtained a Bachelor’s in Mass Communication with a minor in English. She is an inquisitive, ambitious and lively person with an undeniable passion for the written word.

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