The Protein Question

Do I really need it? Why? How much? What kind

By now, hopefully you know how important it is to consume adequate amounts protein. You have probably been told, read or heard somewhere, how important it is in building muscle. This is indeed true but protein is much more important than just helping you get bigger muscles. It is essential in the proper functioning of your body (major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, brain, blood, skin and hair and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen and fats).

Protein basics

All proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are needed for human growth and metabolism. Most of these amino acids can be produced by the body but nine of them, called essential amino acids must be obtained by food. Our bodies can’t produce these and that’s why it’s essential to include them in a balanced diet. These essential amino acids are: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine.

Complete proteins are proteins (animal sources such as milk, egg, poultry, fish, meat, soy) that contain all 9 essential amino acids. Although animal source proteins provide all essential amino acids, there is a concern about the typically high amount of saturated fat that these foods have when compared to plant-based foods.

Incomplete proteins are protein sources (plant foods) that do not contain all essential amino acids. This is especially important to consider for vegetarians and vegans as they need to pay special attention to eat a variety of plant foods to make sure they consume enough of all amino acids. That said, with the proper combination, vegetable proteins can provide the same benefits as animal proteins.

Protein types

Topping the list of high quality proteins are meat, egg, poultry, fish, and soy. Milk, and all of its components (whey, casein) is closely behind.

Whey protein can be divided into whey powder (11%-15% protein), whey concentrate (25%-89% protein) and whey isolate (>90% protein). Whey isolate is lactose free. This type of protein is quickly absorped and digested and ideal for muscle regeneration after a workout. It has a much larger ability for muscle protein synthesis stimulation that casein or soy proteins.

Casein is released into the bloodstream much slower then whey and can provide a more constant supply of amino acids. A combination of whey and casein seems to have the greatest muscular strenght improvements.

Plant-based protein sources

Soy is the only vegetable protein that contains all nine essential amino acids and a high concentration of branched-chained amino acids. Just like whey protein, soy can be divided into three types (soy flour, concentrate, and isolate) depending on the protein content. This type of protein has been in the news for its health benefits. However, specific soy components (isoflavones) are phytoestrogens which are a form of estrogen, which could have “drug-like effects in the body” (FDA, 2000). There is still a lot of research to be done but it can be said that soy protein can have valuable health benefits. FDA determined that diets with four daily soy servings can reduce levels of LDL by as much as 10 percent (1% drop in total cholesterol can equal a 2 percent drop in heart disease risk). For more information about soy, read my blog “The Soy Controversy.”

Textured Vegetable Protein is made from soy flour and is often used as a meat alternative in vegetarian hot dogs, etc.

Some high-protein plant-based food sources are: lentils (9g), black/pinto/red beans (8g) tempeh (16g), soy milk (8g), tofu (10g), quinoa (4g), pumpkin seeds (9g), peanuts (7g).

So what does that all mean?

  • The most important aspect of protein consumption is to ensure consumption of the nine essential amino acids. This can be accomplished through complete proteins or combination of incomplete proteins.
  • Essential amino acids do not have to be consumed in one food or even one meal. You can consume them over the course of the day to ensure you are including all nine essential amino acids in your diet.
  • When choosing a protein powder, pay attention to the type of protein (isolate is better than powder or concentrate).

Daily protein intake recommendations:

There is much discussion about how much protein is the right amount and in the end you have to know what’s right for you. But to help you make an informed decision, below are some recommendations that are based on physical activity level and on how much protein a person needs per day to promote physical strength, muscle growth, and overall health:

  • Minimal physical activity:  0.4 – 0.5 grams per pound of body weight
  • Moderate physical activity: 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight
  • Intense physical activity:  0.7-0.9 grams per pound of body weight

Word of caution: Even though excessive protein consumption has not been shown to have negative health effects in healthy/active people, individuals with kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, or osteoporosis can be at risk. “Chronic high protein intake (>2 g per kg BW per day for adults) may result in digestive, renal, and vascular abnormalities and should be avoided.” (Wu, 2016)

Stay happy and healthy

-Dr. Maria


Hoffman, J. R., & Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 3(3), 118–130.

