By now, you know that protein is essential if you want to practice healthy eating or if you want to shed pounds. You may be eating what you consider ‘enough’ or the ‘right’ protein foods, but still struggle with shedding pounds. This may happen if you do not know when to eat protein. That means no matter how long you have been following the high-protein diet, it may take ages before you see the desired results. Let us go back to the basics and evaluate when you need to consume protein for maximum benefits.
Most of us do not eat enough protein, let alone know when to eat protein. For others, eating more protein means eating more meat. All these different perceptions may help in explaining why your goals may take longer than expected.
So, to maximize and quicken these results, we will discuss when to eat protein and what are the correct amounts. We will also suggest the best protein food sources to help you attain your fitness goals.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Before you even start loading up on protein, you must understand the amounts of protein your body needs. Some people believe that if you work out more, you will tend to have higher requirements. Others think that an individual’s activity levels influence these requirements.
However, neither of these is the case. According to WebMD, the daily amounts of protein you are required to consume depends on your age (1). Below are the recommended amounts of these food groups for individuals in different age groups. Take a look (1):
- Children below four years: 13 g
- Children aged 4 to 8: 19 g
- Children aged 9 to 13: 34 g
- Teenage girls and women aged 14 and above: 46 g
- Adolescent boys aged 14 to 18: 52 g
- Men aged 19 and above: 56 g
We all know that we are supposed to consume various calories each day. The calorie intake is influenced by your age, body size, height, lifestyle, and general health. An average woman is likely to require between 1, 600, and 2, 400 calories daily (4).
On the other hand, an average man will require calories between 2, 000 and 3, 000 every day (4). You are recommended to get 10% to 35% of these daily calories from your protein (1). Talk to your dietitian if you have problems calculating your daily calorie intake.
When Can You Eat Protein?
Of course you can have a protein bar or hard-boiled egg any time you desire. That said, if you want to reap the protein health benefits, you need to eat protein at specific times. Below are the best times to eat protein:
When You Want To Lose Weight
Due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, many individuals are battling associated lifestyle diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Health gurus acknowledge that shedding extra pounds can help with reducing your risk of such health conditions.
In light of this, most people have gone on a weight loss journey. While some people are using exercise programs to drop pounds, others are using weight loss meal plans. Most of these weight loss diet plans tend to recommend high-protein diets.
According to Medical News Today, research shows that protein consumption can help promote weight loss. Studies suggest this is possible as high protein diets may help in increasing satiety (11). Satiety refers to the feeling of being full.
When you have increased satiety, it means that you feel full for longer. As a result, you minimize your snacking and prevent overeating. Overeating and over-snacking are two of the risk factors for increased calorie intake.
High-calorie intake compromises your efforts of maintaining a calorie deficit for weight loss. With that said, despite eating a high-protein diet for weight loss, you may notice some weight gain due to high-calorie consumption.
If you eat these protein diets and start an exercise program, you are bound to burn more calories. Exercising may help you gain lean muscle mass, allowing you to burn more calories, further leading to weight loss.
What Are The Best High Protein Foods To Eat For Weight Loss?
Some people believe that the best protein food source is meat. As such, you will find them cooking meat every other day. It is worth noting that a high protein diet does not specifically entail meat. More accurately it combines lean meat and plant-based protein food sources. Some of the very best examples of these foods to help you shed pounds include (7):
- Black beans. Black beans are excellent protein food sources that you can add to your weight loss meal plan. You can prepare them in numerous ways, depending on your preference.
- Lima beans. There are a variety of lima beans recipes you can choose to follow online. Cooking 100 g of these beans provides you with 8 g of protein.
- Salmon. The salmon cooking recipes are countless. So, there should be no excuse as to why this food is not in your meal plan. This fatty fish is not only rich in protein but also omega-3 fatty acids. It may not be as budget-friendly as other options in this list, but it is undoubtedly worth it if you can afford it.
- Yellow corn. Yellow corn is rich in protein, fiber, and other minerals like calcium. One cup of yellow corn gives you roughly 5 g of protein.
- Chicken breast. Most fitness experts will advise you to consume lean protein for weight loss. Chicken breast is an excellent example of these lean protein sources. However, you have to get rid of the skin of the chicken breast. Half a skinless chicken breast weighing 86 g provides you with 2726 g of protein.
- Oats. Have you ever wondered why most people prefer eating oats for breakfast? Perhaps it is a preference, but it is most likely because it is a great breakfast food option for weight watchers. Besides protein, oats also provide you fiber and complex carbohydrates. Remember to flavor your oats with healthy food options such as nuts and fruits instead of sweeteners with added sugars.
- Lean beef. Lean beef is the best meat option for anyone on a weight loss journey. It tends to contain low traces of fat, making it convenient for someone looking for less fatty beef.
Remember that you should not make any dietary changes without consulting with a professional. Thus, before you add any or all of these food options to your diet plan, make sure you consult with your dietitian or nutritionist. They will help you craft a suitable diet plan that aligns with your daily calorie intake.
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Before Starting A Workout
Another incredible time to consume protein is before you exercise. Some people have been known to exercise on an empty stomach while others train after consuming fruits such as bananas. Contrary to what you may think, protein is also a great pre-workout food option.
According to Medical News Today, consuming protein before exercising can increase your rate of muscle protein synthesis. It may even last for hours. Note that the protein intake should range between 20 and 30 grams (9).
What Can You Eat Before A Workout?
Most people may work out without eating anything. However, this is not recommended for anyone who tends to run low on energy. If you are among such people, you need to eat at least 30 minutes before starting your exercise routine (6).
The best pre-workout snack is one that combines both protein and carbohydrates. WebMD suggests this is the case because carbohydrates provide fuel for your exercises, while proteins increase your muscle synthesis (6).
