Why this dietitian is eating more protein

 

It is hard for most of us to believe that we are getting older. But, when my Medicare card arrived in the mail last week, it hit me that I’ve reached a milestone age. While I know that strength training (which I have been doing for years, but maybe not as routinely and rigorously as I should) is a cornerstone of preventing muscle mass loss with aging (called sarcopenia), protein intake is equally important.

Cheese AmsterdamAt a recent conference, protein researcher guru, Dr. Stu Phillips of McMaster University in Canada, laid out a convincing trail of research to show that the protein needs for aging muscle is greater than for younger adults. We need more protein and we need to spread our intake of protein throughout the day. Most adults eat less than 15 grams of protein at breakfast and get greater than 60% of their protein at dinner. Sound familiar? It does to me!

A few facts about protein:

  • High quality protein contains all of the building blocks, called essential amino acids (EAAs) and includes:
    • Protein from animal sources (beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt)
    • Protein from soy (tofu, edamame, soy burgers, patties, crumbles, soy milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • The following foods do not contain all of the EAAs, but they contribute to total protein intake:
    • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, etc), almond butter, seeds (sunflower, chia, flax), legumes (peanuts, pinto, navy black beans, etc, split peas, black-eyed peas), peanut butter, quinoa, rice, whole grain bread

Try these 2 things to build and maintain your muscles:

  • Eat more total protein (you need ~0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight)
  • Spread the protein out in 3-4 evenly spaced meals

Here are some sample meal and snack ideas to increase protein and distribute it throughout the day. I gave this information to my exercise class partners and one person was surprised that I didn’t include almond milk in any of the suggestions. The reason? Almond milk is a poor protein source (and a poor source of almonds according to recent reports that say almond milk has only 2-3% almonds!) A glass of almond milk has 1-2 grams of protein. Compare that to a glass of dairy milk with 8 grams or soy milk with 7 grams.

Sample meals and snacks with about 30 grams of protein: Lean Beef Stir Fry

6 oz Greek yogurt (18)*
1 oz granola (4)
Small banana (1)
Skim milk latte (6)
2 scrambled eggs with 1 oz cheese and spinach (21)
8 oz soy milk (7)
½ slice whole grain toast (2)
Smoothie made with 1 ounce whey protein powder (20)**
6 oz Greek vanilla yogurt (18)
½ cup frozen berries (1)
Large green salad with veggies (2)
4 oz grilled chicken or salmon (28)
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds (1)
1 Tablespoon chopped nuts (1)
3 oz tuna mixed with mayo (21)
2 slices of whole grain bread (7)
Lettuce, tomato, banana peppers or other veggies (2)
1 cup pasta (6)
3 oz turkey or beef meatballs (21)
Green salad with balsamic vinegar dressing (1)
1 cup cottage cheese (28)
1 Tablespoon chopped nuts (1)
3 slices fresh or canned peaches (1)
Stir fry with ½ cup tofu (10)
Carrots, broccoli, edamame (16)
1 cup brown rice (5)
3 oz cheddar cheese (21)
6 whole grain crackers (2)
8 ounces skim milk (8)

*grams protein in parentheses 

 **most protein powders have ~20 grams protein per serving, but check labels

 I recently attended a nutrition conference in London and some of the information for this article was obtained at a by Dr. Stu Phillips and sponsored by Daisy Brand Cottage Cheese. My travel and accommodations were partially provided by the event’s many sponsors. I was not asked to write this article and was not paid for my time. I have no consulting or financial interest in Daisy Brand Cottage Cheese.