Protein and Muscle Mass

Protein and Muscle Mass

Many of us are aware of the “food culture” debate about eating meat. Vegetarianism and veganism have become not only fads but another subject or distraction for judgment and “othering.” In this article, I will present some facts about the overall health of most Americans, and you can make your decision and choice for yourself. 

Often people question whether they should eat less meat, how important protein really is, and whether they are getting enough. Here are some facts to consider. Muscle mass peaks in our 30s. After that, there is a slow and steady decline. Also, more than 45% of older adults in the U.S., especially women, have sarcopenia, which is an age-related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Keep in mind that muscle loss is the leading cause of falling. This can lead to assisted living in some cases and, in others, injuries, such as hip fracture, that can often lead to death. 

Our bodies consist of body fat and lean body mass. The lean body mass consists of our bones, water weight, and muscle mass. So, how do we help fight the loss of muscle? We must exercise and eat well to maintain healthy muscle mass. Since many Americans are “under-muscled,” we need to stay on top of our resistance training in addition to paying attention to what we eat. 

Our diet impacts our muscle heath greatly. Since amino acids are the building blocks of our muscles and tissue, nine of them (out of 20) are essential, which means they must come directly from what we eat. These nine can not be produced by the body. The recommended intake of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight or you can calculate your weight in pounds and multiply it by .36. Since this is the minimum and recommended amount, more is needed as we age and for those who exercise a lot. 

So, not only do we need to pay attention to our food intake, we need to have resistance training and strength training in our daily exercises. In resistance training, we use our own body weight in practices such as yoga, while in strength training we add more weight to build more muscle mass. Whether we add resistance training or strength training to our routines, we are actually tearing muscle fiber. The amino acids help to repair the damage and therefore gain the muscle back. After each exercise, the body needs to regenerate the body and muscles. 

Keep in mind that protein is the building block for ALL the tissue in your body. Most young adults get the minimum amount of protein recommended. Yet, later in life, protein deficiency sets in. Simply put, as we age we need to consume more protein. Also, for those who want to grow muscle mass, you need to include more strength training.

You may ask is it possible to get too much protein? If the main source of protein is meat, this can increase cholesterol levels and, in some people, even cause kidney damage. 

It’s important to consider other sources of protein such as fish, greek yogurt, vegetables, broccoli, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and high protein grains such as farro and quinoa.

You may also consider plant based proteins and powders. Whey-based protein has the most amino acids available, so it’s a good choice for smoothies.

Some of us tend to run out of ideas for protein, so it’s important to keep it interesting and include a variety of types. Some simple options are eggs, which have about 6g of protein in each, and high-protein grains such as farro and quinoa, legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans.  

For those who have a “plant-based” diet, it is possible to get all the necessary proteins with a little bit of planning. Just be sure to include a lot of nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans and lentils. You may also want to consider pea protein powder in place of the whey protein powder, although it does not have equivalent amounts of amino acids. 

Below are some easy options to get you started in adding more protein in your diet. 

1. Amp up your morning breakfast (Include greek yogurt and add nuts, especially pumpkin seeds). 

2. Eggs (protein on the go, many options available).

3. Power up with smoothies (whey protein being the most packed with amino acids).

4. Add fish to your salad (cod, salmon, tuna, sardines).

5. Sprinkle hemp and pumpkin seeds (high in magnesium) onto salads and smoothies.

6. Incorporate high protein grains and veggies such as farro, quinoa, and broccoli.

Evidence clearly shows that protein intake is important to maintaining overall health and wellbeing. Calculate the amount of protein you need according to your weight, make a list of high protein foods you enjoy, and begin incorporating it into your diet today! 

Jennifer B.

Wow! What a great article! Mahnaz really nails the importance of protein in an,especially helpful way. I have found it personally confusing to find information about how much protein I need, and the best sources. I appreciate the breakdown of why protein matters, (from muscle decline to amino acids),and the emphasis on mindful eating and exercise. Thanks for offering tips for everyone, regardless of diet preferences. It's a timely reminder to prioritize our health by feeding our minds great information that is not readily at hand. I wish this kind of information was touted more by medical professionals, and that healthful eating was giving the same weight as much as avoiding obviously bad things like cigarettes and over-indulgence of alcohol. Thanks!