Q: Is it true that I can digest only 30 grams of protein at one meal, and everything else turns to fat?
A. This misinterpretation of data has been making the rounds among some nutritionists and in the media for a while now, so I talked to Tom Nikkola, director of nutrition and weight management at Life Time Fitness in Chanhassen, Minn., to help answer your question.
“While it is true that the body is only able to absorb a certain amount of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) each hour, absorption rate varies greatly depending on the size of your body, the type of exercise you do, the type of protein you’re eating, the foods you’ve eaten with that protein, and what kind of stresses you’re under, all of which can change the body’s protein needs,” he explains. “Food also takes several hours to digest, so any excess consumed can generally be processed during that time. Research does not support the idea that anything beyond 30 grams turns to fat.”
Rather than looking at how much protein one should eat in a single meal, it’s better to monitor intake over the course of a given day, Nikkola says, since it’s key to preserving muscle mass. “Minimum requirements are around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, while those who are training hard or trying to lose weight may want to up their protein intake further.”
The International Society of Sports Nutrition has shown that protein intake of 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is more appropriate for active populations, he adds. “To keep it simple, our dietitians typically tell people to shoot for a gram per pound of target body weight.”
This means that a person who chooses to eat just two or three meals a day should eat more than 30 grams of protein per meal. If she chooses to eat five to six times a day, she can get by with less protein each meal. “If you weigh 120 pounds [thus needing 120 grams of protein per day] and eat two meals with 60 grams of protein each, I’ve never seen research showing that’s less of an advantage than four meals of 30 grams apiece,” Nikkola says. “That said, eating a 16-ounce porterhouse steak (which has 100 grams of protein) in one sitting might leave you pretty uncomfortable.” In the end, trust your body. Focus on getting the appropriate amount of protein in any given day, but when you’re satisfied, stop eating. “Get out of the habit of needing to leave a meal feeling stuffed,” Nikkola advises.
Q: Should I exercise during a detox?
A. Yes, but take it easy. “Mild exercise activates the lymphatic system (your body’s drainage system for toxins) and is the movement intensity of choice during a detox,” says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of Fat Flush for Life: The Year-Round Super Detox Plan to Boost Your Metabolism and Keep the Weight Off Permanently (Da Capo, 2011). “Gentle bouncing on a rebounder for 20 minutes or a 20-minute brisk walk each day are better choices than strenuous exercise, which can overtax the body and utilize energy that your body could be using for the detox process itself.” (For more lymph-moving exercise ideas, see ELmag.com/May12expertanswers.)
Q: Are twisting yoga poses really good for detoxing the body?
A. Many yogis say yes, and the idea is supported by such high-profile physicians as Frank Lipman, MD, author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (Touchstone, 2009). “I recommend it to my patients all the time,” he says.
Why? “Twisting poses assist detoxification in several ways,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, yoga teacher and author of Optimal Health for a Vibrant Life: A 30-Day Program to Detoxify and Replenish Body and Mind (CreateSpace, 2010). “The first is the mechanical stimulation of the twisting motion, which encourages the removal of waste in the intestines. The second is the compression of the blood vessels around the digestive organs in the abdomen, as well as the kidneys, which stimulates blood flow to the organs and increases absorption of nutrients and the release of toxins through the blood. This also brings in nutrients to keep the tissues of the digestive tract and kidneys healthy and thriving. Lastly, simply relaxing into the pose can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (which controls ‘rest-and-digest’ activities), encouraging your internal organs to digest and eliminate toxins.” The extent to which all these benefits accrue during a particular asana or yoga session isn’t clear, but there’s one way to find out: Try it for yourself. (See “Twisting Triangle” for one detoxifying pose.)
Fitness Fix: Getting Rid of Side Stitches
What causes those runner’s cramps, and how can you ease them?
Often occurring on the right side of the body, just under the rib cage, sideaches are a sharp, unpleasant phenomenon that — although fleeting — can really cramp a runner’s style. Several explanations have been offered as the potential cause of this discomfort: a mass of food in the wrong place in the intestines at the wrong time, irritation of the stomach lining, a lack of oxygen to the diaphragm, or exercising too soon after eating or drinking. The theory many experts lend credence to, however, is that side stitches are caused by stressing the ligaments that attach the liver, stomach and spleen to the diaphragm. “As we run, our internal organs bounce up and down. If you land on your right foot while the diaphragm is moving up — as it does when you’re exhaling — this places a lot of strain on the diaphragm because it’s being pulled in two different directions,” says Joe Friel, MS, endurance sports coach and author of Your First Triathlon (Velo Press, 2012). “This can cause a spasm in the right side, where the liver — a big, heavy organ — is located.”
- Change the rhythm of your breath. “Some athletes have found if they exhale only when their left foot strikes the ground, tension on the diaphragm is reduced and the stitch goes away or doesn’t worsen,” says Friel.
- Change the shape of your breath. Do deep belly breathing, moving your stomach rather than your ribcage. This engages your diaphragm more and can help work out a kink.
- Press into the pain with your left hand, and raise your right arm. This can ease pressure on the ligaments that connect your diaphragm to other organs.
- Lie down with your hips elevated. The pain tends to dissipate quickly in a horizontal resting position.
- Grunt loudly. Never mind the “why” behind this one — anecdotally, it works. (Do you want your stitch to go away or not?)
Prevention Is the Best Cure
- Ramp up your activity level slowly — too fast a pace right out of the gate can create cramping.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal or gulping large amounts of water in the two to four hours leading up to a workout.
- Strengthen your abdominal muscles — a stronger core can prevent cramping.