When I first started Clean Eating and following my Clean Eating plan, I remember my husband saying so many times ‘ but why do you need to go on about protein all the time?, you’re not a body builder’ and I really think a lot of people think this way. Whenever I mention that I eat 5 or 6 times a day and always include protein at every meal, I get some very strange looks! So I wanted to talk about why I think Protein is so important in my quest to get Lean!
Protein is always associated with big burly body builders and you always hear guys talking about increasing muscle mass by drinking protein shakes, it’s all protein, protein, protein…..but apparently not if you’re a Woman! There is some major misunderstanding and bad misconceptions out there, but the bottom line is; Women need protein just as much as Men .
Why is Protein So Valuable?
A diet high in protein helps to create a lean body by building muscle, aiding in muscle recovery, and repairing and maintaining your muscles. While your body is building muscle, it uses more calories which in turn increases your metabolism. And as you increase muscle, you lose fat. Hey presto!
Protein is also very important because it fills you up and makes you feel satisfied. This is because it takes longer to digest. Because it takes longer to digest, your body effectively burns more calories to process it as it has to work harder.
Protein is also valuable for protecting the immune system and for hormone growth. It is therefore a pretty essential nutrient.
What is Protein and How do I get it?
Protein is made up of a complex chain of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids all together but some of them cannot be made by the body so they must be found from food sources. A source of protein is only said to be ‘a complete protein’ if it is made up of all of these amino acids and only ‘complete’ proteins can build muscle.
Complete Proteins are generally derived from animal foods (meats, fish, poultry, milk and eggs). Proteins derived from plant foods (legumes, seeds, grains, and vegetables) such as chickpeas, black beans, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cauliflower, quinoa, pistachios, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, and soy are all excellent sources of protein but may be missing one amino acid so in theory should be paired with another source to make a complete protein. This is where it gets confusing trying to figure out what to pair with what, but rather than over analysing things, I figure that if you ensure you are eating foods from each of the groups (legumes, seeds, grains and vegetables) at different meals throughout the day, your protein intake for the day will be sufficient to ensure you are getting all the amino acids you need to grow your muscles.
How much Protein do I need and When do I need it?
Again, as with everything to do with food and nutrition there are many schools of thought on how much Protein we actually need. But from everything I’ve read the general rule of thumb for women who work out regularly is that they should aim to consume about 0.8g of protein for each lb that they weigh. So if I weigh 110lbs I should be eating about 90g of protein a day.
As protein isn’t stored in the body like fat or carbs, it needs to be eaten regularly which is why I aim to eat 5 or 6 times a day about every 3 (ish) hours. This then provides a steady stream of amino acids which help to maintain the muscles you work so hard to build. To achieve that lean body we are all aiming for, we need to keep the lean muscle mass while losing fat. So if you work out how much you should be having during the day divide it by 5 or 6 meals and that’s how much protein you should have at each meal.
So to get a protein intake of about 15-20g per meal you would need approx.:
- 100g Fillet of Salmon
- 1 Cup of Edamame Beans
- 1 Scoop of Whey Protein Powder
- 85g Serving Turkey Breast
- 3/4 Cup Greek Yogurt
- 1 Cup Broad Beans
- 1 Good Quality Protein Bar
- 100g Chicken Breast
- 1.5 Cups Black Beans
- 4 Egg Whites
- 1 Cup Quinoa
- 3 Large Eggs
- 1 Cup Lentils
- 1.5 Cups Chickpeas
It is also helpful to get a good dose of protein fairly quickly after a strength or resistance training session ideally within about 30 minutes. This is because as you train your muscles you break down the tissue which makes them much more receptive to the nutrients they need to repair and grow. You need to give the body protein to supply the amino acids needed for recovery.
So ultimately if you want to advance in your workouts and obtain the body of your dreams, enjoy regular meals of protein rich foods and don’t let anyone tell you that because you’re a woman you don’t need it!