Protein Power


Whether it’s “too much” or “not enough”, talk about protein typically leaves people scratching their heads. Thanks in part to fad diets, fats and carbohydrates generally dominate our caloric conversations, while protein is unfairly ignored.

Everybody needs protein and it doesn’t matter if you are an endurance athlete, a bodybuilder, or a committed couch potato. While fats and carbohydrates are mostly fuel, protein provides the building blocks for muscles, skin, and pretty much every other structure in the body. However, if you want to get the most out of this key macro-nutrient, you have to know the facts.

How much?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, most exercising individuals need between 1.2 to 1.7 grams (gms) of protein per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight. However, athletes who participate in extremely high intensity and high volume exercise sessions may need up to 2 gms of protein per kg of bodyweight. For ordinary folks, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.

Since a kilogram is 2.2 pounds, figure out how much protein you need to eat each day by dividing your weight in lbs by 2.2 and then multiplying by the number which most closely reflects your activity level. For example a 150lb male who works out occasionally and weighs 68 kgs and would need between 82-116 grams of protein per day (150lbs/2.2 = 68kgs, 68 x 1.2 = 81.6gms/day, 68 x 1.7 = 115.6gms/day).

What kind?
Dietary protein can come from plant (beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables) or animal sources (meat, eggs, fish, and dairy). However, proteins are made up of smaller compounds called amino acids, and not all proteins contain the right combination.

Because of this, animal sources of protein are considered “complete” while plant sources (except for a few exceptions like soybeans) are considered “incomplete”. A complete protein can be used “as is”, but an incomplete protein is lacking in one or more “essential” amino acids that cannot be supplied by the body.

Vegetarians can get around this problem by combining multiple plant sources of protein so that the resulting mix provides “complete” protein. Some examples of protein combining are “beans and rice”, and “hummus and pita bread.”

When?
You should consume protein throughout the day so as to promote satiety (the sense of being full) and to enhance absorption. While there is no set number that applies to everyone, as a general rule 15-30gms of protein per sitting is a reasonable limit. Excess protein is still extra calories (1gm of protein = 4.1 kcal) that will eventually be turned into fat.

Exercisers and athletes take note; numerous studies have shown that consuming protein after a workout helps improve recovery and reduce injuries, but the window of opportunity for these benefits is 30-60 minutes post-exercise. An easily digestible protein supplement combined with a simple carbohydrate (think Gatorade) is ideal in this situation.

What about the powdered stuff?
Protein supplements can feature a single type of protein such as whey, or a blend of proteins such as whey, casein, and soy. Soy protein is technically "complete", but it contains compounds that mimic the hormone estrogen, which raises questions about it's long term safety. Whey is the fastest absorbing protein, which makes it ideal for use post workout. Casein is digested slowly creating a time-release effect. Watch out for “Meal Replacements” and “Weight Gainers” which typically throw a lot of sugar and fat into the mix.


Resources:

RDA chart, http://www.time-to-run.com/nutrition/rda.htm

Nutrition and Athletic Performance, http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2009/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.27.aspx

Protein Needs for Athletes, Bill Campbell PhD, CSCS, FISSN, http://www.nsca-lift.org/HotTopic/download/Protein%20Needs.pdf

Ezine Articles, “How Much Protein Can You Absorb at One Time?” http://ezinearticles.com/?How-Much-Protein-Can-You-Absorb-At-One-Time?&id=721734
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About Tony Fed

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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