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Eat Lean Protein With Every Meal

This is the sixth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
  • Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”
  • Week 5,  “Eat More Fruits & Vegetables”

Week 6: Eat Lean Protein With Every Meal

High protein diets are in vogue these days. Not necessarily for the right reasons but the end result is a good one. A diet high in protein will increase metabolism, improve body composition, boost essential amino acids, and drive favorable hormone production and balance. And most sources of proteins eat pretty good too!

A Little Science
First of all let’s understand proteins. They are molecules made up of amino acids, and as Jeff Goldblum says in the original Jurassic Park, “they are the building blocks of life”. There are two main categories of amino acids in the body. Essential amino acids, those that the body can’t make on their own and we must procure from food, and nonessential amino acids, those that the body can usually make for itself.

These aminos pool in your bloodstream but are not stored the way carbohydrates and fats are. They just circulate in the blood waiting to be used. They travel around, rebuilding cells and transporting various substances throughout the body as necessary.

The cyclic nature of amino acid use dictates that you eat protein regularly to keep amino level “full”. It would be great to eat a 16 pound steak and be done with protein for the week, but alas your body needs protein stores to be replenished regularly, which means that you should consume protein regularly throughout the day. Without necessary protein intake, our bodies can’t function well at all. Bottom line: eat protein with every meal to keep that pool of aminos topped off and able to take care of your body.


Image source: DJ Millward, The Metabolic Basis of Amino Acid Requirements.


A Little More Science
Protein can crank your metabolism just by eating it. The metabolic processing required for digestion, absorption, and storage of protein is a lot higher than that of carbohydrates and fat. What does that mean? You burn more calories by simply digesting the protein.

We all chase the almighty calorie. Well, maybe most of us try to run away from it, but really calories are simply a measure of energy. And when it comes to losing weight it’s all about energy in versus energy out. Think back to third grade and the laws of thermodynamics. According to these laws, energy is never really created, and it’s never really destroyed. Rather, energy is transferred. And when you expend energy it’s really transferred via heat and work.

Most of us think of energy out as exercise, but an abundance of energy is burned through processes just keeping you alive and upright every day. Among those is digestion, and digesting protein takes a lot of energy. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and protein leads the way. Protein requires up to 35% of the energy it provides to digest while carbs and fats require less than 15%. Let’s compare using a simple 100 calorie sample:



TEF Calories after TEF


20-30% 70-80
Carbohydrate 5-15%


Fat 0-5%


All this means it takes more energy to eat proteins than carbs or fats. Energy to chew, swallow, churn the stomach, make the acid in the stomach, make the enzymes, to make the muscular contractions known as that drive the food through, and so forth. That in turn increases your metabolic rate which of course drives an associated caloric burn and subsequent fat loss. It’s a win-win.

Why Popeye Ate his Spinach

Popeye as a 2- dimensional, cartoon character, had some guns. And when he downed that can of spinach he went through a Bruce Banner like transformation that him gave him Hulk like power without being green. But how? Spinach gives you superpowers? Not really. But spinach is high in protein especially for a vegetable. And, back to all those aminos traveling around in your bloodstream, they help cells in your muscles rebuild themselves. This is called protein synthesis.


Muscle in the body goes thru turnover regularly, constantly replacing old cells with new ones. This is part of your adaptive and growth system. (Popeye obviously had quite an overactive and fast responding system). By increasing your protein intake you can increase this rate of protein turnover resulting in improvements in muscle quality, which in turn drives faster muscle growth, more strength, less fat, and a higher metabolism. This is really to say that higher protein diets help your muscles recover and grow more quickly, and drive fat loss in the process. The best of both worlds. Just a lot slower than Popeye.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?
Great question and the range is wide, from .4-2g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. Your activity levels, goals and objectives will drive the appropriate level to consume. The basic recommendation for a sedentary person is 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 150 lb person would consume around 60 grams a day. This really isn’t much, roughly equivalent to an egg (6g), 4oz chicken (38g), and a container of Greek yogurt (17g).

