Paddle Healthy: Powering Up With Protein
When it comes to fueling optimal performance, recovering from exercise and maintaining a healthy immune system, you’ve got to consume enough quality protein. As with just about every nutrition topic, there’s a lot of debate over just how much protein is enough, when to eat what, and which sources are “best.” In this week’s Paddle Healthy, we’ve tried to cut through the clutter of information to bring you some picks for solid protein choices suitable for every time of day and situation.
Your mom was right: breakfast IS arguably the most important meal of the day. Done right, the first meal kick starts your metabolism and provides the energy you need to power through a dawn paddle, morning run or pre-lunch lifting session. For breakfast, we recommend incorporating a much-misunderstood protein source: eggs.
Over the past couple of decades, eggs have gotten a bad rap for supposedly increasing cholesterol and being high in fat. But, more recent research rubbishes these claims, and shows that the 6 to 8 grams of complete protein you get in eggs is one of the cheapest high quality options nature provides.
“My main protein source is eggs,” says St. Louis-based endurance paddler Shane Perrin, who, being the first SUP athlete to complete the MR 340, The Texas Water Safari and La Ruta Maya knows a thing or two about fueling for the long haul. “I have 3 chickens in the backyard, so I get amazing quality eggs almost everyday. There’s no comparison with store bought eggs.”
If you’re worried about the cholesterol (even though studies show that if you’re only eating these protein packed grenades a few times a week, you really shouldn’t be), eat eggs or an omelette with a whole grain such as oats, which are proven to lower LDL cholesterol. One last thing: don’t ditch the yolks! That’s where many of the vitamins and minerals and a third of the protein are found.
Here’s where things get tricky, because there are a million and one pre-workout protein options, from amino acid “shooters” to gels, powders and everything in between. A couple of hours before a long race or training session, SUP pro Jeremy Riggs has a go-to favorite: steak. While some might dismiss this as a bit heavy, the complete protein Riggs eats a few hours before a race keeps him going over several hours on the water, while also providing him with a high dose of B vitamins to help his body efficiently convert food into energy. If you’re not into meat or plan on eating closer to a training session or race, then combine a lighter protein-filled snack—such as pumpkin seeds or almonds—with fruit, which will top off your pre-exercise glycogen stores.
When it comes to post-workout protein, whey is king, and you should aim to get 20 to 30 grams within 20 minutes of finishing your post-workout cool-down and mobilization to maximize exercise recovery and prevent catabolism (aka muscle breakdown). You can go with a natural source such as ricotta cheese, which is not only chock full of whey but is also one of the lowest calorie cheeses.
A pure whey protein powder in a smoothie is also a solid option, and many are low in lactose, which helps if you’re intolerant to this milk sugar. We like mixing whey with a squeeze of agave syrup or locally-grown honey, plus a couple of different kinds of fruit, to replenish the glycogen stores depleted during exercise. Mix in some chia seed to get your Omega 3 fatty acids, reduce inflammation and a protein boost of 4 grams per scoop, and you’ve got all you need to kick start your body’s recovery processes. You can also check out Chase Kosterlitz’s Paleo-friendly post-workout shake here.
At dinner, you can go for any complete protein—i.e. one that has all nine amino acids. Turkey, chicken and grass-fed beef are all good choices. If you’re a vegetarian, go with quinoa or another complete, non-meat protein. Vegetarians and vegans can also combine non-complete protein sources, such as corn and beans, or lentils and vegetables in curry sauce, to get the full range of amino acids.
Some Paleo advocates argue that the bioavailability of non-meat and non-dairy protein is lower, but many athletes, including surfing and SUP phenom Tia Blanco, ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek and future NFL Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez have proven that you can fuel elite-level performances without going the meat-heavy route.
A lot of diet plans advise against eating at night as they claim that it counteracts weight loss. Wrong on two counts if your weight is in the normal range and you exercise regularly. Calories are calories at any time of day, and if you’re going for a lot of long, hard paddles during the summer, you’ll need some protein at night to get enough calories in and repair the muscle damage done by those sessions on your board. While whey is the fast-acting protein you need immediately after exercising, its more slowly absorbed brother casein is the protein you should be looking for at night. Because it takes the body longer to process casein, this protein source will sustain muscle repair throughout the night. Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese or a large glass of milk are all solid options.
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