Is Your Diet Causing You to Lose Muscle?

 Whether or not you are an athlete, maintaining muscle mass is important for strength, keeping your metabolism up and maintaining physical independence later in life.  Protein helps to build and maintain muscle mass, so it is important to ensure that your meeting your protein needs with your diet.  However, new research done by Susan Hewlings, a registered dietitian who specializes in protein metabolism, found the timing of the protein intake is just as important as the total amount of protein.

Many Americans skip breakfast or they are not including a high quality protein source in the morning.  Lunch often includes a little more protein (if you are able to fit it into your schedule) and then we pack the protein in at dinner.  When we go long periods of time without protein during the day, our body starts to pull amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from our muscles so that our organs and other tissues can keep functioning properly.  In order to prevent this muscle loss, it is important that you do not skip meals and include a protein source at each meal and at snacks.

High quality protein sources include meats, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.  If you have vegetarian preferences, nuts, peanut butter, soy products, beans and legumes are also good sources of protein.  The following chart lists the protein content of some high protein foods:

Type of Food Protein grams Per serving What is a serving?
Meat ~7gm 1oz of beef, chicken, fish, ham, shellfish, turkey, etc.
Egg 6gm 1 egg
Milk and Yogurt 8gm 8 oz Milk, 8 oz Yogurt
Cheese 7gm 1 oz Cheese
Beans 8gm ½ Cup Beans
Nuts 2-10gm 1 oz Nuts (varieties vary greatly)
Seeds 5gm 1 oz Seeds

For heart health, try to choose low-fat dairy products, fish, lean meats and cut all visible fat from meats.  Some good choices include turkey or chicken without the skin, fish, low-fat or fat-free cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and milk.  Look for the words “round” or “loin” when choosing meats.

So how much protein do you need?  Protein needs depend on activity levels.  The following chart can give you some guidelines:

Type of Activity Recommendation
Non-Athletes and Recreational Athletes who workout at low intensities (i.e. walking) 0.36 gm/pound/day
Endurance Athletes 0.55-0.64 gm/pound/day
Strength Training 0.73-0.77 gm/pound/day

It can be easy to meet the recommended amount of protein with the diet, and most American’s get more than enough protein, so protein supplements are not necessary.  Rather, just think about whether or not you are spreading your protein intake throughout the day.  It can be quite simple.  For example, try having cereal with milk, eggs and toast, a fruit and yogurt parfait, or peanut butter on your toast for breakfast.  At snacks, it can be as easy as having yogurt or peanut butter with your fruit.

Resource: O’Neil C.  Balanced Diet Includes Protein Portions at Each Meal.  November 5th, 2008.