Who isn’t confused about protein?!
The narrative around protein is constantly changing, and TBH, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with it myself.
That’s why I invited Dr. Donald Layman, an expert on all things protein, amino acids, and metabolism, onto the podcast to provide some clarity for my listeners (and for me!).
Today, I’m giving you the top takeaways from our conversation so you can walk away knowing how protein fits in the context of a healthy diet.
If you want to get stronger, live longer, and improve your body composition, this newsletter is for you!
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Why It’s Important to Prioritize Protein (Especially after Age 40!)
As we grow older, our bodies become less efficient at building and maintaining muscle. Around age 40, we start losing a significant portion of our lean muscle mass—about 8 percent per decade, according to Dr. Layman—which puts us at a greater risk of sarcopenia, brittle bones, and fractures.
But there’s a way to get around this! Ensuring we’re eating adequate protein and engaging in resistance exercise can help combat the loss of muscle and even help us add on healthy muscle as we age if we’re under-muscled.
How Much Protein Do You Need to Preserve Muscle Mass?
To maintain proper protein intake, the recommended daily amount is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, as we age, our bodies become less effective at processing protein, so those over 40 should aim for 1.2–1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. And for those who are physically active, it’s best to aim for the higher end of that range.
If that sounds like too much math, Dr. Layman offers a simplified number. A lot of doctors I look up to synthesize Dr. Layman’s advice by saying you should consume one gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight daily.
For women who are drastically undereating protein, Dr. Layman recommends starting with a minimum of 100 grams, and then, once you master that, you can work your way up to your ideal protein intake level.
Hitting Your Protein Goal
The easiest way to hit your protein goal? Eat breakfast! Choose a time that works best for you and structure your meal to include 30–50 grams of protein. This gives you a nice buffer to hit your protein goal by the end of the day.
Below you’ll find some examples of high-protein foods to help you hit your protein goal from @meowmeix. For reference, four ounces of protein is equal to approximately a palm-sized portion and usually ranges from 26–30 grams of protein.
Structuring your meals around protein will make it easier to reach your protein goals. Here are some examples of what 30 grams of protein looks like (source: @meowmeix):
You Need Leucine to Build Muscle
You’ve probably heard of leucine, a branched-chain amino acid critical for repairing and building muscle. It’s also essential for preventing muscle wasting with age AND it supports balanced blood sugar. SCORE!
Because our bodies become less sensitive to leucine as we age, we need to make sure we’re getting enough of it at every meal. According to Dr. Layman, you’ll need about 2.5–3 grams of leucine per meal or 7.5–9 grams per day.
Some foods contain more of this amino acid than others. Animal protein tends to be the highest in leucine and has a more beneficial profile of amino acids than plant protein. It’s possible to get leucine from plant proteins, too, it’ll just require eating more or proper supplementation.
- Steak: 2.5 grams per 3-ounce serving
- Whey protein powder: 2.5 grams per scoop
- Chicken: 1.7 grams per 3-ounce serving
- Eggs: 1.1 grams per 2-egg serving
- Firm (non-GMO) tofu: 1.2 grams per 3-ounce serving
- Pumpkin seeds: 0.7 grams per 1-ounce serving
Resistance Exercise + Protein Is 🔑 for Weight Loss and Preserving Muscle Mass
How can you lose weight and improve body composition without losing muscle? That’s the million-dollar question! The truth is, when weight loss is the goal, there’s always going to be some lean tissue loss, but we can mitigate the amount that’s lost by:
A) Meeting your daily protein intake goal (one gram per pound of ideal body weight, or at least 100 grams for women just starting to increase their protein intake).
B) Incorporating resistance exercises two or three times per week. Layman states that resistance training makes up 75 percent of the equation for muscle growth, while diet makes up 25 percent. Yoga, weight lifting, rowing, lunges, squats, push-ups, and planks can count as resistance exercise. Aim for at least two or three days a week of resistance exercise.
Concerns about Protein Intake and mTOR?
Dr. Valter Longo, Dr. David Sinclair, and other experts in the longevity space have concerns about protein intake and mTOR—a gene linked to cell growth and cancer when it’s constantly turned on.
Longo and Sinclair believe it’s best to eat less protein and focus on high-fiber foods instead. However, undereating protein comes with its own risks, such as loss of mobility and increased risk for osteoporosis, fractures, hospitalization, and more.
According to Dr. Layman and Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, mTOR only becomes an issue when it is activated continuously. Protein consumption activates mTOR for building lean muscle tissue, which is essential for longevity.
Similarly, exercise is also beneficial for activating mTOR. The problem with mTOR arises when it is constantly activated by frequent eating and snacking. If we plan our meals around protein, however, we can avoid snacking, which allows mTOR to switch off in due time, giving our bodies adequate time to recover between meals.
Here’s to a stronger you,