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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Protein essential for active bodies

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Ask the Nutritionist: Protein essential for active bodies

The National Restaurant Association's Director of Nutrition and Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., provides regular commentary on the NRA News blog. This latest post discusses the importance of protein.

I trust you were inspired watching the Olympics as much as I was. The talent, ability and discipline of these athletes is truly amazing. Lots of preparation goes on behind the scenes with years of training and a proper diet to fuel the athletes’ performances. In many cases, athletes work with a registered dietitian to manage their weight and ensure overall proper nutrition by following their eating behavior.

We can learn some valuable lessons from these athletes. Many of their diets are comprised of lean meats, low fat dairy, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. One important part of their diet is protein. In general, according to the recommended dietary allowance, individuals should consume about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This would translate to about 55 grams of protein per day for a 150 lb. individual. However, many competitive athletes need at least 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of protein. For those consuming 1.5 grams per kilogram of protein, this would translate to about 102 grams per day for a 150 lb. individual.

The quality of protein also plays a key role, a rule that holds true for everyone, Olympic athlete or not. High-quality protein provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Examples include dairy products, eggs, fish, lean meats, soy protein and poultry. Vegans can meet their protein intake by eating a variety of plant foods including whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, soy and seeds. These sources provide lower amounts of the amino acids present and are less absorbed relative to other protein sources.

New research indicates that consuming protein throughout the day is optimal for health. Many of us consume protein mainly at dinner, while we should incorporate more protein into all of our meals and snacks. Ideally, an individual should consume at least 15-20 grams of protein per meal. Food examples for inclusion at breakfast and/or lunch could include eggs, low fat cheese, high protein cereal (typically provides greater than 9 grams/serving), yogurts (Greek yogurt traditionally contains more protein), lean meat, peanut butter or nuts, and low fat cottage cheese. Protein also has been shown to enhance satiety, which may help satisfy hunger for a longer period of time.

The Olympics should inspire us to not only get up and move, but also to focus on a proper diet including high-quality protein.

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