And this amount is only to prevent protein deficiency. It’s not optimal for those who train regularly and hard. For active people, especially those doing high intensity training, protein needs might go up to about .8-1 g/lb of body weight. Our 150 lb person would then need about 120-150 g of protein per day. Think 2 eggs(12g), 8oz chicken (72g), two cups spinach (2g), a protein drink (40g), and a Greek yogurt (17g) every day. We need a small amount of protein to survive, but when we are active we need a lot more to thrive.

Of course, you can overeat protein. Excess protein will be converted into glycogen or fat which generally results in undesired effects. Like anything, moderation is a good thing.

A Quick Hint
Start a meal by eating vegetables and protein first, before carbohydrates. The slow rate of protein digestion slows down release of sugar into the blood stream when the carbs are consumed and reduces post-meal glucose levels. This stabilizes your insulin levels, which can offset storing those sugars as triglycerides (adipose) and prevents a sugar ‘high’ and then crash. It also keeps you fuller and limits hunger pangs.

Ok So What Do You Recommend?
Obviously protein is essential to your existence and can go a long way to controlling your appetite, producing muscle, and helping achieve your weight loss goals:

  • For basic protein synthesis, you don’t need to consume more than 0.4-0.9 g/lb of protein per day.
  • If you are exercising regularly you should consume higher levels of protein, up to 1g per pound of body weight.
  • More protein may help you feel satisfied after eating.
  • You should consume some protein before and after training to ensure adequate recovery.
  • And remember we can’t store protein, so the consumption needs to be regular, at every meal.

So be like Popeye and eat your protein.


Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

This is the fifth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
  • Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”

Week 5 – Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

Now that you have that cartfull of produce it’s time to enjoy it. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that are essential for good health. Really no other change will have a bigger impact on your overall health.

Let’s start with a little trivia. A Vegetable is actually just the edible part of the plant: roots/tubers, stems, leaves, etc. A fruit is the seed-containing part of a plant (actually the ovary of the plant). Most fruits are sweet to the taste but not all, and we often confuse fruits and vegetables.  In fact, the list below may surprise you:

Fruits Vegetables
Coffee (Yes that’s right caffeine lovers, the coffee bean is actually a fruit.)


Don’t Be Dense (unless you are a vegetable)

One of the great things about vegetables is they are nutrient dense. They have a high water and fiber content so they’re low in calories relative to their volume. In fact, as we have discussed before, vegetables almost do not count toward your daily calorie counts. Consuming them on a regular basis can result in a higher volume of food intake and a high consumption of low calorie density foods can help to control food intake and better manage your body weight.

Want to lose weight? Think about where your calories come from.

Most of us eat between three to five pounds of food per day. This can be four pounds of celery or it can be four pounds of candy bars. It’s not the food or calorie content that matters.  It’s the volume that counts. Obviously, there are some big nutrient differences between celery and candy bars, right?

Here are some extreme examples:

  • 4 pounds of raw veggies will provide 400 calories
  • 4 pounds of raw fruits will provide 1000 calories
  • 4 pounds of cooked whole grains/legumes provides 1600 calories
  • 4 pounds of nuts/seeds provides about 10,000 calories
  • 4 pounds of Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, Cheese provides about 10,000 calories

Extrapolate this out to a less extreme, real world average diet. Most people in the U.S. are consuming (on average) the following amounts of food each day:

2.0 pounds of meat, dairy and eggs
1.5 pounds fruits and veggies
0.5 pound grains
0.5 pounds added sugars, fats and oils
= 4.5 pounds = about 3,700 calories per day

What if we switched this around?

2.5 pounds of fruits and veggies
1.0 pounds of grains and legumes
0.3 pounds nuts/seeds
0.3 pounds meat, dairy and eggs
0.1 pounds added sugars, fats and oils
= 4.2 pounds = about 2,075 calories per day

Use this exercise with your typical diet. You don’t have to weigh everything but estimate and you’ll get an idea where you are and what you are eating. If you struggle with body fat tend you probably tend to fill up on calorically dense, processed foods. This means extra body fat. Eating four pounds of real food like fruits and vegetables gets us lots of nutrition with a calorie count that our body can handle.

