Are You Getting Enough Protein?
Protein and the branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) help repair and build muscles, maintain the immune system, manufacture enzyme and hormones, replace old red blood cells to carry oxygen to muscles, and act as fuel as a last resort. Protein converts to glucose more slowly than carbohydrates, while slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates in a meal. When healthy fats like avocado and fiber-rich vegetables are added to the meal, the absorption rate is slowed down even more – which helps maintain blood sugar and energy levels. If you find yourself sluggish, irritable, slow to recover and progress, and constantly catch colds, you are probably protein deficient and/or overtraining.
Your Best Sources of Protein
Your best protein sources are pastured eggs, wild salmon, wild crab, oysters, herring, elk, venison, boar, buffalo, grass-fed beef, lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, duck, grass-fed dairy, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. Grass-fed whey protein can be used as for post-workout purposes and when you are limited on time for breakfast.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Your protein intake will depend on your training schedule and individual needs. For precise protein in grams, the formula is 0.8 to 1.0 per pound of lean body mass (calculation subtracting body fat percentage in pounds). Excess protein is converted to glucose, adding more stored glycogen. For example, if you weigh 165 pounds and have 12% body fat, you would calculate 12% of 165lbs = 145 (165-20). Then you would multiply 0.8, 0.9 or 1.0 based on your activity level (think easy, moderate, hard). If you are training hard 6 days a week, you would need to consume 145 grams of protein (145×1.0) on a daily basis.
What would this look like?
4 eggs: 24 g 1/4 cup of almonds: 8 g 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds: 8 g 1 cup of full-fat yogurt: 10 g 8 oz. grass-fed steak: 48 g 1 cup broccoli: 4 g 1 cup spinach: 5 g 6 oz. wild salmon: 38 g
What if You Don’t Know Your Body Fat Percentage?
Men and women have different body fat percentages, putting men on the higher end of protein intake and women on the lower end. You also have to take into account bio-individuality when determining your protein tolerance and creatine needs from red meat, which can better be assessed through genetic testing. If you do not know your body fat percentage, you can get an estimate with a few measurements here: http://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/bodyfat
Can You Get Too Much Protein?
While most athletes are usually not getting enough protein, you can get overzealous and take in more than is required by your body. The only time I have seen this happen was with protein powders that had extremely high protein contents that were consumed throughout the day on top of 3-4 large meals. Excessive protein intake through protein powders does not increase results, may increase body fat storage, and rapidly depletes vitamin A. The best way to hit your target is to get adequate amounts for your body weight at breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and from one-two recovery protein shakes. This will cover your needs.
Sports Nutrition 101: How to Shop for Protein
Seafood should only be wild, never farmed. Farmed fish are fed grain, soy (sound familiar?) and even animal feces fed to shrimp and scallops coming from China. Choose wild salmon, halibut, crab, oysters, small Albacore tuna, herring, sardines and from pristine waters like Alaska.
Avoid swordfish, shark, tile fish and king mackerel because their mercury levels are too high for human consumption. When selenium outnumbers methylmercury -as is the case with smaller fish-mercury is safely moved out of the body. In larger fish like shark, mercury outnumbers selenium along with high levels of PCB’s and other contaminants and can be very dangerous. The best place on the planet to buy wild fish that has been tested for low contamination is Vital Choice.
Eggs can change dramatically based on their source. The Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids exist in an almost one-to-one ratio in eggs from chickens roaming out in the sun and hunting for bugs and worms; but in eggs from chickens fed only grain indoors, the Omega-6 content can be as much as 19 times greater than the all-important unsaturated Omega-3.
Why is this so important for the athlete? Omega-3‘s play a crucial role as an anti-inflammatory and are one of the most important parts of recovery. Omega-6‘s, on the other hand, will promote inflammation in excess and prolong the recovery process. In addition, there are 4-6 times less vitamin D in eggs from factory farms. Other very long-chain and highly unsaturated fatty acids – necessary for the development of the brain – are found in properly produced eggs but are almost wholly absent in most commercial eggs.
