By Jon Harris
Frequently, when talking with people about their diets I am asked about protein powders and how much to consume. Of course, whey protein, casein and such like play an important role in bumping up your daily protein intake in a tasty, convenient way, but have we lost focus on the importance of solid protein sources, in particular good old fashioned meat?
Beef, chicken and turkey, cooked in the right way can deliver a fantastic hit of quality, complete protein that is low in fat too. Just remember that preparation is key, so get out the old 'George Foreman' grill to reduce fat content. A joint roasted in the oven is a good option too. Frying gets a bad rap, and admittedly you're not draining fats cooking this way, unless it's a steak sizzled on a griddle, but actually for chicken and turkey which are low in fat anyway, the only additional fat you're introducing is (hopefully) a very small amount of oil to the pan.
For the lowest fat content, opt for turkey first, then chicken. Beef varies considerably depending on the cut, but it goes without saying to trim all the excess fat off first. Don't discount other red meats though. Veal (the meat from young male cattle) and pork are becoming more popular options.
Animal proteins are slow to digest, which gives them a more sustained release of amino acids compared to protein powders such as whey. Of course, whey has its uses, particularly post-workout when the body's demands for amino acids are higher, but at other times, meat-based sources (along with fish, egg, dairy, and vegetable-based protein sources) are ideal.
Ok when dieting?
Absolutely. I would say even more critical here than when not dieting. Why? Again, because the slower digestion of animal protein gives a trickle effect rather than overloading the body with too many nutrients at once. All good news for weight loss. Red meat tends to have a higher fat content than white meat, so chicken and turkey are obviously better choices when trying to get lean.
What about portion sizes?
The long-standing rule of thumb for protein intake for bodybuilders is to consume around 1g of protein daily per pound of bodyweight (or approximately 2.2g per kilo). For a 180 lb man this would equate to 180g of protein. You might want to add a little bit on for 'insurance', but I'd warn against going massively over the recommendations. The natural bodybuilder can only build muscle at a very slow rate (literally grams per day), and whilst protein is needed for repair as well as growth, you can still grow comfortably on relatively modest amounts of protein. In any case, any excess that the body cant use will just be converted to glucose or ketones and used as energy, which if not used may ultimately be stored as fat.
Spread your daily protein intake evenly over 5 or 6 small meals. So for your 180 pound guy eating say 200g of protein, this would equate to 40g of protein over 5 meals, or just under 35g over 6 meals. Eating more than this at one sitting may be counterproductive anyway as research tells us that there is a limit to how much the body can absorb and utilise in one hit.
Use this table as a guide to portion sizes. All foods are quoted for raw (uncooked), weight.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Just be careful where you source your meat from. Water based 'fillers' are a sneaky tactic commonly used by the supermarkets to pump up and add weight to the meat you buy. So for the best quality, make sure that what you buy is responsibly sourced and free from added water, salt or any other additives.