Drastically Improve Your Diet and Body Composition
One of the best things you can do to improve your nutrition, is to focus on protein. Many times people look to change their diet, and try to focus on an ‘optimal’ approach. However, the optimal approach in most cases, requires more work than what’s practical for most people. Therefore, if it’s not practical, it won’t last, and they’ll be back in the same situation at some point trying to find the next “best” approach, or magic pill.
How to do it…
Figure out how much protein you need. For active individuals involved in a moderate to heavy frequency of resistance training and conditioning, it is generally recommended and accepted that roughly 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight (or target bodyweight) is both healthy, AND ideal. Current research even suggests that higher amounts may show even further benefits to health & body composition, especially with those carrying higher amounts of body fat.
Now, you’ve got three main meals; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Take that number and divide it into those three meals. Given that just 1 ounce of cooked, lean meat yields about 7 grams of protein, determine whether or not you’d be able to consume that volume of protein in a single meal. Many would feel it’s too much, especially for breakfast. Therefore, this is where protein shakes come in handy.
Let’s say 150 grams of protein per day, is your goal. Each of three meals would need to provide 50 grams of protein. Let’s assume we’ve got a balanced meal that includes servings of both non-starchy vegetables, and a starch such as rice, or potatoes. The non-meat food sources on that plate DO also account for SOME of the protein allotment, but a minimal contribution. So, if we assume that the non-meat sources on our plate may account for up to about 10g of protein, we really need to get another 40 grams from the meat and/or dairy. Therefore, we’ll need to also include about a 5 ½ - 6 ounce (cooked weight) piece of lean meat; chicken breast, beef top round, pork loin, or tenderloin, fish, etc. If we prioritize our meals around protein, you’ll find yourself eating a little less of the other stuff naturally. For example, if all you ate for dinner was pasta, by the time you feel satisfied/ full, you’ve already consumed significantly more than what would have been an adequate portion! However, now that you’ve got this protein you’ve got to get down as well, plus veggies (hopefully), it will likely cause you to be a little more mindful of how much pasta you’re going to serve yourself...
But, what about timing?
The first priority is to hit the daily goal. Worrying about optimal timing is putting the cart before the horse. What will have a much larger impact on body composition, and recovery, is the TOTAL on the day, consistently over time. If the total seems unrealistic based on portioning within EVERY meal, then that’s where protein shakes can come in extremely handy. Let’s assume that you have a protein shake, or two throughout the day included as a pre/post workout snack. Most shakes are roughly 25 grams of protein per serving. Each one that you have (which is just about the easiest way to increase your daily protein intake) just lessens the stress of having to make sure you need to get 40-50 grams in each of three meals. If the total is met, then timing should be;
Main meals: 2-4 hours prior, or up to 2-4 hours post- workout
Protein Shakes: Up to 30-60 Minutes prior, or up to 30-60 minutes post-workout depending on when you had your last meal, and when you’ll eat your next meal.
Rule of thumb; Don’t workout hungry, OR fasted- use whey isolate shake + fruit/ simple carbohydrate for a much better quality training session, and recovery. Similarly, if you know you won’t be having a meal for quite some time AFTER training, a protein shake (more specifically casein) will work wonders for your recovery, and somewhat satisfy your appetite.
Protein quality IS NOT determined by whether or not it’s organic, free-range, or grass-fed, that’s a completely different conversation. It is determined by the amino acid profile of the protein source. ‘Complete’ proteins are sources that INCLUDE the nine essential amino acids; the ones we NEED to obtain from food. All proteins (vegetable/ non-meat sources) are composed of amino acids, however, not all food sources contain ALL of the *essential* amino acids. Meat based proteins, however, do contain a complete amino acid profile, including leucine (the branched chain amino acid best known to facilitate and maintain lean muscle), whereas most vegetable proteins do not, and therefore must be combined with other vegetable sources to achieve a complete amino acid profile, such as combining beans + nuts. So, in terms of ‘quality’, meat/ milk (especially whey) proteins are optimal sources for muscle maintenance, and growth, when compared to non-meat sources.
Are protein shakes necessary?
Necessary? No. Convenient-- absolutely! If we already know that basing your diet around your protein intake as one of your top priorities when it comes to body composition, is vital to your results, then protein shakes can play an important role. For health reasons, yes, you should get the majority of your protein from natural food sources, but that’s not to say that protein shakes are not as good at providing necessary dietary protein. Keep in mind, it is meant to supplement a healthy diet, not replace it. Having both whey isolate AND casein protein available as a backup in some cases, or to be used in a pinch, or simply because they may be more convenient to insure you hit your daily protein goal, can help to keep you on the right track when and if you’re in a situation where better food choices may not be an option.