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You’re making changes in your life!
You’re making changes in your life! You’ve purchased the gym bag, workout wardrobe and a year long gym membership. You carb loaded for breakfast and headed out. Walking in the shiny doors, you hear the clanking of weights, the whir of treadmills and the chaka-chaka of percussionists. What? That’s when you see a group in the corner vigorously shaking plastic cups mixing up water that is turning all shades of vanilla to berry. You hear Mr. Biceps mention his protein isolate is really making a difference. Have you forgotten something?
The protein shake is now part and parcel with health and fitness, but do you really need it?
The amino acids that make up protein are what your muscles use to build, repair and grow. Without the right amount of protein, it won’t matter how many squats and bench-presses you do. Your muscles will not be able to mend the ripped fibers from your workout. Too much exercise and not enough protein can actually cause decreased strength and muscle mass, longer recovery times, fatigue, more injuries at the gym and several other health problems.
If you are actively working out, four or more times a week, then you should be consuming around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. That means for a 150-pound female, she needs to be eating 150 grams of protein! This looks like one cup of cottage cheese, four hard-boiled eggs, four mozzarella string cheese sticks, one cup of lentils, three cups of cooked quinoa and one hundred almonds! Holy calorie overload! How much chicken or chick peas can you possibly consume without the fat and carbohydrates taking over your gym session? Say goodbye to your tiny clothes!
The protein shake is a convenient way to get your body and muscles the amount of amino acids they need to function properly without loading up on all the extras. If you are weight training, it’s recommended to have a protein shake 30 minutes before your workout and another one directly after you finish. This may seem like a lot, but protein is not produced by the body and is needed in a continual supply. Any extra will be flushed by your system naturally. Bodybuilders even set alarms while they sleep to guzzle down another protein mix and give their growing muscles support 24/7.
You don’t have to be a muscle contestant or daily gym monster to add extra protein to your routine. Even if you’re a weekend warrior, a yogi, a runner, cyclist or zone out on a machine for half an hour, a boost of protein after a sweat session will do your body a world of good.
Not all powders are created equal, and not all protein comes in powders. It’s not too confusing though. Avoid hype words that you don’t understand. Look for an ingredient label that is natural, easy to read and filled with real foods. Actual food is the best source of protein, so if your label reads peas, pumpkin seeds, kale, spinach and broccoli, you are getting a high-quality source of amino acids. Find protein supplements with low sugar and low carbs. Skip on artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated oils, both of which are common. If the list of ingredients is a jumble of giant words you can’t pronounce nor do you understand, it’s best to pass on that shake. And it is advisable to avoid mixes that contain any major allergens such as dairy, nuts, gluten or soy. Feeding your body these foods on daily basis and perhaps multiple times a day can create some undesirable side effects.
Next look for the types of protein. Whey and casein are common but often have hydrogenated oils and dairy which over time can cause havoc in your gut. A plant-based protein will be gentler in the long term and is more easily produced without preservatives and oils. Then consider if you want protein powder that you can mix on your own or would a ready to drink protein be a better option. Perhaps both. Grab and go protein is already mixed for you and makes taking in muscle boosting amino acids effortless. A shake-it-yourself mix can be easily slipped into your bag or stored in your glove box.
Be conscious of calories, carbohydrates and sugars in the mix. All of these things are important for energy and need to be part of healthy diet, but you also need to know how much of each you need in your day to day. On gym days, you should give your body more fuel to work with. If you’re trying to lose weight, then amp up your carbs by about ¼ to 1/3 more than your normal daily intake. If you’re trying to bulk up muscle, you can add in ½ to even ¾ more carbs than you normally take in. For shorter, lower energy workouts, cut the calories from your daily meals and pump them in with your protein shake right after your routine. This is the time your body is burning up fuel the fastest and needs all the macronutrients to repair and build muscle tissue.
Gym membership? Check. Wardrobe? Check. Duffel to put it in? Check. Body boosting, healthy protein shake? Check. Start shredding.
Laura Manning, MPH, RDN, CDN The Low FODMAP diet is getting some well-deserved attention these days.