-- from Peter NielsenProtein is the royalty of nutrients. It is found in some of our highest priced foods. (It's also found in some of our lowest-priced foods, but they tend to get snubbed-as if you couldn't possibly find a protein living at that address.) Many people eat unhealthy meals every day, confident they are doing themselves a favor because they are loading up on protein. It is, after all, the stuff that builds muscle. Several generations were raised on nutritional folklore that went something like, "Protein is real food; the rest of it is junk and fattening." In fact, to have a healthy relationship with protein you must treat it like royalty: Protein has a very limited schedule, and you must accommodate it. If you are building muscle, through weightlifting or other exercise, you absolutely must take a scientific approach to protein consumption. Otherwise, you will be tearing yourself apart when you think you are building yourself up. Anaerobic exercise, like lifting weights, breaks down muscle tissue. Your musculature then replaces itself with larger, stronger tissue-if you are consuming the proper amount of protein at the right time. Since the body can utilize just 35 to 40 grams of protein in any 2 1/2- hour period, sitting down and gorging yourself on protein will produce nothing but fat and toxic wastes. So the amount of protein you consume through the day must be carefully adjusted to fit your exercise regimen. The more muscle you tear down, the more protein you need to replace it. The less you exercise, the more you need a common sense diet of complex carbohydrates. This protein connection also explains why crash diets often fail-or even boomerang, leaving the puzzled dieter weighing more than he or she did in the first place. A tremendous lowering of calorie intake for an extended period lowers the basal metabolism rate (BMR), making it difficult if not impossible to continue shedding body fat. If you foolishly go on a starvation diet while exercising, and deprive yourself of protein, you will lose muscle instead of fat. If you train rigorously, it is absolutely essential that you eat four, five or even six meals a day to get protein to your muscles. However, if you eat more than 40 grams of protein in any 2 1/2-hour period, you might as well be pouring the precious stuff out on your driveway. So what's an accurate, practical way of selecting and monitoring your protein intake? How much protein is enough? You'll read advice ranging from one-half gram of protein to a full gram of protein per pound of body weight-a 100 percent variance! The chart below--multiplying your ideal body weight by your activity load--tells what's right for you. I use exactly the same formula. Because I'm a bodybuilder in training and because I do a tremendous amount of intense anaerobic exercise, I need a large amount of protein. The way I get it is by eating six carefully planned meals a day, none of which look anything like a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving scene. Meals must be spaced through the day. If you're a weightlifter, or training intensively in another sport, you can follow my program to the letter and benefit greatly. If you exercise moderately, or lightly, or not at all, this will strike you as one bizarre-looking regimen. But remember, my goal here is not to get every reader eating chicken breasts three or four times a day. It's for you to understand how the body accepts protein, and how you must incorporate that into your own nutrition regimen whatever your fitness workload. Determine your Protein Requirements Find the number that closest matches your activity level in chart 1 and multiply it using your ideal body weight in chart 2. That's how easy it is to determine the protein you need. So here's how a pro bodybuilder measures the same protein guidelines that you can adapt from the chart: At competitions, I weigh 185 to 190 pounds. Let's say 190 is my ideal body weight. If I were not involved in sports whatsoever; didn't even jog-I would need protein by a factor of .5 grams times 190, or 95 grams of protein a day. If I were into jogging-or light fitness, training maybe once a week-I would need .6 grams of protein times 190 (114 grams of protein a day). Training three times a week, I would need .7 grams (133 grams total). Training daily with weights or aerobics on a moderate basis, I would need .8 grams (152 grams total). And if I was into heavy weight training every day, I would need .9 grams (171 total). In the last 12 weeks before a competition, doing a double split of exercises, I would need one full gram per pound of ideal body weight-or 190 grams of protein a day. At 27 grams per average boneless, skinless chicken breast, and three grams per one large egg white, and 30 grams per typical broiled un-breaded fish filet, we're talking about a lot of chow. You might literally get tired of eating. In that case, to reach your quotas, you'll probably want to supplement your food with egg white powder or commercial amino acid powders. (As always, for the most efficient absorption of the protein into your system, you shouldn't drink water from 15 minutes before a meal until 30-60 minutes afterward.) I carry a log with me and keep close track of those protein grams, and the times that I consume them. If your protein intake matches your needs and your fat intake is low, you are doing exactly what is needed on the nutritional side to acquire tremendous muscle definition. The muscles you break down anaerobically come back bigger and stronger with the aid of your carefully monitored protein intake.
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