How Much Protein Do You Really Need, Bro?

9 days until my triathlon. 02273278b85cdb7506deb627071459b5
To say I’m freaking out would be an understatement. To say I enjoy swimming after all the hours I’ve spent in the pool these last few months would be a huge lie. But as much as I’m looking forward to getting this thing done and over with so I can take a much-needed week of rest, I’m still excited about the experience.

I’m looking forward to waking up at 4:30 so I can get to the starting area in time to get body-marked (I still have no idea what that is). All of my brick workouts have only consisted of two sports; between cycling and running I have a vanilla Gu (which totally tastes like a Cadbury Creme Egg) and between swimming and cycling I have some Clif energy chews. On triathlon day I get BOTH. #score

But as fun as all of this is, I have to admit I’m EXHAUSTED. Between swimming, cycling, running, and strength training I logged 9 workouts last week and 7 this week. This swimming shit is no joke. Breathing is where I struggle the most, but I’m beginning to find that after around 7 or 8 laps I start to get the hang of it. So if that’s any indication of how things will go next Sunday, I’ll struggle and flail for the first 350-400m, then be able to pull myself together for the last 150-100m. Awesome.

Aside from the fact that running after riding a bike for an hour is the WEIRDEST sensation ever, those training sessions don’t feel as taxing on my body as swimming does. I’m probably cycling more and running more than I need to for a sprint triathlon, but I’m Ariana and that’s what I do I guess.

I’ve never looked forward to a week without exercise as much as I have these past couple days. As of tomorrow there’s 7 weeks until the Seawheeze Half Marathon which means that as soon as the tri is over I should be well underway into training for that. But I have a feeling taking a week off is going to prove to be more beneficial than pushing through runs when I’m already exhausted.

As I put my body through all this crap, paying attention to proper nutrition is essential to ensuring I’m prepared for each workout and can recovery efficiently. Carbohydrates are huge in this since they’re the body’s preferred source of energy. But one thing that many endurance athletes often overlook is protein. The bodybuilders are over on the excessive-consumption end of the scale, boasting about all the gains they’re making from eating ALL the protein. Bro. #DoYouEvenProtein? can-i-eat-this
Maybe because of this endurance athletes are afraid to increase their protein consumption because they don’t want big muscles weighing them down. Or maybe they just want to eat all the carbs. Who knows. But protein is critical to helping your body repair itself after you ride a bike for 40km and then decide a 15km run would be a fun idea afterwards.

If you know anything about nutrition you probably know that protein is essential for growth and repair of the body. In addition to making our hair and nails nice and strong, protein also helps the body repair minuscule muscle tears that occur as a result of physical activity. As the amino acids of protein molecules fix these tears, our muscles become stronger and better able to handle that same task next time. My grade 11 biology teacher described amino acids as the “Bob the Builders of the body”. And I thought that was super fun.

Knowing what protein does is the easy part. Knowing how much of it to consume is a little harder. You may think, since protein does all these great things for our bodies, that more is better. But that’s not the case. Our bodies are only capable of utilizing a certain amount of protein at a time, so excess amounts are either flushed down the toilet or stored as fat.

While it’s true that carbohydrates and dietary fat are more likely to trigger fat storage mechanisms, at the end of the day protein contains calories, and if you take in more calories than you expend it’s gotta go somewhere. Some will exit your body as urine, but some will inevitably get stored as fat. It has also been argued that excessive amounts of protein can cause kidney problems as they have to work harder to process the nitrogen compounds that protein contains. But don’t fret protein-loving friends; this has only been proven in individuals who have existing kidney problems and are eating EXCESSIVE quantities of protein, like 250 grams per day.

Health Canada recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day for the average sedentary individual. Why they can’t do it in pounds is beyond me, but we can easily find out our weight in kilograms with a quick equation. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and you have your weight in kilograms. For example, if you weigh 150lb: 150/2.2 = 62.8kg. Now if we go by Health Canada’s recommendation of 0.8g/kg, that would leave us with eating around 50 grams of protein per day.

Bro. Do you even protein???

I made a protein pancake once that contained more than 50 grams of protein in it. Now I’ll admit, I’m totally guilty of having been in the “more is better” mindset when it comes to protein consumption. For about a year I was under the impression that I needed AT LEAST 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Weighing in at just under 120lb, I was targeting around 130 grams per day. The problem with that though was that I had a calorie target I wanted to stay within, and with much of my calories coming from all the protein I really didn’t need I was missing out on a lot of the carbohydrates my active body really wanted.

So we need to find a balance between eating too much protein and the minimal amount that’s recommended by our friends at Health Canada. Because YOU, my lovely readers, are likely not sedentary and you most certainly are not average!

For those of us who enjoy the challenge of training for three sports at once, are engaging in weight training activities to build lean muscle, or are on a weight loss journey, we need a little more protein in our lives.