When compared to the USDA’s nutrient data for conventional eggs coming from chickens confined in factory farms, the eggs of pastured hens usually contain:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4 to 6 times more vitamin D
“Pastured” eggs are going to be the top choice, however, these eggs have become expensive in grocery stores so it’s best to buy them from farmers’ markets. The second best choice will be “free range omega-3 eggs” where the chickens have been given flax seeds along with their feed. The third best choice would be any free-range or “fertile” eggs.
Grass-Fed Meat, Dairy, CLA and Muscle Mass
Congugated linolenic acid is found in grass-fed lamb, grass-fed beef and grass-fed dairy. In fact, it is up to 500 percent higher in grass-fed meat and dairy. CLA helps glucose get into muscle cells for effectively, which prevents glucose from being converted to fat while helping fat enter cell membranes of muscle and connective tissue where fat is burned for fuel. This is why grass-fed meat is so effective at building healthy muscle mass while shrinking waistlines.
Grass-fed meat and feedlot meat are not equivalent. Don’t forget to include grass-fed liver, heart and bone marrow into your diet. If you look at the B12 levels in the liver and heart and compare them to muscle meats, you will see why so many people are deficient in absorbable B12. The liver is a powerhouse of vitamin A, D, folate, B12, zinc, selenium and numerous other nutrients. The heart is a brick house of B12, selenium, and CoQ10.
Bone marrow is an unbelievable source of choline (protects all your cell membranes and prevents fatty liver) K2 (prevents calcium from entering the arteries), healthy fat, and alkylglycerols (found also in shark oil and known for its immune building properties). Every few months I go to US Wellness Meats, and stock up on grass-fed liver, heart, bone marrow and pastured lard because I can’t find any of these where I live.
|2-4x more anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids||Contains up to 10x more Omega-6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory, weight producing)|
|Lower toxic load due to cleaner environment||Grain-fed meat has a higher fat content and toxic load|
|Up to 500% higher in muscle building CLA||Low CLA levels and high omega-6 fatty acid levels contribute to higher abdominal fat (predominate in metabolic syndrome and increased insulin resistance)|
|4x higher in vitamin E than feedlot cattle and almost 2x higher than cattle given synthetic vitamin E||Vitamin E is crucial for a healthy cardiovascular system, and a deficiency can affect heart function|
|Higher in B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and potassium||B vitamins are important for a healthy metabolism, and a deficiency can affect muscle loss and low energy levels|
|No antibiotics, hormones or unknown feed given||Antibiotics, hormones and questionable feed given|
How to Choose Grass-Fed Whey Protein
See my article on the best and worst whey protein powders here.
Shopping for Nuts and Seeds
Choose sprouted or raw nuts and seeds in sealed bags, ideally kept in the refrigerator. Avoid getting both out of bins where there is a higher risk of mold. I place special interest on pumpkin seeds for zinc, sunflower seeds for vitamin E, and chia seeds for multiple minerals and endurance.
Macadamia nuts have the unique B17, pistachios have a higher percentage of B6, walnuts a higher source of omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds are a good source of calcium.
Shopping for Lentils and Chickpeas
You probably saw Paleo at the top and thought I eschewed legumes and beans. No, I have always included these two with athletes because they are nutrient-dense, useful and easy to digest. Lentils are often a forgotten source of protein, folate and molybdenum, and provide a sustained energy source. A lentil-based bar was actually studied for its superior results in endurance athletes. Choose lentils in sealed bags and soak in water for 12 hours.
Drain the water and place in a well-lighted place for another 6-12 hours until it starts to sprout. Cook in water or broth for 20 minutes. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are an excellent source of protein, folate, manganese, and many other nutrients. Hummus is the best way to consume these. When buying hummus, choose ones that are olive oil-based only, not canola oil-based.