And it’s good for you too

That is just the effect a good selection of fruits and vegetables can have on your weight and fat loss efforts. The REAL benefit comes with all the amazing nutrients you are feeding your body which help you feel better and live longer. Fruits and vegetables are alkaline producing, which can help to preserve bone mass and muscle tissue. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. They contain lots of water to help you stay hydrated. Most of all a regular diet of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower incidence of:

Cardiovascular disease

Colon cancer

High blood cholesterol

High blood pressure

Prostate cancer

Type 2 diabetes



Eye disease


Cervical cancer

Breast cancer

Endometrial cancer

Gastric cancer

Lung cancer



Ovarian cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Thyroid cancer


The colors in our fruits and vegetables actually tell a story as well. Each color (and you need them all) offers insight into the phytonutrients they provide.  The chart below from Precision Nutrition provides a great view on what colors you need to eat to help you be healthy. You can download this free Cheat Sheet, print it out, and stick it on your fridge. It’ll help you track how many servings of each color you’re getting every day.


It’s Simple

It’s really simple to eat more fruits and veggies. Target 5-9 servings daily. Sounds like a lot, but if you are eating 4-6 meals/snacks a day, it’s really just a serving to a serving and a half per meal. Blueberries for breakfast, some carrot sticks for a snack, couple servings of vegetables in your salad for lunch, an apple in the afternoon, and a side salad and some cooked vegetables for dinner and you are well on your way. Nothing to it.

One caution: be careful with your salads. Heaping on several metric tons of dressing will add fat and sugars that you just don’t need. Opt instead for healthy oils like olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Olive oil is full of healthy fats and vinegar has additional phytonutrients and also gives the added boost of being a fat burner. Low sodium salsa also makes a great topping for your salad, just read the label to be sure it’s not loaded with sugar and salt. And while we are at it, limit the butter of your corn or asparagus. Learn to enjoy the taste of your vegetables naturally or with healthy oils. It may take some time, but most are quite appetizing one your taste buds adjust.

I hope this has been a refresher for you on how important fruits and vegetables are in your diet. It’s not just that they help you lose weight, fight hunger, and make you feel better. They fight disease and are nature’s ultimate preventative health care. And they taste good. So be sure to get them on your plate every day, every meal.







Week 4 – The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels

This is the forth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, and are documenting what you eat and measuring your portions. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”

Week 4 – The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels

This blog is really a metaphor for “buy healthier food”. Unless you go by the name “Old MacDonald” or  have a pig named Arnold (look it up millennials) you probably procure most of your food from the local grocery store.  The grocer has gone through a health driven transformation in the last several years and premium stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Fresh Market, and Earth Fare seem to be on every corner. And our heritage stores like Harris Teeter and Kroger offer heathy alternatives for practically any type of food. Healthy options are all around you and there is no excuse in these days to make questionable healthy buying decisions in your favorite supermarket. Today we are going to talk about making those choices.

Making a List: A good shopper, like a boy scout, is always prepared. That means make a list. Plan ahead, take the time to put a list together, and stick to it. Survey the refrigerator and document what you need. Need broccoli? Write it down. Chicken breast? Put it on the list. Doritos? Well you can leave that one off. You obviously get the idea, I am sure you have made a shopping list before. The real point is this list acts as a shield against impulse buys and in store choices. It tells you exactly what to buy. Get what’s on your list – nothing else. No extras jumping into your grocery cart, no grocery gimmicks out to get you. Just you, your cart and that list!

Part of making a list is making is a plan for the week. How many people are you shopping for? Is your spouse out of town? Are the kids staying at a friend’s house this weekend? Are you dining out Friday night? Without planning it’s very easy to “over purchase” and therefore overcook (and as a consequence overeat) during the week. Map out as best you can the true needs of the household and shop accordingly.