As I mentioned earlier, physical activity causes microtears in our muscles and we need our building blocks, AKA amino acids, to go and repair those tears so we can come back better and stronger next time. Protein is also an essential component to your weight loss journey to ensure you maintain your lean muscle mass even as your reduce your calories. Muscle is active tissue and having more of it increases your metabolic rate. In simple terms, you burn more calories just by being alive.

A good target to work within is 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. So let’s say our 150lb friend is engaging in weight training activities 3 days per week and cardiovascular training 5 days per week in an attempt to lose some weight. She’s also reduced her caloric intake by around 250 per day, so by eating around 100 grams of protein per day (102.3 grams to be exact) she will be setting herself up for success with regards to losing body fat and gaining some sexy lean muscle. In her case I chose 1.5 grams of protein per kg.

We’d use the higher end of the target for crazy individuals who are participating in the Olympic and Half Ironman events at my triathlon next week. They’re likely training HARD 6 days a week, logging at least 20 hours of exercise over the course of those 6 days. I’d recommend 1.8 grams of protein per kg to ensure their body recovers properly from all the exercise and so they don’t lose too much muscle mass from all the activity they’re engaging in. For a 150lb person, this would be 122.76 grams of protein.

Now where do we get all of this protein from? First thing that comes to the minds of many is meat, and apparently if you’re vegetarian you don’t eat protein. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Meat is definitely a concentrated source of protein and contains all of the essential amino acids, which are amino acids the body can’t produce so we need to get them from food.

But plant-based sources of protein most definitely exist and provide the body with an array of micronutrients we can’t get from meat. It may take a little more effort, but vegetarians can still eat a protein-rich diet and get all the amino acids they need by eating a variety of foods. Don’t get me wrong here, I love my meat. But I am SO over the days of eating eggs for breakfast, tuna salad for lunch, egg whites for a snack, and a chicken breast for dinner just so I could “get my gains”.

Some great plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans, quinoa (which contains all of the essential amino acids, along with soy), and nuts and seeds. There’s a variety of plant-based protein powders usually made from a blend of pea protein, brown rice protein, and hemp protein. I find some of their textures to be quite chalky, but I’m a big fan of Vega. Fun plant-based protein fact: 1 cup of kale contains 3 grams of protein! So snack away on those kale chips my herbivore friends.

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Ignore the recommended amount on the bottom 😉

For us omnivores, we have quite the variety to choose from. In addition to the plant-based sources mentioned above, we of course have poultry, fish, shellfish, pork, beef, eggs, dairy, venison….there’s a multitude of possibilities!

I like to incorporate a variety of protein sources into my day, including whole eggs (in their cholesterol-y goodness), hemp seeds, nut butters, greek yogurt, whey protein, and some kind of lean meat protein once each day. 3 ounces of chicken breast contains 27 grams of protein and is approximately the size of the palm of your hand, so it’s not necessary to gorge on pounds and pounds of meat to get your daily protein intake. So what about you, my active, muscle-building friends? Where do you like to get your protein from? Are you aware of how much protein you’re consuming each day, and if so do you think you’re getting enough? 

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15 thoughts on “How Much Protein Do You Really Need, Bro?

  1. Body marking is when they right your Age group on your calf and your number somewhere else… I’m pretty sure! So that you can tell who around you is in your age group and also so that if anything happens during the swim they can identify you cause you won’t have a paper number.

    🙂 GOOD LUCK! Where is it happening!? I should come cheer you on.

  2. Your first triathlon is going to be so exciting! You’ll do just fine and you’ll love it once it’s all done! Interesting post on protein. I always find your writing informative. I think I eat enough protein. I aim for at least 60g per day and some days take in more via a protein drink.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I go through waves where I’m super pumped and plan about doing an Olympic distance (today was one of those days because I was just cycling and running) and then there are the times where I feel like I might die (yesterday being one of those days because I was swimming).

      It sounds like you’re getting a good amount of protein! That’s great you have a target you work towards.

  3. I try to be as vegetarian as possible. I probably get most of my protein though beans – and the gallons of hummus I eat! Ha – as for the triathlon meme – a local radio guy did his first ironman last week. He was talking about it this morning – said the training was more of a beating than the actual race! Crazy!

    • Ooo very nice! I love hummus!

      I can imagine training for an Ironman would be intense…I’m exhausted just from my little sprint over here! That makes me hopeful this coming Sunday will be a breeze though 😉

  4. WHY am I JUST now reading this? Holy crap girl- you are huge resource of info. My hubby is a nutrition professor and often blabs in my ear about this stuff but you are much more interesting to listen to/read 🙂 Love your writing style and all your factoids!!!

  5. Pingback: High Protein Egg-Spinach Combo | Recipes for a Healthy You

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