What to eat to gain muscle: I weight train three times a week. How much protein do I really need? … and more of your questions answered here – fitness q+a
(Q) How much protein do I need to eat every day if I’m weight training three times a week? When and in what form–food or supplement–should I get it? I’ve heard that too much protein will actually make me fat.
(A) Small amounts of protein are indeed important for building and repairing muscle tissue, but contrary to popular belief, weight training does not dramatically increase your daily protein needs, says Boston-area nutritionist Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Third Edition (Human Kinetics, 2003). For a sedentary person, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is about 0.4 gram of protein per pound of body weight–about 58 grams of protein per day for a 145-pound woman. An active woman–one who exercises three to five times a week, whether doing cardiovascular exercise or strength training–needs about 0.5-0.6 gram per pound of body weight, Clark says. For a 145-pound woman, that’s about 73-87 grams per day–the extra protein equivalent to 2 ounces of tuna (17 grams).
So there’s little reason to spend your money on protein supplements, Clark says. “I have yet to meet an athlete who cannot get the protein she needs through her diet. Supplements are a needless expense.” Here’s how easy it is to get at least 90 grams of protein in a day:
Breakfast 1 cup Quaker Squares cereal (6 grams) with 1 cup lowfat milk (8 grams) and 1 sliced banana (1 gram) Snack 1/2 cup cottage cheese (14 grams) with a plum (1 gram)
Lunch Subway turkey sandwich on wheat bread (18 grams) and 1 whole carrot (1 gram)
Snack 1 cup plain yogurt (8 grams) with 1 cup strawberries (1 gram)
Dinner 1 chicken taco (21 grams), 1/2 cup black beans (7 grams), 1/2 cup brown rice (2 grams) and 1 cup broccoli (4 grams) Total protein for the day 92 grams
Eating too much protein will cause weight gain only if you consume too many total calories. “You’ll gain weight from eating more calories than your body burns, whether those calories come from protein, fat or carbohydrate,’ Clark says.
(Q) Is it true that sitting on a stability ball rather than on a chair at the office can help firm my abs?
A sitting on a ball isn’t likely to firm your abs, but it can help improve your posture, says Elizabeth Larkam, M.A., director of Pilates & Beyond at Western Athletic Clubs in San Francisco. “When you sit on an unstable surface, your abs and the muscles around your spine have to work harder just to keep you steady,” Larkam says. “But you won’t get the intensity of muscle contraction that you need to see a difference in abdominal tone.”
To achieve that, Larkam suggests performing ab exercises two to four times a week. Moves using a stability ball tend to be more challenging and effective than traditional ab moves on the floor, such as crunches and reverse curls. (The fitness video Awesome Abs on the Ball demonstrates effective ab moves using a stability ball. Visit spriproducts.com or call 800-222-7774 to order.) If you do sit on a ball instead of a chair at work, you still need to pay attention to your posture. “It’s possible to slump on a ball, just as it’s possible to slump in a chair,” Larkam says. “Make sure that you aim your ‘sit bones’–the bones at the bottom of your pelvis that you sit on–directly down to the floor. And as you balance your hips on the ball, think about balancing your rib cage directly above them.”
Larkam recommends sitting on a ball for five to 10 minutes at a time. Be aware too that you need to choose the right-size ball for your height; if you’re over 5-foot-6, you’ll probably need a 65-centimeter, as opposed to a 55-centimeter, ball. When seated, your knees should form a 90-degree angle.
Q Ever since my liposuction surgery a few years ago, I’ve had uneven tone in my thighs, and it won’t go away no matter how much weight training and running I do. What is causing this problem, and what can I do about it?
A “The waviness is probably due to poor surgical technique,” says Bruce Katz, M.D., director of the Juva Skin & Laser Center in New York City and an associate clinical professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. These days, Katz says, irregularity is uncommon because many cosmetic surgeons use motorized cannulas, the hollow rods used to draw out fat. In the past, surgeons had to move the cannulas back and forth by hand, which made it difficult to remove fat evenly. “You couldn’t get it exactly right,” Katz says. “But with these powered cannulas, we can sculpt more precisely, fine-tuning areas so they are aesthetically smooth and contoured.”
Katz suggests that you consider having liposuction done again, this time by a surgeon who uses powered cannulas.
Q I sweat a lot more than a friend of mine when we take Spinning classes. Does this mean I’m more fit or less fit than she is?
A “The amount of sweat a person produces at a given exercise intensity is most directly affected by the activity of their sweat glands, which is determined by genetics,” says Patrick Hagerman, Ed.D., C.S.C.S., an assistant professor in the department of athletic training, exercise and sport science at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. That’s why some people break into a sweat while simply standing still, whereas others can look fresh after finishing a killer treadmill workout.
However, your fitness level can play a role too. A more fit person will begin to perspire earlier in her workout and also will sweat more, according to Hagerman. “The body uses sweating as its mechanism to reduce heat, and a fit person’s body will recognize the buildup of heat earlier in the exercise session and therefore begin the sweating process [sooner].”
Also, just because you and your friend are taking the same Spinning classes doesn’t mean you’re working at the same intensity. You may be sweating more in part because you’re pushing yourself harder.
Whatever the reason for all your sweating, make sure you’re replenishing those lost fluids by drinking plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
Q I know it’s important to lift weights, but I have limited time. Right now I do cardio five days a week at the gym for 30-40 minutes. I worry that if I cut back to three days and add two lifting days I will lose aerobic fitness and burn fewer calories, so it’ll be harder for me to lose weight. Is replacing strength training with cardio on those two days really a better use of my time?
A Absolutely. First off, don’t worry about losing cardio fitness. You should be able to maintain your current fitness level in three sessions a week, as long as you include some high-intensity work. “Crank it up and push yourself more,” says Dixie Stanforth, M.S., a lecturer in the department of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin. For instance, one day a week, do a hill workout; another day, alternate five minutes of low-intensity exercise with five minutes at a huff-and-puff pace. “It’ll really surprise your body, and you might see improvements even faster,” Stanforth says. You’ll also burn more calories this way.
Adding those two days of strength training not only will give you a firmer, stronger body, but it’s also a crucial investment for health and weight control down the line. Since you start losing bone mass in your 30s, Stanforth notes, now’s the time to bank as much as you can to reduce your risk of osteoporosis. People who don’t lift weights also start losing muscle mass in their 30s, which causes a gradual slowdown in metabolism; this, in turn, makes weight control more difficult. So what you’re doing now will actually help ensure you’ll maintain your weight loss later.
Send you questions to Shape, Fitness Q & A, 21100 Erwin St., Woodland Hills, CA 91367; fax to (818) 704-7620; e-mail to fitnessQ&A@Shape.com.
Suzanne Schlosberg is the author of Fitness for Travelers (Houghton Mifflin, 2002).
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