Everyone needs protein in order to develop and maintain muscle, repair tissue, and for their nervous and immune systems to function. If we don’t get enough protein, our bodies start to break down our muscles in order to get the amino acids we need. Symptoms of protein deficiency include weakness, fatigue, nausea, hair loss, slow healing of wounds (including surgical incisions), and getting sick easily.
After weight loss surgery, many patients have trouble meeting their protein needs, especially in the first few days or weeks when they might be on a liquid diet and can only eat very small amounts of food at one time. I know I had a really hard time getting my protein in! I suffered many of the above symptoms of protein deficiency, too.
How Much Protein Do Weight Loss Surgery Patients Need?
The amount of protein people need varies based on many factors, including the type of weight loss surgery they had, their size, their activity level, and more. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery suggests 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight. If you’re like me and not so good at math, that works out to about half your ideal body weight in pounds. Note that the ASMBS bases the amount of protein you should consume on your ideal body weight, not your current weight; talk with your doctor if you’re not sure what your ideal body weight is.
When you get labs done, your doc should check your total protein, albumin, and pre-albumin levels, all of which tell you about your protein intake. If those are low, it means you need more protein.
How Much Protein Can We Absorb at One Time?
Many people think there is a limit to the amount of protein we can absorb at one time, like 30 grams. However, the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery says that is just a myth. It is best to spread out your protein over the course of the day, though.
What Foods Are High in Protein?
Foods that are high in protein include meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu. Many other foods contain some protein, though. For instance, one cup of cooked broccoli contains about four grams of protein. So does half a cup of pasta.
Do We Need to Drink Protein Shakes?
Some surgeons encourage patients to drink protein shakes for the rest of their lives in order to make sure they get enough protein. Others discourage the use of protein shakes even in the beginning, preferring patients to get their protein from “real food.” In the first few weeks or even months after weight loss surgery, though, many people find it difficult or impossible to get enough protein without using protein shakes. As time goes on, you’ll be able to eat more food and probably won’t need to rely on protein shakes.
However, some people like protein shakes. I love my cappuccino shake when I want a quick and easy breakfast, plus sometimes my tummy just doesn’t like solid food first thing in the morning. My personal opinion is that protein shakes are just another protein-rich option from which we can choose, no better and no worse than other sources of protein.
What about Those Protein Shots?
Protein shots look like little test tubes of brightly-colored liquid. Manufacturers claim they provide large amounts of protein (25 to 42 grams) in just three or four ounces of liquid. If you’re having trouble getting your protein in, that sounds wonderful. The problem is that most brands contain mostly or only collagen as their protein source, which doesn’t have all the amino acids we need. That means we’ll actually absorb very little protein from them. There is currently only one brand of protein shot available that contains all whey protein isolate, the Yes Whey brand from Bariatric Advantage. Of course, you can also make your own protein shot with a scoop of protein powder and three or four ounces of water.
Health Medicine Central. http://www.healthmedicinecentral.com/protein-deficiency-symptoms/. Protein Deficiency Symptoms.
American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. (http://nutrition.otago.ac.nz/__data/assets/file/0005/4784/BariatricNutritionReading.pdf. Nutritional Guidelines.
The Vegetarian Resource Group. http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php. Protein in the Vegan Diet.
Weight Loss Surgery Vitagarten. http://wlsvitagarten.com/2010/01/15/protein-basics/. Protein Basics.