Power-Packed Protein

Want to be a lean, mean muscle machine? Check out all you need to know about the key muscle-building ingredient: protein.

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You want nothing more than to be lean and sculpted. And you know it takes more than simply serious training to get you results. But you may not have to eat more protein, you may just need to eat smarter.

Anatomy of a Muscle

Protein makes up about 45 percent of total body weight. (This figure, as reported by Sports Nutrition: A Guide for the Professional Working with Active People, is only a textbook estimate, as there is some variation depending on sex and body composition.) And depending on your level of physical activity, you need an intake between 0.25 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight just to maintain the muscle you already have. But if your goal is to grow and develop those muscles, that amount isn’t going to cut it. “Protein needs of strength training athletes should be the same for males and females, about 1.5 to 2 grams of protein (varies with amount and intensity of exercise) per kilogram of body weight per day based on research studies,” says Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, of Penn State’s Center for Sports Medicine.

But just because some is good, doesn’t mean more is better. The body is only able to build so much muscle in a given period of time – for most women that’s about a pound a week, with one pound of pure muscle containing somewhere between 70 to 105 grams of protein. Building an extra pound requires an additional 10 to 14 grams of high quality protein per day. And there’s no point eating more than you need, because unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body can’t store protein: the excess either gets burned for energy or broken down to urea and excreted.

Tips for Maximizing Protein Intake

  • Protein can be dehydrating, so don’t skimp on water. Strive for at least two liters a day, more if you are training.
  • Carbohydrates are the number one fuel to help you power through your workouts. As little as one intense training session can quickly zap all of your body’s stored glycogen, leaving you with less energy for future workouts, so don’t miss out on this critical nutrient.
  • To get the most mileage from the protein in your meals, divide the one closest to your workout into two mini-meals so you can eat half before training and half afterwards.
  • Avoid protein myopia – when you become so protein focused that other nutrient packed foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are crowded out of your diet.
  • Supplement your protein intake with extra calories (yes, you read right). Converting protein into muscle is an energy-requiring process, one that calls for roughly 200 extra calories a day, over and above those burned during exercise.

What are Your Nutrient Requirements?

All you highly active ladies, here’s what your body needs to get lean and sculpted:

  • Calories: multiply your desired body weight by 16.
  • Protein: multiply body weight by 0.75 to get optimal protein intake in grams. Then multiply by four for total protein calories.
  • Carbohydrates: multiply body weight by 2.4 for recommended carbohydrates in grams. Then multiply by four for carbohydrate calories.
  • Fat: Add protein calories to carbohydrate calories. Subtract this total from total calories. Divide by nine to determine fat grams.

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