Monday, June 2, 2014

Nutrition Notes by Dietitian Jess: Protein, Protein, Protein

Protein, Protein, Protein… The glorified nutrient! Should I be eating 6 small meals or 3 regular sized?
You can only imagine how many times a day I hear people say “it’s healthy it has protein in it”. So what exactly does the body do with Protein and why is it so popular right now? As with carbohydrates, protein provides four calories per one gram you consume, wouldn’t that make it pretty much equal to carbs in the weight loss world? The answer is yes and no. If you remember back to the late 80s and early 90s everyone went “fat free” and we thought “if we eat less fat then we will be less fat”. Unfortunately we forgot that calories matter! Well this still applies today; calorie management is the most important nutrition change for promoting weight loss; however protein can help you to be satisfied on smaller amounts of calories.  This is one of biggest barriers to weight loss; if we are not satisfied with our foods then we tend to over eat.
We have learned that protein offers other benefits to weight loss besides satiety or feeling full after eating it also helps keep muscle mass during weight loss. Research supports eating 72 grams per day can help retain muscle mass during a weight loss diet. We also know that the carbohydrates digest quickly which can lead to early hunger and over eating. High-protein foods take more work to digest, metabolize, and use, which means you burn more calories processing them. In a study published in Nutrition Metabolism, dieters who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of their diet ate nearly 450 fewer calories a day and lost about 11 pounds over the 12-week study without employing any other dietary measures.

As with most dieters, you probably like burning calories as well as eating calories. Your body uses the amino acids in protein to build lean muscle, which not only makes you stronger and more toned but also helps you to burn calories even when you're not active. Which helps keep your metabolic rate revving high even while you are at rest! This is unlike fat which is inactive tissue that does not burn calories at rest.  
The USDA set the recommended daily allowance for protein at .8 grams per kg of body weight, for a 140 lb. person that is 50 grams per day. However the RDA does not account for any physical activity.  This will only provide the minimum for essential amino acids for the body. As a Dietitian I advise consuming between 0.5-.75 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. That's 70 to 105 grams a day for a 140-pound person. Shoot for the high end if you're very active. According to Dr. Layman Ph.D. professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois., breaking this up into 30 gram feedings of protein is the way to go. His recent research reveals that if you consume high quality protein in 30 gram increments during the day you will activate Muscle Protein Synthesis by the amount of Leucine in the food.  Leucine is an essential amino acid founds in high quality protein and it provides a dietary signal to the muscle. The threshold is around 2.5 grams of Leucine per feeding. Muscle Protein Synthesis is beneficial for athletes for recovery but also for the lay person trying to lose weight without losing muscle mass.
So the answer is “Yes” protein is important for weight loss but more importantly is how and what you are consuming. It is not just cramming 60-80 grams of protein in a protein shake at the end of your day to meet your total protein needs per day. There does not seem to be added benefit for eating larger than 30 grams doses per feeding.
Which leads to the next questions which is… what types of protein have higher Leucine content to help us reach 2.5 grams Leucine per feeding?  The foods with the highest percentage of Leucine are whey protein isolate, milk protein, egg white, meat, soy protein, oat protein and wheat gluten. You can take in 20 grams of whey isolate or 38 grams of wheat gluten to get approximately 2.5 grams of Leucine. So the definition of high quality protein includes animal based sources like meats, eggs, whey protein, and then Soy. So which is better…. Eating 6 small meals per day that include on 10-15 grams protein or 2-3 larger meals with 30 grams protein? Hopefully you know that the latter is a better option!

This blog is written by Registered Dietitian Jessica A. Wegener RD, CSSD, LMNT you can contact her at , 402-669-2705 or visit for more information on Jessica and her services. She will be at Square1Club every 4th Wednesday of the month for one complimentary 15 minute session for Square One members.

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