Welcome to week 7 of the EVOLVE Nutrition Foundation Program! There was a lot of knowledge dropped last week, and so this week will have some new information but also be a bit of a recap and chance for you to hone in all of the habits that we’ve been focused on.

Check out this week's video for a summary of some of our major nutrition habits over the past few weeks. How have you been doing? Are you struggling with any of them in particular? Take a moment to reflect, and then let us know!

Our new focus for this week is protein. As we discussed wayyyyyyyy back in Week 4 (practically a lifetime ago), protein is a macronutrient that is made up of chains of amino acids joined by peptide bonds. There are 20 different amino acids, and different combinations of amino acids result in different proteins. Of these, 9 are called essential amino acids, meaning that they must be obtained through our food as our body cannot create them from other raw materials. The other 11, while still important, are technically labelled non-essential amino acids because our body can actually synthesize them from other compounds. Pretty cool. There are also conditionally essential amino acids, which can be made by the body under the right circumstances, but that if we are stressed or training hard, the body may not be able to produce enough on its own. As such, we always do better when we give our body plenty to work with, and we should strive to eat a variety of different proteins and amino acids.

What exactly does protein do?

As a macronutrient, proteins are essential for our muscle structure, cellular repair, metabolism, hormones, enzymes, and immunity. After we eat whole proteins, our body breaks them down into their component amino acids, which then circulate in our blood stream, ready to be put to use. These amino acids are often a central component to key molecules in the body such as enzymes, neurotransmitters, immune cells, cell walls, and more. Protein also helps us to feel full and satiated after a meal.

The minimum amount of protein that you need per day to support life is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. But for most of us that is not enough. We don’t want to just sustain life, we want to thrive. If you are physical active (as the EVOLVE community is), young, old, under stress, sick, or otherwise placing an load on your system, you have an increased need for protein to help your system recover and repair itself. Without enough protein, you can start to develop overuse injuries, chronic colds, lengthened workout recovery times, a slower metabolism, decreased lean body mass, poor workout performance, among other issues. Imagine trying to repair an old house without being able to make a dozen trips to Home Depot for tools and supplies. You might have to make compromises, or take from one area of the house to repair another. It’s similar in your body without enough protein. Small, nagging issues may start to pop up, and then stick around as your body struggles to recover.

While for most people protein is not a “nutritional bad guy” in the way that carbs or fat often are, we find that protein can be the most difficult building block to obtain. Protein involves planning and preparation. It is easy to walk into a gas station and grab some chips (carbs + fat), or even a piece of fruit and some nuts, but you will have to search harder for lean protein sources.

Some examples of good sources of protein include:

  • Lean meat and poultry (beef, pork, chicken, venison, elk, buffalo, etc.)

  • Seafood

  • Beans and lentils (legumes)

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Eggs

  • Dairy

How much protein do I need?

Use this formula to calculate the amount of grams of protein you need for your body size:

1.2 - 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight

You can convert your bodyweight from pounds to kilograms by dividing by 2.2.

Here's a quick example: If I weight 135 pounds, I will need:

  • (135lbs / 2.2) x 1.2 = 74 grams (lower target)
  • (135lbs / 2.2) x 1.5 = 92 grams (upper target)

Consider the protein content of some of the common portion sizes shown in the diagram. Depending on your current eating patterns, the amount of protein that you need may seem like a lot!

The best and easiest way to get this in each day is to incorporate protein throughout your day. Your body can only utilize so much at one time, so taking in 60 grams at one time, is most likely not the most effective way. Also, remember when we talked about balancing building blocks? If you end up having too much of one biding block, you are most likely not getting enough of the others. Our general recommendation is about 20 grams of protein per main meal for women, 30 grams of protein for main meal for men, and 10-20 grams per snack for both males and females. 

Protein Tips:

  • Incorporate protein such as eggs and greek yogurt into your morning routine

  • Pre-cook protein, such as multiple chicken breasts, at the beginning of the week to be used for salads at lunch

  • Add beans or lentils along with some type of meat or poultry to a soup or stew

  • If you are vegetarian or vegan, focus on including beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and consider a protein supplement.

Common Protein Questions:

  • How do I get enough protein as a vegan or vegetarian? Do I need to combine protein sources like beans and rice?

    • This is an important question, and it is 100% possible to get enough as a vegan or vegetarian. However, any time that you cut out an entire food group, whether than is meat, or wheat, or dairy, or anything else, we recommend making an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. The reason is that we need to be concerned not just with macronutrients, but with our micronutrients as well. You are at an increased risk of being deficient in something if you are removing an entire food group from your diet. There are many very legitimate reasons to do this, and we help clients with it all the time, but it should warrant careful consideration and planning.

    • In general, however, anyone who is pursuing a vegan or vegetarian diet should consume a wide variety of plant-based foods that contain protein to ensure that you get all of your essential amino acids.

  • Protein causes me indigestion or GI discomfort. What should I do?

    • Again, this would be the perfect reason to set up an appointment with a Registered Dietitian to help uncover which types of proteins are less tolerated, a reason why, and strategies to ensure that you get enough. This could include eating more frequent but smaller portions of protein, or testing elimination and reintroduction, among other strategies.

  • What about protein powders?

    • Protein powders are not just for bodybuilder bros (we are not endorsed by Organic Valley)! A quality protein powder can be an excellent dietary supplement for almost anyone. It provides an easily prepared and digestible form or protein that is convenient and travel-friendly. It can be part of a post-workout snack, but can also be incorporated throughout your day to provide balance to an otherwise protein-lacking meal. This is a good independent ranking of protein powders. Things to look for include sourcing and added ingredients, sugar, or fillers. We use protein in our morning smoothies, or with a piece of fruit and handful of nuts as a midday snack.

  • I hear the term "lean" protein a lot. What does that mean? Also, does the source of my protein matter?

    • "Lean" protein means that the source of your protein has a low amount of fat associated with it. For example, a chicken breast or beef tenderloin are lean proteins, while a chicken thigh or ground beef have greater fat contents. While some types of fats are essential and healthy, excessive animal saturate fat is not right for everyone (again, consult your dietitian). As a general rule of thumb, it's best to eat a variety of types of protein but skew towards the leaner sources.

    • The source of your protein matters, as the any pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or other contaminants used during production can be passed along to you. If it is in your budget, organic or free-range options are best. If these are not available, a leaner protein will be a better choice as the saturated fats of animal proteins tend to cause more adverse effects overtime. 

Week 7 Goals:

  • Determine how much protein you need! (Your bodyweight in kilograms times 1.2 - 1.5g/kg).
  • Hit your protein targets! Ideally, with a variety of protein sources.
  • Bonus! At 80% of your eating occasions, include a balance of vegetables, complex carbohydrates, AND and appropriate serving size of lean protein.

Concerned or confused about nutrition? Not sure if your current nutritional habits are helping you meet your goals? Feel free to pop in Abby's office, schedule an appointment, or shoot her an email at abby@evolveflg.com