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Want to build muscle, improve immunity, and stabilize your mood? Eat more protein!

I celebrate when clients send me messages like the one I got this week. “I was two grams away from my protein goal today!” Why? Because one of the things I’ve learned from coaching women who want to be better and stronger hikers is that most of them lack the nutrition to support their goals.

Performance is intimately tied to how you fuel your body. How well you nourish yourself dictates how your body responds to training and performs when hiking. Do you wonder why you sometimes feel weak, tired, moody, and sluggish? It could be because you need more protein in your diet.

Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. They contain amino acids, some of which the body can’t manufacture on its own. Therefore, even vegans need plant-based sources of protein (like edamame and tofu) to stay healthy. The amino acids in protein also:

· Support your immune system.

· Heal and repair damage to your joints and other connective tissue.

· Improve the appearance and strength of skin, nails, and hair.

· Help regulate your mood and blood sugar.

· Help carry oxygen in your blood.

Dietary recommendations for the average adult are usually .8g of protein/kg of lean bodyweight/day. However, as we age, our bodies neither make nor absorb protein as well as they used to. If you are performing resistance training exercises to build muscle, your protein requirements go up even more. Ultimately, active adults who want to improve strength need 1.5g – 2g of protein/kg of lean body weight. The math varies for every person and requires you to calculate your lean body mass, which is the weight of your body without the fat. Some smart scales can estimate this for you, but accuracy requires professional testing.

Therefore, I tend to recommend a percentage of a total diet based on a specific calorie count. For example, the percentage of protein needed for a typical 1500 to 1700 calorie diet is around 30% of total calories per day. When hikers start working with me, protein usually makes up about 9% to 14% of their diet.

This formula works within reasonable calorie counts. If you’re on a thru hike or are an elite athlete and need 2200 to 2500 calories per day, then 30% of protein in your diet would likely be too much. Also, people with kidney problems should avoid excess protein in their diet.

How to increase protein intake

One of the first things clients notice when they add more protein to their diet is they have more energy. They also stay full longer and their stamina improves. Clients often tell me, "When I start feeling sluggish and tired, I check my diet and realize I haven't had enough protein today."

There are many sources of dietary protein - meat, fish, poultry, pork, eggs, nuts, and plant sources like edamame. Another way to get more protein in your diet is by supplementing with protein powder, but with so many choices, which one is right for you? I’ve broken down the difference between several types of protein powders, along with how and when to use them in a video on The Healthy Hiker Group for Women Facebook page. (Not on Facebook? No worries! Contact me, and I’ll send you the video.)

Remember, protein powders are a supplement and not intended as a meal or food replacement, unless you're in a pinch. You can use them in smoothies, oatmeal, even as a creamer in your coffee! They are an easy and versatile way to up your protein intake.

If you’re wondering if you get enough protein in your diet or have questions about your nutrition, contact me for a free consultation! I’ll help you figure out the calorie and macro count you should follow to meet your training and hiking goals.

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