Your Facebook questions answered: Am I getting enough protein?

“I am 60 years young, a pescatarian (eat fish, no other meat). Am I getting enough protein from mainly vegetables, cereal, cheese ?” says Enlightened Eater Facebook fan Gillian Mcdougall.

Gillian, I love your attitude! 60 years young is definitely the way to look at it and taking care of yourself can indeed play a big role in keeping fit.

A vegan or vegetarian food style can certainly provide adequate amounts of protein if you include plenty of plant foods such as legumes (including soy), nuts and seeds and whole grains such as quinoa. For you, adding in dairy products, eggs and fish and meeting the amount of you require is an easy task.

But it’s not just the amount of protein you need to consider when you look at maintaining your vitality and strength over the years. The timing is key in maintaining your muscle mass as it’s your muscle that determines your strength and energy levels. How much muscle you have goes hand in hand with how strong you are. Your lean body mass or muscle is a major factor in your metabolic rate or calorie burning capacity as well – the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. A slow one, though, yields a sense of low energy.

When you think of aging, a loss of energy and strength is usually what comes to mind. In other words, maintaining your vitality and strength is all about slowing muscle loss.

Let me explain.

A condition called sarcopenia (muscle loss) occurs simply as a result of ageing. It, in fact, begins at age 30. When people think of ageing, they often think of a loss of strength and energy. This muscle loss can be hastened by being inactive and can lead to about a 5 % loss of muscle each decade after 30. But even if you’re active, you still lose muscle as you age.

You can, though, minimize the loss with enlightened eating and active living.

This is where the timing of protein comes in. Traditionally, the North American meal pattern is protein heavy at night. But research from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston shows that it’s time to get more top heavy – boost the amounts at breakfast and lunch and have less at dinner. The scientists assessed when protein was eaten and changes in muscle synthesis by using two different protein distribution patterns through the day. The protein totals, though, at 90 grams for the day were the same in both patterns.

One of the patterns supplied 30 grams of protein at each meal, while the other, a more typical one, contained 10 grams at breakfast, 15 grams at lunch and 65 grams at supper.

The more even protein distribution yielded some pretty remarkable results – the subjects’ 24-hour muscle protein synthesis was an impressive 25% greater than when the protein was eaten mainly at night.

In most cases, getting in more protein through the day doesn’t require a huge revamping of your eating style. You can simply add some higher protein options at breakfast and lunch. Add selections such as cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, an egg or fish to breakfast. Toss in some chopped nuts in your cereal or yogurt bowl as well. Beef up (no not meat!) the amount of filling if you’re a sandwich eater at lunch. Enjoy a bowl of lentil or bean soup, have a bean or edamame salad on the side or add them, to a main course salad along with some leftover fish from dinner. If you prefer non-dairy beverages to cow’s milk, be sure to read the protein content in the Nutrition Facts box.

Other research points to more muscle perks if you consume protein within 2 hours of exercising.

There are plenty of tasty ways to boost your protein through the day, even if you don’t eat meat or poultry. But a word of warning: protein has become a buzzword and you’ll find it hyped on all kinds of food packaging. Some products where protein is highlighted are no different from their counterparts where protein isn’t even mentioned.

Eat real food instead, though, instead of protein bars and the like.

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Do you spread your protein portions out through the day or are you a nighttime protein eater? Please share your comments in the section below.

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Categories: Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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