Protein is gaining a lot of attention these days – so much so that marketers are desperately jumping on the bandwagon and throwing “a source of protein” on pretty much everything that you can eat – an example below shows a desperate attempt at it. (Image provided by Joseph Agu @ Elite Nutrition Coaching).
Our bodies use protein to make some fundamental molecules – like enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and antibodies, as well as helping build muscle and replace and repair damaged cells, meaning our bodies don’t function all that well without adequate protein.
When blood sugar levels are low, for example during and after exercise, or in between meals, a hormone called glucagon is released, which causes the liver to breakdown any stored energy, meaning glucagon can help breakdown body fat. Consuming adequate amounts of protein can help increase levels of this hormone.
Recent media reports have tried to suggest that too much protein can cause organ damage or increase cancer risks. These concerns are typically overblown and here are some recent studies to support the fact that protein does not damage organs or cause cancer.
To clarify, people with certain medical conditions may not be advised to consume too much protein, but all excessive protein will do to a healthy person is give them a dose of wallet ache. This has stemmed from the fact that people with kidney issues respond well to a lower protein intake, but this leads to people taking a reverse causality approach, whereby they see that a lower protein intake helps those with kidney dysfunction, so high protein intake must have caused the kidney dysfunction, this however, is far from the truth.
Protein Intake recommendations
Your daily protein intake is largely dependent on your goals and activity level: Some recommendations will say that 0.5g/lb of body weight is sufficient, but this recommendation is purely based on avoiding a deficiency. Therefore, in order to get the benefits mentioned previously, you need more to thrive!
0.8 - 1g/lb body weight if your weight is stable and you don’t exercise
1.0-1.2 g/lb if your goal is fat loss and you’re physically active
1.2 - 1.5 g/lb if your goal is muscle building and you're physically active
People who are overweight or obese should calculate their daily protein intake based on their target weight as opposed to their existing body weight, as going off your current weight could result in consuming too many calories.
Gaining Weight or “Bulking”
Bulking and weight gain doesn’t require a massive increase to your protein intake, provided this intake is adequate. Muscle growth is affected by protein availability and protein elimination rates, or how fast protein is used up. Muscle tissue is constantly going through a process of breaking down and restoration – training and eating are the biggest contributors that will determine whether or not your body breaks down muscle tissue more or builds it up more – as you can probably guess, if you’re eating more food and hitting your protein intake, then you will sway towards the side of muscle building and not muscle breakdown.
The more calories the body has available to it, the more efficiently it utilizes protein because fewer amino acids are converted into glucose. This means that the added calories are contributing toward more efficient protein use, so there may not be a need to increase protein intake during a “bulking period”, once you are consuming an adequate amount in the first place.
Moreover, since protein has a high thermic effect, (burns calories through the process of digestion) than carbs and fat, it might not be in the best interest of someone looking to put on weight to consume more protein than they need to, when the extra calories could go towards carbs or fats, which won’t burn up valuable calories in the digestion process.
Thermic Effect of Food in %
- Protein: 20-35% of calories burned through digestion.
- Carbohydrates: 5-10% of calories burned through digestion.
- Fats: 0-5% of calories burned through digestion.
Sources of Protein
Protein sources do not matter much when we are just talking about protein, however, they matter in the context of the overall diet. For example, eating a high calorie protein source means a lot of calories are taken up, calories which could be directed elsewhere. If looking to lose weight, then choosing lean sources of protein can help keep calorie count low.
Protein from both plant and animal sources work just as well as each other in terms of increasing protein synthesis. The amino acid Leucine seems to be a major contributor to muscle protein synthesis – which can be found in eggs, poultry, milk, fish and meat.
People who cannot eat enough protein due to finances, diet preferences, or motivation often turn to supplementation to avoid eating more chicken or eggs! Others, however, seem to think that protein comes only in powder form and in a shaker bottle.
Mainstream media and supplement companies have tried to over complicate protein intakes because it helps sell products. There is only one advantage a protein shake has over protein from real whole foods and that’s convenience. If you’re stuck for time then a protein shake is your biggest ally, although the new protein milk is a great source of protein plus other vitamins and minerals.
Don’t feel under pressure to shell out on protein supplements or even stick to drinking them if they cause stomach discomfort (which many people complain of). Try getting your protein from whole sources of food and use the protein shakes for convenience, (if you are going to use them). Supplementation should only be used if dietary changes cannot be made to meet your protein requirements. It is however, worth noting that consuming protein in the form of actual food can give benefits that supplementation may not be able to provide.
The debate over “optimal” protein intake is likely to continue for decades to come, as research continues to evolve, however the intakes recommended above are reasonably accurate and pose no health risks to healthy populations. Sources of protein are generally well known, however, be careful of marketers jumping on the bandwagon and read food labels to ensure you know what you are consuming. Use supplements for convenience and don’t view them as a staple.
Thanks for reading guys - as always if you have any specific questions give us a shout.
S & C Coach