Cribb, P. J., Williams, A. D., Stathis, C. G., Carey, M. F., & Hayes, A. (2007). Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(2), 298-307.

Wu, G. (2016). Dietary protein intake and human health. Food & Function 7(3), 1251-65.

Dietitians of Canada, American College of Sports Medicine, & American Dietetic Association. (2000). Joint position statement: Nutrition and athletic performance. american college of sports medicine, american dietetic association, and dietitians of canada. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(12), 2130.

To Tea or Not To Tea?

To Tea or not to Tea….that is the question

(and the answer is YES!)

Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, right after water. Since ancient times, green tea has been considered by traditional Chinese medicine as a beverage with many healthy benefits ranging from reduction in cardiovascular disease (CVD), blood pressure, and cholesterol,  to body weight control and bone mineral density increase.

Key points:

  • Green tea contains numerous components with antioxidant activity: polyphenols (especially catechins), epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), minerals, vitamins.
  • Catechins are powerful antioxidants and have been shown to inhibit certain cancers, improve blood flow in the cardiovascular system and reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation
  • Green tea contains more catechins than black or oolong teas.
  • The strong antioxidant potential of catechins, and especially EGCG, are widely demonstrated.
  • Catechins possess antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Recent studies suggest that green tea may:

  • Protect against certain types of cancer
  • Help with weight- and fatloss through its thermogenic properties and by interfering within the sympathoadrenal system and fatty acid synthesis
  • Contribute to reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increase bone mineral density, and it has been identified as an independent factor protecting against the risk of hip fractures
  • Decrease cholesterol absorption and plasma levels
  • Decrease systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
  • Raise levels of serotonin and/or dopamine in the brain, which control both the appetite and satiety response
  • The positive effects found suggest a daily intake of 4-5 cups of green tea per day
  • Supplementation with green tea extract (400-500 mg per day) is more beneficial than drinking tea because it has more active compounds than brewed tea and is easier absorbed by the body

Negative side effects:

  • Some people that are very sensitive to caffeine will have trouble sleeping
  • However, green tea contains less caffeine than coffee: there are approximately 30-60 mg of caffeine in 6-8 oz ounces of tea, compared to over 100 m in 8 oz of coffee

-Stay Happy & Healthy

Dr. Maria

Low-Intensity or High-Intensity Cardio for Fat Loss?

Who has not asked themselves this question? You are in luck. I’ve gone on this hunt for truth just for you.

The misconception about low-intensity cardio:

“It burns more fat than high-intensity training” or does it?


It is true that a greater percentage of calories burned will come from fat if exercising at a low intensity.


because you’re exercising at a lower intensity, you will burn less total calories.

Less calories burned = less weight loss

How does it all work anyway?

Carbohydrates and fat are the body’s primary fuel source during activity. Carbohydrates are used first and in terms of carbohydrate sources, it will first be blood glucose that’s utilized for energy.

Next, stored carbohydrate (glycogen) will be turned into glucose and utilized. As exercise continues (for a long, long, long time), fat will become the primary fuel source.

It is also important to note that fat requires oxygen to be burned as fuel, which is where the misconception about low intensity aerobics burning more fat comes into play. The thought is that if you have more oxygen available (e.g., you’re not gasping for air because your intensity is so low), you’ll be able to burn more fat.

So what’s the problem with this theory?

The body does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the ‘fat burning zone’ or at lower intensities.

But, at higher intensities, you burn a greater number of overall calories, which is what you should be concerned with when trying to lose weight.

The chart below details the fat calories expended by a 130-pound woman during cardio exercise:

Intensity Level                                 Low Intensity                       High Intensity

Max Heart Rate (MHR)                          60-65%                                   80-85%

Total Calories in 30 min.                             146                                         206

Total Fat calories in 30 min.                        73                                           82

As you can see, the woman burns more total calories and more fat calories at a higher intensity.

So what am I trying to say? Low-intensity cardio is worthless? Absolutely not!

