Mindful’s Fitness Ambassador clears up some of the most prevalent myths surrounding protein and exercise.
If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing a lot about protein. And it’s not surprising. Protein is a key building block for our muscles, hormones, bones and blood. In other words, you can’t live without it. And if you exercise, the need is even greater. Maybe because protein is so important, I hear a lot of misconceptions and confusion. But no worries! Now is the time to clear up some of the most prevalent myths surrounding protein and exercise.
Myth: You need to worry about protein only if you’re trying to look like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Not true. We all need to think about our protein intake. If you’re sedentary or involved in light exercise, like walking, you still need a minimum of .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. (For a 200-pound person, that’s 72 grams. For someone who is 140 pounds, it’s about 50 grams.)
If you’re doing more vigorous exercise, you need much more. Studies show that endurance athletes should get about twice as much as sedentary folks, and sometimes even more. This is why so many hard-core fitness types resort to protein shakes and other sources that can feed their huge need for protein and calories to help them build mass.
For most people, though, food is the best source of protein. And if you have cardio-related goals, don’t forget to include lots of carbs, too.
Myth: You need expensive protein shakes and powders to give you the protein you need.
Not true. Protein shakes are manufactured for convenience. The key word there: manufactured. It’s processed food. You can do better! The best approach is to have your food go from farm to fork with as little processing as possible.
There are plenty of wholesome high-protein choices, such as eggs, poultry and fish. Many people don’t realize that just one cup of cottage cheese provides 25 grams of protein. There are also many plant-based options, such as nuts, sunflower seeds and flaxseed. Edamame (immature soybeans usually in the pod) provides 17 grams of protein in a cup.
Myth: It doesn’t matter when you get your protein.
In my opinion, timing does matter, especially if you’re exercising. Generally, you need to take in protein throughout the day to make sure you get enough. But when you’re exercising, I encourage clients to restore their depleted stores in the hour after their workout is over —what trainers sometimes call “the golden hour.” Whenever your training takes place, use that hour afterward to refuel with carbs and protein.
Myth: Protein is more important than carbohydrates and fats.
The truth is, balance is key. Carbs are energy foods and, as long as they’re not overdone, they help fuel your exercise sessions by replenishing stores for the next time you work out. Without enough carbs, you are like a car on an empty tank, especially if you exercise hard. There are different types of carbs — starch, sugar and fiber. I advise getting most of your carb fix in the hour after training from good sources (not sugar). Excellent options after training include starchy veggies (such as peas), as well as beans, whole grains, oats, brown rice, quinoa, lentils and sweet potato. Good lower-carb sources to eat outside of training include leafy greens (for instance, kale and chard) and vegetables (such as green beans, peppers, cauliflower and asparagus).
Portion control is still important though, even when you’re eating “good” food sources. Try to ensure carbs make up only a quarter of your plate post-training.
It’s also important you’re not scared of healthy fats (think avocados, oily fish, nuts, eggs and oils). Good fats in small measure are vital for fuel and the absorption of nutrients. The trick is to stay clear of trans fats, which are the artificial and hydrogenated nasties such as cookies, cakes and sweets. You also need to be careful you don’t overdo the healthy fats. Half an avocado is great; demolishing two avocados can be far too much because it will shoot that calorie intake right up.
Put it all together, practice portion control and you’ve got a nutritious, balanced meal that can help fuel your active life!