Protein. Is it all about Timing?Health & Nutrition
People’s interest in protein as a nutrient remains strong; it’s still a highly searched word online and with good reason: protein is an essential nutrient for optimal health. While most Canadians get enough protein to prevent a protein deficiency, most are not consuming it in a way that optimizes muscle growth, repair and maintenance.
Protein does a body good.
Protein is an essential nutrient that people of all ages need for the growth, repair and maintenance of nearly all bodily tissues such as muscles, obviously, but also for bone, teeth, skin, blood cells, and antibodies. We need about 20 different amino acids to build and maintain our body and 9 of those are called essential because the body cannot make them on its own so they must come from the diet.
Protein is also crucial for growing kids; their bodies use a lot of protein on a per body weight basis but protein also helps to keep them full throughout the day which studies show supports learning; hungry children cannot focus at school or get the nutrients their brains need for continued development.
It’s all about timing
Unlike fat and carbohydrate, we don’t have the ability to store protein beyond what is needed to maintain muscle and other tissues. Protein ideally needs to be consumed throughout the day in order to provide a steady stream of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, for muscles to be their best.
When it comes to getting enough protein, studies show that Canadians are doing well. Adults easily consume 80 to 90 grams of protein per day without much effort when they eat a variety of wholesome foods but their timing might not be the best.
Breakfast tends to be lowest in protein followed by lunch with dinner getting the lion’s share of the protein allotment. Why does this matter? Research shows that muscle ‘protein synthesis’, a.k.a. the stimulation of new muscle tissue needed for growth, repair and maintenance, needs a minimum amount of protein delivered to the muscles in order to get maximal muscle growth; skimp on protein and muscle protein synthesis drops.
The 30/30/30 rule
Studies of eating patterns indicate that many of us get about 10, maybe 15g of protein at breakfast, another 20g at lunch and 50 or so grams at dinner. While children and teens can get away with this given their pro-growth state, adults, and especially older adults cannot. They need to consistently get a decent amount of protein at each meal to help stimulate muscle growth and slow down muscle loss; the magic number is about 25 to 30g of protein per meal to do this.
The 30/30/30 rule is about getting 30g of protein (including good quality sources) at each meal, especially breakfast. Why? Because 12 or so hours have likely past since dinner, we all wake up in a negative protein balance; muscle loss that occurs while we sleep. Since we don’t eat overnight, we don’t have the usual supply of amino acids from our diet so we’ve borrowed some from our muscles and we need to replenish that.
One of the easiest ways to boost your breakfast protein intake is with eggs ; they have traditionally been a breakfast staple and today, it’s easier than ever before to get more egg nutrition. There are lots of great egg-based products on the market that help to remove the greatest barrier we all face when it comes to eating healthfully – a lack of time .
Starting around the age of 40, we start to lose muscle. This is referred to as sarcopenia , also known as age-related muscle loss; the insidious degenerative loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age. This loss increases more so after age 50 (0.5 to 1% per year after the age of 50) and along with it, a loss of muscle quality and strength. Because it happens so slowly, it goes largely unnoticed until later on in life. Sarcopenia is the underlying cause of frailty and loss of independence in the elderly.
You guessed it, but not only protein, protein coupled with some kind of resistance exercise/activity. Muscles need to be stimulated, or ‘told’ to take up the amino acids from the foods we eat and nothing does that better than good old-fashioned activity. As the saying goes, use it or lose it. Regardless of age, exercise can increase muscle protein synthesis by up to 50% but you have to go beyond your comfort level and push yourself if you really want to hang onto muscle – safely of course, getting injured is not cool.
Getting more protein in your diet
Protein-rich foods include meats, fish, poultry, cheeses, milk, eggs, nuts, seeds, and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans), as well as, protein powders like whey, soy (I prefer fermented soy versions), pea, and hemp protein. Whole grains and pseudo grains like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat also lend to the protein bottom line.
Doug Cook RD, MHSc