There is no “best” duration or frequency to do cardio, except the amount it takes you to get the results you want. That amount is not determined by opinion, committee, formula or even by scientific studies. What works for someone else, doesn’t have to work for you and vice versa. You are your own “scientific study.”

“Oh Great, you say. I’m on my own?” Not at all. Listen to your body. If it works, stick with it but if it doesn’t, you have to mix it up. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always gotten.

My recommendation:

Consider doing a low intensity/long session, a high intensity/short session and a few medium intensity/ medium length sessions. Keep your body guessing. This ensures that you work on endurance and that you work in multiple heart rate zones. The entire heart rate zone for fat burning is a HUGE debate. In another article, I’ll discuss the importance of Heart Rate. Stay tuned

Stay Happy & Healthy

– Dr. Maria

Resistance Training versus Cardio

I get a lot of questions about what is more important: resistance training or cardio? Is it better to do cardio before or after resistance training or on alternate days?

Let me say one thing right up front: Both cardio and resistance training should be part of your exercise routine because they are important for different reasons.

Female running athlete. Woman trail runner sprinting for success

Cardio is great for your heart and should be part of your regular exercise routine. The American Heart Association recommends doing cardio for at least 30 minutes on most days to maintain heart health. That said, I believe that too many people rely exclusively on cardio as their fitness and weight loss program.

Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit Workout

Resistance training, in my opinion, is the foundation of any exercise program and I will tell you why. Unlike cardio, resistance training not only burns calories while exercising but also after. Resistance training done for about 30 minutes causes metabolic rate to increase by 150 calories over the 12 hours post-exercise. But that’s not all…the real benefit comes from the added muscles that resistance training builds. For every pound of muscle you put on, you can burn 30-50 calories more per day.

It’s simple math: Resistance training burns up more calories per minute, helps maintain muscle mass, and continues to burn up calories at a higher rate post-exercise; it builds and stimulates muscle, which in turn builds and stimulates metabolism.

Now, to the timing question: there is research indicating that it’s more efficient to do cardio in the morning and more research showing better results in the evening. If that doesn’t confuse you, let me throw another tidbit of research your way: some newer research has shown added benefits of doing cardio after resistance training because the fat-burning benefits are at a high 15 minutes after resistance training. So what’s best?

Best is to actually do it, regardless of when.

The moral of the story

Use resistance training as your foundation for any fitness program and use cardio for support and to keep you heart healthy. Don’t worry about the timing….Just do it!

Stay happy and healthy

-Dr. Maria

Female Muscle – Misconceptions of Training and Nutrition

In the many years working as a fitness professional and health educator, I’ve encountered a wide array of myths and misconceptions about exercise and nutrition. Some of those seem to be more prevalent among women. Because these misconceptions can be the reason why you’re not achieving your fitness goals, I’m addressing some of the most common ones in this article.

More Cardio = More Fat Loss

Sadly, too many women still rely exclusively on long, boring, mindless cardio sessions to achieve their weight loss goals. Cardio is great for your heart and should most definitely be part of your regular exercise routine BUT:

  • More is not always better. Too much cardio without resistance training can actually cause you to lose calorie-burning muscle mass, which will decrease your overall metabolic rate and bring your weight loss efforts to a screeching halt.
  • 30 minutes of resistance training causes metabolic rate to increase by 150 calories over the 12 hours post-exercise. But that’s not all…the real benefit comes from the added muscles that resistance training builds. For every pound of muscle you add, you can burn 30-50 calories more per day.
    • Recommendation: Include resistance training to your workout routine and vary your cardio workouts by mixing days of longer low-intensity bouts (45-60 min) with shorter high-intensity interval bouts (20-30 min).

