Protein: Your Ally After Surgery and Beyond
Proteins have many jobs, including making body tissue, brain chemicals, hormones, immune cells and helping numerous other processes take place. Protein becomes even more important after weight-loss surgery when your calories are very low. If you do not eat enough protein after surgery you will not heal as well, your energy levels will be lower, you will lose more muscle and less fat, and you may lose more hair. To meet your protein needs when you are eating so little food, most of your calories need to be from protein.
Another benefit of eating protein is that it takes longer to digest compared to carbs, leaving us feeling fuller for longer. This is important to remember when you are further out from surgery and your appetite starts to come back.
When choosing a meal or snack, start with protein. While fruits, vegetables and other carbohydrates are still part of a healthy diet, make protein your priority.
For the first few weeks after surgery, you'll get most of your protein from shakes. However, as you reintroduce more solid foods into your diet, you'll need to make sure you're eating protein with every meal and snack.
High protein foods include meat, chicken, fish, tofu, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts, and quinoa. Choosing low-fat or non-fat milk, cheese and yogurt will help reduce the amount of calories and fat in your diet. Remember to avoid added sugars in yogurt – opt for plain Greek yogurt to maximize protein and minimize sugar. Leaner cuts of meat – free of fat and skin – are another easy way to save on calories.
Adding protein powder to foods that may not otherwise contain high amounts of protein can be an easy way to change up your day-to-day diet.
Protein-Rich Snack Ideas
- 2 Tbsp nut butter with 1 cup celery or apple slices
- Organic/no-nitrate beef jerky
- Mixed nuts (1/4 cup)
- 2 slices deli turkey with 1 slice cheese
- Edamame 1 cup
- 1/3 cup hummus with 1 cup veggie sticks (carrot/celery/bell pepper)
- Plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp honey and 1/2 cup frozen (thawed) berries
- Tuna or egg salad in bell pepper
- 2 hardboiled eggs
- String cheese and baby carrots
- 1/2 cup cottage cheese with or without fruit/veggie
- Sunflower seeds (1/2-3/4 cup in shell)
- Protein shake, could include fruit/veggies blended in
How much protein do I need?
Protein needs vary with each individual based on age, lean muscle mass, daily exercise and overall health. Immediately after surgery the protein goal will be 60 grams per day as you are adjusting to a small stomach and a new way of eating. Once you have transitioned to regular food, your protein needs will consist of high quality protein daily. For your personalized protein needs, contact our dietitian to discuss.
Signs and symptoms of low protein intake:
- Hair loss/breakage
- Weakened hand grip
- Nausea or increased hunger
- Low energy
- Decreased muscle mass/muscle wasting
- Osteoporosis (susceptibility to falls)