Be in control. Create the list. Stick to it.

Shop the perimeter:  You’ve probably noticed that most grocery stores have their produce, meats, and daily along the outer rim of the store. The store does this to provide vendors external access to their butcher shop (normally in the back) and refrigeration sections which are easier to maintain on the perimeter of the building. Coincidentally this is also the types of food you’ll want to have on your grocery list: fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and some dairy products.

Now obviously we all need to venture in to the inner jungle to procure personal hygiene products, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and the like, but the goal here is to stay away from the Snickers and Corn Doodles on aisle 6. If you must go down an aisle, enter and exit at the same end. There is rarely a reason to wander the entire aisle. Get in, get what you need and get back to the safety of the perimeter.

Focus on filling your cart with fresh produce (after all you’ll be eating 5-9 servings daily), lean meats like chicken breast and 93%+ fat free beef, eggs & egg whites, Greek yogurt (very high in protein), skim milk (or milk alternatives like almond milk), and cottage cheese. These will become your staples as you evolve to your new eating habits and you’ll find them all on the perimeter of practically every grocery store known to man.

Don’t Go Hungry: Never go to the grocery store hungry. You crave everything in those shiny boxes and buy things you do not need. And if your blood sugar drops, you’ll find it harder to make good decisions or follow your list. So before hitting the local supermarket be sure you are well fed. If you can’t go directly after a meal have a satiating snack (nuts or even a good protein bar is a great choice).

Never let your hunger influence a buying decision in the grocery store. Be strong and resist the temptation. Even if you are hungry buckle down and stick to your list. You’ll be home soon enough and able to munch on much heathier options.

Read the nutrition label:  A supermarket is really just one giant marketing campaign filled with packages that are essentially a billboard for the manufacturer to persuade you to buy food you don’t need. They bombard you with meaningless terms like “reduced fat” and “healthy choice”. Do yourself a favor and ignore anything on the front of a box except the description of what’s contained inside. Frosted Flakes. Got it. It’s corn flakes with a coating of sugar. That is all you need to know. You don’t need an overgrown cartoon tiger telling you it has 25% less sugar.  25% less than what? That’s meaningless, not (as Tony would say) Gr-r-reat.

Make your buying determinations based on fact and data. These are usually on the back of the package in small type – the nutrition label and ingredients. This label is mandated by (in the US) the FDA and is where the truth about the product is revealed.

  • Ingredients
  • Nutrition information (e.g. calories, grams of fat)
  • Suggested serving size

How much sugar. Any protein. Serving size. Very important stuff that tells you exactly what you are buying. As a rule, anything with an overabundance of sugar or ingredients that you can’t pronounce goes back on the shelf. What’s most important here is that you are in charge of your food choices. Don’t be “sold” by pretty packaging or too-good-to-be-true claims. Do your homework, know what you are buying, and be a critical consumer.

Also watch for those products that are highly processed. These products typically are so over processed that the healthy vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients are removed along with the unhealthy or dangerous stuff they are trying to filter out. As a result, manufacturers fortify these products by putting synthetic representations of these healthy items back it. For example, many advertise products that are “high in fiber”. It may even actually have legitimate higher fiber content. However, the fiber has been added and is not natural. The processing stripped the natural stuff out, so manufacturers must add it back in. The fiber may actually come from wood pulp or plant roots. The added nutrient is not the same as the real thing. Same story with milk. Pasteurization degrades the nutrients resulting in a loss of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E. Calcium and other minerals are also impacted (milk can actually weaken bones instead of strengthening them). Then they fortify with artificial substitutes derived from coal tar and other petrochemicals.  Stay away from processed foods.

So make that list. Hug the outside of the store like a NASCAR driver. Snack before you hit the supermarket. Buy stuff in bags instead of boxes. And read the label. Remember everything that comes off that shelf will at some point find it’s way into your belly. Be sure it belongs there.