Fear of “getting to big” 

  • Women don’t want to be muscular; they want to be “toned” – hmmm? Sorry, but to be “toned” means to have muscle definition, which you really can’t achieve without being muscular.- Women fear too much muscle and think that weight lifting regularly, will make them look like men.
    • Reality check: Muscle does not grow overnight and if you’ve ever talked to anyone extremely muscular they’ll tell you just how hard it is. It takes a lot of dedication, time, training, and nutritional work to achieve a physique like that. There is no risk for the average fitness enthusiast to wake up one day and look like a professional bodybuilder. It’s really pretty simple: You work out until you like how you look and then you change your routine to maintain that muscle. Trust me, you’re safe from Hulkoniasm!

The importance of resistance training:Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit Workout

Besides making you look good, muscle has countless benefits you don’t readily see such as increased metabolism and strength, reduced risk of osteoporosis, as well as increased cognitive function. It also plays a crucial factor in slowing down sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Sarcopenia happens to all of us but we can significantly slow it down by including regular resistance training (at least 2 x week) into our routine.

Less Calories = More Weight Loss

Breakfast With Coffee, Orange Juice, Croissant, Egg, Vegetables

  • Cutting calories will make you lose weight BUT cutting too many calories will backfire
  • You’re body needs a certain amount of calories to function correctly. You may have heard of BMR but aren’t quite sure why it’s so important. BMR is the basal metabolic rate and is the absolute minimum amount of calories your body needs to perform all of the basic bodily functions such as breathing.
  • If you drop below your BMR, your body’s only concern is to survive. It is not concerned with building muscle and speeding up your metabolism.
  • Solution: Find out what your caloric need is and never drop below that number. This number depends on many factors and if you want an exact number you should contact a fitness professional. But as a rule of thumb, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that women do not drop their caloric intake below 1200 calories. If you compare that to the calories in the average juice diet, you know you’re in trouble.

I Don’t Need More Protein

  • The average woman eats insufficient amounts of dietary protein.
  • Protein is one of the major building blocks in muscle growth and also important in the proper functioning of your body (major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, brain, blood, skin and hair and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen and fats).
  • Simple equation: If you don’t eat enough protein, don’t expect maximum results from your fitness and weight loss efforts.

Recommendation from the American Dietetic Association and ACSM:

  • General population 0.4 grams per pound of body weight
  • Endurance Athlete 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight
  • Strength Training Athlete 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight

This list of misconceptions is a very short list as I’ve only listed a few of the ones I hear the most. There are many more and if you have any questions about other myths, feel free to contact me.

Stay happy and healthy

 – Dr. Maria


Waters, D.L., R.N. Baumgartner & P.J. Garry. 2000. “Sarcopenia: Current Perspectives.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 4(3):133-139.

Nagamatsu LS, Handy TC, Hsu C, Voss M, Liu-Ambrose T. Resistance Training Promotes Cognitive and Functional Brain Plasticity in Seniors With Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(8):666-668. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.379.

American College of Sports Medicine @

Sleep your way to a faster metabolism

So by now you know that regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet are essential to achieve your fitness and weight loss goals. But did you know that adequate amount of sleep can also affect your goals? Well it is…. sleep is probably the most overlooked component of health and fitness.

Sleep has a key role in supporting a wide array of the body’s hormones and metabolism. Chronic sleep depravation is often a factor in obesity. This is caused by several factors. First of all, people that sleep less tend to eat more because they have more time to eat and also tired individuals tend to eat more to combat exhaustion. Secondly, research indicates that sleep affects two important hormones that are related to appetite. Those hormones are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, which increases appetite, is higher with lack of sleep and leptin, which decreases hunger is lower with lack of sleep. That combination causes an individual to be more likely to overeat.

Research shows that everyone needs between six and nine hours of sleep every day. Several studies show that even a short period of sleep deprivation affects our memory, reaction time, and our ability to handle stress.

So do yourself a favor and sleep a little more!

Stay happy and healthy

– Dr. Maria

Probiotics & Menopause

Probiotic, Prebiotic, Synbiotic, Antibiotic, Psychobiotic?

If you think this is the title to a new Sci-Fi flick, you’re not alone. How confusing can things get? We hear about them in the news and on ads but does anyone ever really explain what they mean and why you should care to know? Well, I’m breaking it all down for you into small digestible bites. 

