The Worst Mistakes You’re Making with Your Protein Intake
As the nutrient primarily responsible for healthy skin, teeth and hair, protein is literally essential to life.
With all the fanfare about protein’s additional role in weight loss and muscle building, you can be tempted to scarf it any way, anyhow. But even though it’s healthy, there are wrong ways to consume it in the hopes of meeting your daily needs. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll reach your fitness and weight-loss goals that much faster.
As with everything you eat, more protein isn’t better. After a certain point, your body will store the excess as fat. Researchers say that consuming 20 grams of protein within 30 minutes of leaving the gym is optimal for the average 150-pound person. According to Lisa De Fazio, MS, RD, women who weigh a bit less may only need 12 grams. Fuel your fitness goals and muscle recovery the right way with our guide to what to eat after a workout.
A “complete protein” is one that provides all nine amino acids essential to life. Unsurprisingly, complete proteins are best for weight loss and muscle growth because amino acids are instrumental in both. Varying your protein sources will ensure you’re getting all nine. Plus, you’ll also get the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients that prevent disease, spur weight loss and grow muscle. It’s just like you learned in elementary school: Aim to eat a variety of leafy greens, legumes and brightly colored fruits and vegetables each day, along with any meat or fish sources. Make sure to include some of the foods that work double duty for your healthy and weight loss goals: legumes, which have been shown to speed weight loss and lower cholesterol; yogurt, the vitamin D and calcium in which combine to maximize waist shrinking; and nuts like almonds, which contain L-arginine, an amino acid that has been shown to increase fat burning during workouts.
Don’t be swayed by the sheer size of the whey-protein section at nutrition stores; downing one of those powders can make your belly seem just as swollen. Because whey is a dairy derivative—and commercial preparations tend to contain all manner of funky chemicals—protein powders that use this source as a base can lead to bloat. Plant protein powders won’t, and they’re also less likely to include nasty artificial sweeteners. (Although recent science indicates they’re not carcinogenic, as feared, artificial sweeteners have been shown to actually increase your appetite.) Look for pea, hemp, soy or rice powders, ideally in blends (read on to see why). Those looking to build muscle shouldn’t shrink in fear: In a 2013 study published in Nutrition Journal, University of Tampa researchers found that rice protein was just as effective as whey in building muscle and strength among men who worked out frequently.
Now that you know to opt for plant protein, make sure it’s a blended one. Although plant proteins are superior to whey when it comes to slimming down, they do have one drawback: Single varieties aren’t complete proteins in and of themselves. (All the more reason to ensure you’re not relying on a single source of protein in general.) Consuming a blended plant-protein powder (like one that contains both pea and rice, along with a variety of sprouts) will ensure you’re getting more amino acids and thus the most bang for your supplement buck. Good examples of blended plant proteins are Garden of Life Raw Protein, Vega and Sunwarrior.
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