Want to build muscle? Chill with the protein, bro. If you're an active guy, then according to Alyse Levine, advisor for livestrong.com, there's a good chance you actually need less protein and more—wait for it—carbs.
"There's a huge misconception that you just need to load up on protein if you're building muscle,"Levine says. "If you're going for bodybuilding and strength, you really need about 50-50 carbs and proteins. Carbs get such a bad rap that a lot of people minimize them, but that's not what you want to do—you need to consume something after working out that's going to get into your system quickly. Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy and are more easily processed than protein."
Hear her out below.
If someone's lifting and trying to put on muscle, what would you say is the best thing to have in their diet?
The protein shakes a lot of people make are so focused on just having low carbs, so they'll get low-calorie almond milk or something, but carbs are exactly what they need. Put in some fruit and yogurt or add in some milk. I'm personally a huge fan of just going for real food, because when you look at some of these bars, too many of them have so many additives and other junk like soy protein isolate that are just not real foods. So I would look at everything else that's coming in those pre-made shakes and bars and supplements, and instead get the protein and the carbs from real food.
What would be the ideal post-workout snack?
One of my favorite post-workout snacks is chocolate milk—you're getting carbs, you're getting fluids, you're getting everything right away and it tastes good. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches are great, and so is yogurt with fruit in it.
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Is there one mistake you see guys make over and over when it comes to exercise nutrition that really bothers you?
For men and women, it's thinking that low, low carb with unlimited amounts of protein is the answer. Protein is a tricky thing to discuss because people that are doing really hardcore training really do need to refuel with a lot. But other guys go to the gym and do more recreational, less-intense workouts, and they think they need to just consume so much protein, especially if there's a weight-loss component they're looking for. If they want to trim down, they're over-consuming and refueling too much. Just have a snack, some protein and carbs. You don't have to go crazy.
I've read you should shoot for 20 grams of protein after lifting. Does that sound right?
It all depends on the person's size, what the person's diet looks like, how intense the workout is, and how long that workout session was. There's not one number that fits all. But it doesn't mean you have to have just chocolate milk—you could have chocolate milk and half a turkey sandwich. You could have chocolate milk and some peanut butter on a piece of banana or apple.
Is soy something men should shy away from?
There's a lot of research on both sides, but women too have thyroid and breast cancer issues with soy. I'd say if you have it in your diet, go for organic, and cut the soy in all of the processed products like protein bars.
Is there one supplement or vitamin men should be taking that a lot of them don't?
I don't really push vitamins and stuff. There was an article in the New York Times not that long ago about how supplementing so much, which is so common and which people think makes you healthier—more is better—actually increases your risk of a lot of diseases because of the antioxidant effect. The truth is, especially with men, unless you're vegan or have a really restrictive diet or a disease where you're malabsorbing nutrients, you're getting what you need and don't need to over-supplement.