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Whether you’re trying to lose weight or simply live a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to eat a balanced diet. Maintaining a toned physique is often the result of staying physically fit while paying attention to the macronutrients provided by one’s daily diet. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are the three macronutrients that are present in everything that we eat.
Over the past few decades, carbohydrates and fats have alternatively been written off as “bad” macronutrients, with bodybuilders and fitness experts often praising protein-rich foods as the healthier option. Getting the right amount of protein into our diets is certainly important, but how much is too much? Are some sources of protein better than others? Is consuming a protein shake after working out the best way to build muscle and lose weight? Read on to learn more about the myths and truths surrounding this powerful macronutrient.
All Protein is Equally Beneficial: False!
There are eight essential amino acids crucial for building and maintaining healthy body tissue and muscle. Not all sources of protein, however, contain all eight of these amino acids! Animal-based proteins are generally considered the best sources of these amino acids; eggs, dairy, fish, poultry, and red meats contain all eight amino acids. Soy is the only plant-based protein known to contain all eight essential amino acids, too. Though many sources of protein are certainly good for you, these foods are ideal for packing all of your amino acids into a single protein source.
Leucine, one of these essential amino acids, is particularly important for muscle growth. This amino acid is responsible for switching on anabolic muscle protein signals in the body. For this reason, protein sources that are rich in leucine are especially beneficial for those looking to bulk up at the gym. Beef, pork, chicken, parmesan cheese, eggs, pumpkin seeds, tofu, tuna, beans, oats, and peanuts are a few of the best protein-packed sources of leucine.
Your Protein Needs are The Same as They Were 10 Years Ago: False!
After the age of 40, most individuals gradually begin losing muscle mass. A healthy diet, coupled with resistance exercise such as weightlifting, however, can help older adults maintain strong muscles. As a result of age-based muscle loss, older adults will want to consume slightly more protein than the daily guidelines recommend. A diet with slightly more protein will prevent muscle wasting, helping seniors maintain fit physiques even as they age.
Protein is the Key to Muscle Gain and Weight Loss: True and False!
Protein is indeed a necessary tool in facilitating gains in muscle mass and strength. Consuming 20-30 grams of protein per meal also tends to enhance feelings of fullness and satiety, preventing overeating. That being said, a high-protein diet alone won’t necessarily lead to a toned, bulked-up physique. Consuming a high-protein diet that’s too low in total calories may actually lead to weight loss and muscle deterioration. Those who are young or highly active need to make sure their caloric needs are being met in addition to hitting their protein goals. Many adults also fail to realize that consuming too much protein can actually lead to weight gain, as excess protein may be converted to fat in the body. As a general rule, older adults will benefit from getting 15-35% of their macronutrient needs met through protein; 40-60% of the diet should be comprised of carbohydrates, and 20-35% of fat. Achieving a proper balance will promote weight maintenance or, when appropriate, weight loss.
Excessive Protein is Bad For You: Mostly False!
It has often been said that diets excessively high in protein are bad for the body, particularly the bones and kidneys. Recent studies, however, have shown that these correlations are mostly untrue. In the past, it was noted that calcium is excreted from the bones as protein intake increases; more recent studies, however, have led researchers to conclude that calcium absorption increases as well, leading to no net loss in calcium. Studies from 2017 have also led to the conclusion that high protein diets do not contribute to bone density loss or the development of osteoporosis. In fact, consuming enough protein has been associated with greater bone mineral density in older osteoporosis sufferers.
Some individuals also believe that the consumption of protein damages the kidneys. Recent research, however, has shown that high-protein diets are generally only a problem for those who are already suffering from late-stage chronic kidney disease. Those with healthy kidneys can consume a diet comprised of up to 35% protein without fear of damaging their health.
When You Consume Your Protein Matters: True and False!
Traditionally, many bodybuilders have argued that eating protein-rich meals all day, or directly after a workout, were crucial to gaining muscle mass. Research, however, has proven that these beliefs are only partially true. Recent studies, for instance, have shown that resistance training, such as weightlifting, creates an effect in the body leading to muscle gain over the following 24 hours. This means that all of the protein one consumes throughout the day contributes to muscle growth, regardless of when the protein is consumed. Evidence has shown that eating multiple protein-packed meals a day doesn’t ultimately impact the amount of protein made available to the body, either.
It is true, however, that muscle protein activation is at its highest in the hours immediately following exercise. This window is more generous, however, than previously thought. To get fit, you don’t need to slam down protein drinks in the minutes preceding and following your workout. For maximum muscle growth, consume a protein-rich meal within three hours before beginning your workout. Enjoy another protein-packed dish or supplement in the three hours following your training. This window is generous enough to allow you to clean up and prepare a healthy meal both before and after you exercise. In short, your body will reap the benefits of protein consumption regardless of when you enjoy your food!
Ultimately, protein is an important part of a healthy and balanced diet. Even so, individuals should be mindful about consuming the right amount of protein. A high-protein diet devoid of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates can lead to health problems. Eating too much protein may cause digestive distress; diets particularly high in red-meat proteins may even trigger health problems such as heart disease and cancer.
The next time you see “protein yogurt” at the grocery store, take a minute to consider your current diet before impulsively grabbing a tub. If you’re eating a healthy diet packed with whole foods, you’re likely getting enough protein as it is!
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