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Protein at Every Meal

Charlyn Fargo on

We hear a lot about the need for protein, but many of us may not realize the need for protein at every meal. We do a great job of getting protein at a dinner meal, but perhaps not such a good job at breakfast or with snacks.

How much do we need? A 120-pound adult would need between 45 and 70 grams of protein each day, but the key is to spread consumption out over our meals and snacks.

Our bodies can only utilize 25 to 30 grams of protein (the equivalent of about four ounces of meat or chicken) at a time to maximize muscle building and repair, according to a 2009 study by T.B. Symons on skeletal muscle protein synthesis published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Getting protein at breakfast can help curb hunger and start your metabolism. Every meal should contain a combination of protein, fats, fiber and complex carbohydrates. Not only does that support weight loss and sustained energy levels, but it also helps preserve and build muscle mass, according to a study by Madonna Mamerow on dietary protein distribution and muscle protein synthesis published in the 2014 Journal of Nutrition.

So how do you get protein at every meal? Think Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, protein powder added to smoothies or oatmeal, nuts, seeds and ancient grains such as quinoa. Rather than a giant bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee, start your day with overnight oatmeal, a peanut butter smoothie or a protein pancake. Avocado toast with a fried egg or slice of turkey sausage makes a great breakfast.

For snacks, add a piece of string cheese to your air-popped popcorn, or grab a handful of almonds. Hummus with fresh veggies can be satisfying as well. Protein helps slow our digestion of carbohydrates and helps us feel full.

 

And if you add consistent exercise to protein throughout the day, it can help preserve muscle mass. As we age, that's even more important. Muscle mass loss begins as early as age 30, and after age 50, it occurs at a rate of 1% to 2% per year, according to Nathan Meiser with the Department of Kinesiology at Concordia University Irvine in California.

The bottom line? Aim for protein at every meal.

Q and A

Q: Does celery have much nutritional value, or is it mainly water?

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