Protein leads to peak performance |

Protein leads to peak performance

Rhonda Beckham

I always tell my clients and students to eat a good protein snack within 30 minutes of resistance (weight) training. But why? What to eat? And how much?

Why protein is important

Protein is one of the big three macronutrients. The other two are fats and carbohydrates. Adequate protein intake is essential for good health. It’s necessary for maintaining the body’s normal growth and its muscle mass (which is mostly protein), immune system and heart and respiratory functions.

Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body, and between 60 percent and 70 percent is located in the skeletal muscles. Protein is the building block for all body tissues. It also plays a vital role in many body functions, such as forming hormones and making antibodies to fight infection. Protein also helps you feel satisfied because it takes longer than carbohydrates to digest.

Protein consists of chains of amino acids that are used by our bodies to grow muscles, hair, nails, skin and internal organs.

We build muscle during the repair process after the breakdown of muscle fibers during our workout. Muscle needs proteins to repair itself. The more muscle mass you have, the harder you metabolism works. You will burn more calories even at rest.

How much to eat?

Diets rich in high-protein foods often are recommended for athletes and bodybuilders. In addition, many weight-loss programs such as the Atkins diet prescribe a high-protein, low-carb diet.

Although protein is an essential nutrient, some research suggests too much protein can increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney stones and osteoporosis.

How to calculate protein consumption

The recommended protein intake for the American population is 0.8 grams per kilograms per day. To convert your body weight into kilograms, multiply the pounds you weigh by 2.2. Then multiply that number by .08 to calculate your recommended daily protein. However, athletes may have different needs depending on the duration and intensity of exercise, and frequency of training. Strength-training athletes need about 1.4 to 1.8 g/kg/day, and endurance runners need about 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg/day because of the stress on muscle fibers during exercise. Use a higher number between 1 and 1.8 g/kg/day if you are under stress, pregnant, recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training. Use a smaller number if you are in good health and are sedentary.

What to eat?

Lean sources of protein are the wisest choices for eating fewer calories. For example, choose lean meats and poultry. Trim away all visible fat. Try low-fat alternatives to traditionally high-fat meats. For instance, turkey bacon cooked with a lot of liquid or turkey breakfast sausage make great lower-fat substitutes.

Most fish are relatively low in calories, and those that are not offer heart-healthy fats that you don’t need to worry about limiting.

Egg whites are a near-perfect protein and low in calories. Either separate the eggs, discarding the high-calorie yolks, or purchase the packaged egg whites. (I prefer the All Whites brand. They are next to the eggs in the grocery store.) For lower-calorie scrambled eggs, use egg whites with spices and vegetables for flavor. Or use fresh eggs, discarding all but one or two yolks for a little color and flavor. You can safely leave out some of the egg yolks in baked goods without losing flavor or texture.

Legumes and tofu offer more low-calorie alternatives to meat. So does textured vegetable protein made from soybeans. Look for veggie crumbles in the freezer section next to the meatless burger patties. These foods can replace meat in soups, casseroles, chili, Mexican and Asian dishes, spaghetti sauce and more. It’s all about being creative.

I recommend tofu dogs or veggie hot dogs only when smothered with low-fat vegetarian chili.

Foods that contain all the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and just about anything else derived from animal sources. Incomplete proteins do not have all the essential amino acids and generally include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts.

So, if you’re a vegetarian, does this mean you can’t get complete protein? Not at all. Below is a chart listing some incomplete proteins. To get all the essential amino acids, choose foods from two or more of the columns:







Whole-grain breads






Soy products

Seeds and Nuts:

Sesame seeds

Sunflower seeds



Other nuts


Leafy greens


Protein bars and smoothies are a quick and effective way to get your protein fix after your workout or when you need good food fast. I use protein powder in my daily smoothies.

For time efficiency, I’ll prepare two days’ worth at one time. (See recipe.) My smoothies are probably my most nutritious meal of the day. When purchasing protein powder or bars, make sure the protein content per scoop or bar is at least 20 g, fat below 7 g and sugars are below 10 g.

Protein Smoothie Recipe

For a 40-ounce blender cup.

1 cup plain nonfat yogurt

1 cup orange juice

2 scoops protein powder

1 of the following: 1 large banana, 3/4 cup blueberries, or 1 pitted peach

Dash cinnamon

1 teaspoon flax seeds or flax oil

Add water and ice for desired consistency

Blend until smooth and enjoy.

Optional ingredient: 1 scoop Mega Greens or other powdered “greens” found at Grass Roots or Raley’s natural food section. Mega Greens is a powdered nutritional supplement that is a concentrated superfood containing 78 natural ingredients. Warning: adding a scoop of this powder to your smoothie will give it a swamp-green color appropriate for the Halloween season.

— Rhonda Beckham is a nationally certified personal trainer, with teaching certificates in Pilates and kickboxing.

Rhonda Beckham is owner of Help Me Rhonda and Perfect Pilates, a Pilates instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra Athletic Club, as well as a personal trainer operating out of Sierra Athletic Club and the Tahoe Keys Marina Dance Studio. She may be reached at (530) 208-6369, and

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