Protein is important for building muscle…This is usually a no brainer for people… when we think protein, the image of some kind of bodybuilder/half Hulk dude with huge biceps pops in our heads. Yes, protein does help bodybuilders get to where they are, but bodybuilders aren't the only ones who need adequate protein. Many people don’t know about all the other roles protein plays in the body; protein builds a healthy immune system, brain function, maintains water balance, and helps to repair and build tissue. It can help prevent osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and obesity. Protein consumption is increasingly important as we age. Fun fact (that was me being sarcastic, this fact actually sucks): As we age, our ability to utilize protein efficiently decreases, meaning our bodies don’t metabolize it like it did in our 30s (bummer, right?), which can lead to muscle loss, osteoporosis and other health issues (not to mention this loss of muscle causes our metabolism to slow down!). I think women tend to shy away from eating protein, or eating “too much” because they are afraid of what it will do to their bodies; we shouldn't be worried about what eating protein will do to our bodies; we should be worried about what NOT eating protein will do to us!
To keep our metabolism and hard earned muscle in tip-top shape, our bodies need more protein more frequently than many of us think. In addition to aging, protein is essential for those living an active or fitness based lifestyle. When you work out and exercise, you create small tears in your muscle fibers, which need to be repaired; protein is essential to repair muscles and prevent injury, as well as for a healthy metabolism. Muscle actually has a huge effect on your metabolism. Truth is, the biggest impact on metabolism and energy expenditure involves protein’s role in both muscle building and muscle maintenance. You need protein, and ample quantities of it, to preserve your muscle (and I’m not talking bodybuilding status, I am talking muscle to stay lean and fit!) and keep that metabolism fueled.
Here is an interesting fact about protein and weight loss: Most nutrition experts will agree that while reducing calories is a general rule when it comes to losing weight, but with the reduction in calories comes an increase in protein; the body will require more protein to counteract the ‘stress’ that the body will be put under during a diet or calorie restriction (your body freaks out when you do something like diet or restrict what is us ‘used to” eating), and to ensure that you are not losing muscle during your weight loss. Increasing protein has a higher yield on results during weight loss because of one key attribute: satiety. What does this mean? Protein keeps you full! Protein will keep you fuller for longer than fats or carbs so it can keep you from eating mindlessly or snacking more than you should. Many heath and nutrition experts will recommend eating 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass (LBM; that isn’t your total weight, that is the amount of lean body mass you have, so find your body fat percentage and subtract that from your body weight). However, this is really to ‘maintain’ your current mass, and after the age of 30, this really is not enough protein, especially if you are active; therefore, protein should be increased to about 1.2-1.5 times your LBM. This will ensure adequate protein to preserve muscle, prevent breakdown of muscle as you age, and might even build some lean muscle to fight off fat. If you are looking to gain muscle mass (i.e. bodybuilding) you would increase that number to 2 times (or maybe more) your LBM (not really applicable to the general population). Remember as we age, we need more protein, so keep that number closer to 1.5 times your LBM and more if you are active and doing steady weight training.
My takeaway for you, to all the ladies out there afraid of ‘too much protein’: say no to pancake booties! Eat protein for lean muscle, eat protein and eat it in abundance, especially as you age. I will tell you an honest fact: I did not start seeing the changes I wanted to see in my body until I started eating more protein, as in I DOUBLED the amount I was eating. Your body will thank you; will be stronger, leaner, and more energized than ever before.