Part 3, the last of The Protein Chronicles, will focus on the simple strategies of protein scheduling and protein choice to ensure we get the most out of this macronutrient, especially as we age.
The take home messages are plentiful;
we build our bodies using over 10,000 different proteins. We need to ingest enough of the foundational building blocks - the 21 amino acids, in particular the 9 essential amino acids - to ensure protein turnover and synthesis continues at a good rate
as we age we need to supply amino acids in larger amounts per feed (a minimum of 30g total protein) to effectively stimulate protein synthesis
muscle is a primary tissue for health, strength, body composition and longevity. It is to be protected at all costs!
Front Loading Your Day With Protein
The majority of us in the western world take in the biggest amount of protein late in the day, usually in the evening meal. Protein synthesis will certainly be stimulated, however, research tells us that if we were to redistribute our protein intake to earlier in the day it would have a greater effect.
Consider breakfast - we are emerging from a fasted state (sleep) where protein synthesis is at it's lowest. Coming from this state, our bodies are exquisitely sensitive to the leucine signal, discussed, at length, in Part 2.
This is therefore the most opportune time to get in the first 30g protein. There is nothing better than starting the day with an anabolic (muscle protein synthesis) boost.
Remember, your muscle is the primary tissue for fat oxidation and glucose disposal. It benefits you, in multiple ways, to stimulate that 'machinery' early in the day.
Culturally though, we are primed for the opposite. We are primed to have cereals or grains for breakfast, which usually contain a nominal amount of protein. Even if you add an egg, it won’t do much. At 7g protein per egg white and 3g protein from toast, there is simply no way to make it to that 30g threshold.
Decades ago, when I was competing in fitness competitions, I used to have a 5 egg white omelette with veggies. This comes in at 35g protein. That’s an expensive breakfast these days with half a dozen eggs costing £1.85 - £2.40. Still, it did the trick.
There’s an easy way to get 30g protein and that’s by using a whey or plant based protein isolate. Yes, it’s processed protein but when it comes to delivering a leucine signal - BOOM!
And as we age we definitely need more BOOM to increase those biomarkers of protein synthesis.
It’s cost-effective, time effective, comes in various flavours, you can add berries, nut butter and lots of other good stuff.
If you want to stick with a cereal-type breakfast then having a protein shake mid-morning works just fine too. In fact, for many it fits within a work day perfectly.
I recommend protein isolates (whey or plant) to all of my clients, including my 82 year old Mum. The shake can be low volume and can even be split into 2, as long as it is ingested over 30 mins.
Note to athletes - if you are planning a long work-out make sure you get a solid 30-45g protein in during your first feed of the day to give that ‘grow’ signal to your muscles. This will combat the inevitable ‘deplete’ signal that results from endurance training.
Protein Content in Foods
When it comes to the protein content in whole foods, see below;
4oz lean meat - 29g
4oz chicken - 31g
4 oz fish - 25g
1 egg white - 7g
8oz greek yogurt - 23g
4 oz cottage cheese - 8g
8 oz skim milk - 9g
200g cooked oatmeal - 6g
24 raw almonds - 6g
3 TBS sunflower seeds - 6g
1 TBS pumpkin seeds - 3g
1 cup cooked lentils - 18g
1/2 cup chickpeas - 7g
Vegetables - smaller amounts but present e.g., 1 cup broccoli has 2.6g
Note that we don’t need a large amount of animal products to get to a minimum of 30g.
However, if you are solely plant based it does require a concerted and strategic effort.
The total amount of protein tends to be less per the same volume and it’s absorbability is compromised by about 10-20% - it’s attached to plant fibres after all and that’s a strong bond.
So I come back time and time again to the use of a protein powder (whey or plant based) to deliver that one big signal - build, synthesise, grow.
There are multiple ways to eat to get the nutrients we need. However, as we age, as our lifestyle and goals change, we may have to adjust what has worked for us in the past. Such is the case with our protein intake.
Staying aware of how best to support your body through it's lifecycle is paramount. It's so easy to accept carte blanche things that come with aging - things like weight gain, muscle loss, a slowing of metabolism, etc.
Rather than accepting this narrative, we could start by adjusting what, when and how we eat. It won't solve everything of course, but it can make a significant difference and for me...that's worth it!
If nutrition is an area of your health that you find confusing and you’d like some help - reach out.
I design plans for people from 15 to 85 years old that are based on life context, current eating style, goals, food likes and dislikes.
I work from the continuum of good - better - best.
You’re already doing something good, you’re eating in a way that is sustaining life! We start there and move towards ‘better’ in your time frame.
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I work with everybody.