In general, it's important to
eat enough protein throughout the day as part of a well-balanced lifestyle. But how much protein you need, and the best times to eat it, definitely vary from person to person. Factors that influence how much you might need include how often you exercise, whether or not you have certain health conditions, and even how well you sleep.
But before you figure out how to use protein to your advantage, you'll want to know the role it plays in the body. "Our bodies use protein to build muscles but also skin, hair, [and] organs,"
registered dietician Rachel Berman, tells Bustle. "Basically every cell in our body uses amino acids; the building blocks of protein. Many hormones are made of proteins and our immune system also depends on it to build antibodies."
Some sources of protein include meat and fish, dairy and eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, some produce like avocado, and even grains, Berman says, among other things. But it's up to you to choose which ones work best, and to listen to what your body needs.
While you should feel free to eat protein at any time, there are some moments when it might
be extra helpful, as well as a few times you may want to think twice before eating it. Read on below for surprising times you may (or may not) want to eat protein, according to experts.
Do Eat Protein In The Afternoon
It may be nice to reach for a cup of coffee when your energy levels dip in the afternoon, but "protein is a better option because it boosts the hormones that [...] make us feel full," Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of
, tells Bustle. "If you choose the other option, you are simply delaying the [energy] crash." Brain Body Diet
To keep your
blood sugar balanced, you might want to eat a protein and a carb when you feel this way. "Pairing a protein with a carbohydrate[...] like cheese and crackers or greek yogurt with granola, will give you a long-lasting and satisfying snack," health coach Thea Boatswain, MS, CPT, tells Bustle.
Do Eat Protein After An Intense Workout
"Protein is exactly what you need after a hard workout,"
fitness expert Sara Haley, tells Bustle, including "a strength training workout where you know you’ll be sore the next day or a cardio HIIT training workout where you’ve gone anaerobic."
Protein will not only give you more energy, but it'll
help your body recover. "After a good workout, the muscles in the body have been broken down and need to be repaired," Boatswain says. Protein can help repair torn muscle fibers and even helps to build fibers, which is necessary when you're looking to get stronger.
Do Eat Protein After A Lighter Workout
Protein can be a big help after a high intensity workout, but also after a light or moderate one, too. "With moderate exercise, you probably don’t need much more than an ounce or two [of protein] with a
post-workout snack," Berman says.
Do Eat Protein If You've Been Sick
recovering from a cold, you may want to add a little extra protein to your diet.
"Protein will help with the growth and repair of cells after suffering a cold or the flu, expediting the recovery process," Gabby Geerts, a registered dietician with
Green Chef, tells Bustle.
This might include eating a little more than the recommended intake of about
46 to 56 grams, until you feel better.
Do Eat Protein In The Morning
"Protein is great first thing in the morning because it gives our body something to burn for energy," Lindsay Raffale, IIN certified holistic health & nutrition coach, and founder of
Finely Nourished, tells Bustle. "Because our bodies 'feed' off of protein, and they do quite a bit of feeding at night while we sleep, it's important to replenish that source in the morning."
That's why eggs and yogurt make such
great breakfast staples, she says. But feel free to reach for any form of protein you like.
Do Eat Protein If You're Healing
If you're injured, or just went through surgery, you may have increased protein needs, Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for
RSP Nutrition, tells Bustle. After all, protein is not just for muscle building, but is also a key nutrient in bone building. And that can obviously come in handy if you've suffered a fracture.
It's also helpful, though, if you have a sprain or muscle pull. Snacking on protein throughout the day — such as eggs, yogurt, or cottage cheese — may help
speed up recovery.
Don't Eat Protein Right Before Bed
I'm important to eat protein throughout the day as part of a balanced diet, according to WebMD, but it's not always the best choice
right before bed. Protein can be difficult to digest, and may not be what you want in your stomach as you're trying to fall asleep.
It also contains the amino acid
tyrosine, which can keep your brain active. So skip high-protein snacks before bed, and reach for some carbs instead. These may help you drift off and get the rest you need.
Don't Eat Protein If You Aren't Hungry
Many people view proteins, like chicken, steak, or tofu, as necessary dinner staples. But if you aren't feelin' it, it's perfectly fine to eat something else.
"If you took in adequate protein throughout the day while you were active, and would prefer a light meal at night, you can skip the protein," Auslander Moreno says. "Perhaps you want a bowl of bean pasta, some [...] avocado toast, or maybe just some oatmeal."
If other options sound more appealing, there's no need to eat a traditional "meat and potatoes" type dinner. "As long as you are consistently meeting protein goals over time," she says, "it's definitely OK to skip the 'classic' protein source at times, if general
needs are being met."
Don't Eat Protein If You Have A Health Concern
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"Certain genetic disorders of the metabolism require lower protein diets, as do certain renal disorders," Auslander Moreno says. If your doctor has recommended a specific diet for you — even if it includes lowered amounts of protein — follow their advice. Protein is an essential nutrient, but not everyone needs the same amounts.
Of course, if you aren't sure how much protein to eat, or when to eat it, you may want to ask your doctor or a nutritionist for advice. They can assess your unique situation, and help you determine how much protein you may need to eat, as well as the
best times to eat it in order to sleep better, heal from injuries, and have more energy.