Crazy Chemist Woman With Chemical Glassware Flask IsolatedMenopause is marked by a plethora of symptoms ranging from hot flashes, weight gain, and memory loss, to depression and anxiety, just to name a few. With probiotics being the new hot topic on the supplement market with its adds promising infinite health benefits, the question arises if they can be beneficial with menopausal symptoms as well. Is there truth to any of those claims? What are probiotics? Would you benefit from consuming them? The last question is one you will have to answer for yourself but after reading this blog you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision:


Probiotics come from the Greek word “pro bios” which means “for life”. The internationally endorsed definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The key word here is “live”.


Dietary substances that nurture a selected group of microorganisms living in the gut. Example: Polyphenols in chocolate act as prebiotics, enhancing beneficial bacteria that are already in the gut. They favor the growth of beneficial bacteria over that of harmful ones. (1)


Appropriate combinations of prebiotics and probiotics.


A substance that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms.


Probiotics that have a specific health benefit in regards to mental health. This is not a scientific term but rather a term coined by a scientist that was researching the mental health benefits of probiotics. (2) It’s very catchy so I thought I’d share 🙂

There are over 100 trillion bacteria, most of them in the intestines. These bacteria are our own intestinal medicine cabinet, which is capable of protecting us from damaging organisms.

They produce neurotransmitters that relay messages from the intestines to the brain via the vagus nerve, which causes the body to react in many different ways:

Gut bacteria work in the body through different modes of action supporting essential functions:

  • Digestion
  • Immunity
  • Metabolism
  • Mental Health
  • Nervous system

and helping with a variety of diseases. A few are mentioned below:

  • Lactose intolerance
  • Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease

A lot of the now marketed probiotics don’t have any benefits as they don’t make it passed the stomach acid. There are however, some that have great benefits:

Warning: No legal definition of probiotics currently exists, which allows companies to label their products “probiotic” even if they don’t meet the scientific definition of the term. No probiotic has of yet been approved for therapeutic purposes by the FDA. So when purchasing probiotic supplements, do your research. As with any other nutrient, always try to get as much in your daily fresh food (yogurt, kefir, fermented foods, sauerkraut, kimchi) instead of supplementing with pills or powders.

Due to their specific benefit, some of the strains of bacteria that may be beneficial for menopausal symptoms are listed below:

Combination of Lactobacillus helveticus & Bifidobacterium longum 

    • Reduced cortisol and inflammation
    • Cortisol is a big player in menopausal belly fat
    • Inflammation is a big player in musculoskeletal pain

Lactobacillus and Bifodobacterium

  • Secrete GABA, a neurotransmitter, who’s deficiency has been linked to depression. Polyphenols in dark chocolate act as prebiotics increasing both bacterial families

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

  • Reduces anxiety and depression by increasing GABA receptors in the brain


  • Alters levels of serotonin (similar to Prozac)

Lactobacillus reuteri 

  • Improves mood, appearance, and general health by increasing levels of the feel-good-hormone oxytocin

Lactobacillus acidophilus 

    • Influences canabinoid receptors, which are critical to regulating pain

B. infantis, L. reuteri 

    • Decrease inflammation

Active agents in yogurt 

    • Reduce anxiety and fear

Note: I was not able to find any specific studies that evaluated the benefit of probiotics for menopausal symptoms. This article, although based on information from peer-reviewed sources, is my own opinion on the possible benefits that probiotics can have on menopausal symptoms. It is intended to provide you with information but should not be taken as medical advice. Each situation is different. Contact your health care provider if you have other health conditions and are interested in exploring probiotics, as there may be interactions with medications that were not explored in this article.

Stay happy & healthy – Dr. Maria


(1) Jain, D. & Chaudhary, H.S. (2014). Clinical significance of probiotics in human. International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology, Neurological Diseases, 4(1), 11-22.

(2) Davidson, J. (2014). The Psychobiotic Revolution. Psychology Today March/April, 40-41.

(3) Sanders, M.E. (2008). Probiotics: Definition, Sources, Selection, and Uses. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 46:S58-61.