Knowing this, if you choose to have a protein shake before workout, make sure it has some carbs in it. Remember to hydrate and avoid high-calorie snacks because you will gain more calories than you are burning.
Next, you need to consume protein after you are done with your workouts. For most of us, upon finishing a training program, especially a gruesome one, means taking a shower and relaxing. We often forget that we also need to eat after exercising.
Have you ever wondered why your instructor emphasizes post-workout protein snack or the need to consume protein after workout? Well, eating protein after exercising is essential as it helps your muscles recover and grow (10).
The protein also protects against the loss of lean mass, which is vital if you want that muscular body shape. Nonetheless, you cannot just consume any sort of protein food source that you bump into when going through your fridge.
Although your muscles do not care where the protein comes from, your body does care about the amount of protein you consume. WebMD recommends you consume 10 to 20 g of protein to allow your muscles to recover and grow (10).
What Protein Foods Should You Eat After Exercising?
As we have determined earlier, you cannot just eat any other protein food after completing your exercise regime. You need to focus on those food options that provide you with between 10 and 20 g of high quality protein. Some of these foods include:
- Milk. Medical News Today states that 9 g of milk is enough to provide your body with enough protein to stimulate protein synthesis in your muscles (8). Stimulating protein synthesis assists in recovery after completing an exercise routine.
- Low-fat kefir. One cup of low-fat kefir provides your body with 9.2 g of protein (8). These proteins are enough to repair cells in the muscles that have been torn or damaged during your workouts.
- Greek yogurt. This yogurt contains low calories and high protein content that can help you build or maintain muscle mass.
- Soy-based proteins. These are vital in promoting muscle growth, especially after a resistance training program (8).
- Ricotta or cottage cheese. Medical News Today also mentions that these two types of cheeses can come in handy after a workout program. They are effective as they support the fast growth of lean muscle mass (8).
- Eggs. You might have noticed that most workout fanatics always opt for an egg or two after finishing their workouts. A 2017 study found that consuming whole eggs after resistance training led to more protein synthesis than consuming egg whites with a similar amount of protein (8).
- A protein bar. As you may have guessed, protein bars make excellent post-workout protein food options. However, there are a couple of things that you need to consider when picking your protein bar. The most crucial factor to consider is its nutritional content. Medical News Today advises that you go through these bars’ nutritional profiles before adding them to your cart (5). Reading through the labels will help you determine those with high sugar content. The last thing you need is added sugar, which means extra calories.
When You Want To Build Muscle
Another excellent time to consume protein is when you want to build muscle and get that muscular physique. Most people believe that building muscle mass only requires resistance training programs. However, that is far from the truth.
Your diet also plays an integral role in muscle mass development. Therefore, you cannot slack off in the kitchen while you break your back in the gym and still expect a muscular physique. You especially need protein to build muscle. With that said, go back to the drawing board and evaluate your meal plans.
After you are done with your resistance exercises, you will need to consume protein. You must consume these foods because resistance training workouts tend to stress your muscles and cause tiny tears.
Your body uses skeletal muscle protein to grow the muscle fibers, which results in the increase of their size and strength (2). Protein also contains amino acids that repair and build your muscle tissues (6). The primary amino acids used in these processes are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). They include isoleucine, valine, and leucine (2).
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What Are The Best Protein Foods To Consume To Build Muscle?
First and foremost, you will need to consume foods with reasonable amounts of branched-chain amino acids. Some of the highly suggested foods by WebMD with BCAAs and other significant amino acids include eggs, fish, pork, beef, dairy, and poultry (2).
Nonetheless, you do not have to restrict yourself to these food choices only. You can also combine various protein foods with other food groups for maximum gains. Here are suggested combinations you can try (2):
- Mixing seeds and nuts with whole grains. For instance, you can crush the nuts to make nut butter, which you can spread on whole-wheat toast.
- Consuming whole grains with beans. For example, you can prepare beans with rice, refried beans, and tortillas, or hummus and pita bread.
- Mixing beans with seeds and nuts, especially in a salad. For instance, you can prepare a salad and then add some chickpeas and sunflower seeds.
How Long Will It Take To Build Muscle?
Like with weight loss, most people want to build muscle overnight. The thought of eating right and doing the correct exercises but still not getting results may be frustrating, to say but the least. But again, like with weight loss, patience is vital if you want to build muscle mass.
Some people may start seeing results after some time, while others may take an extended duration before seeing results. Do not beat yourself up, especially if you are training correctly and eating protein in the recommended amounts.
Remember that as we age, our muscle mass and strength tend to decrease (3). Men will even lose muscle mass and strength faster than women. So, do not expect to build muscle at the same rate as a twenty-year-old if you are in your fifties.
Muscle response to your resistance training and dietary plans will differ due to your age, body size, hormones, and composition. So, be patient.
The Bottom Line
We all need protein in our bodies as it helps in various bodily processes, such as muscle growth and repair. It’s important to note that there are suitable times when to eat protein for maximum benefits. These include when you want to lose weight, build muscle, before and after an exercise program.
Eating various protein foods at these specific timelines may help bring you one step closer to attaining your fitness goals. However, you must make sure that these foods align with your daily calorie and protein requirements. Seek professional help if you are not sure about your protein or calorie requirements.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Benefits of Protein (2020, webmd.com)
- Foods That Help You Build Muscle (2020, webmd.com)
- How long does it take to build muscle? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- How many calories should I eat a day? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- How much protein does a person need? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Pre-Workout Snacks (2010, webmd.com)
- What foods are high on protein? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What should you eat after working out? (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What to eat before a workout to lose weight and build muscle (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise (2013, webmd.com)
- When to consume protein: The facts (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)