Nowadays there are a lot of misconceptions with respect to protein intake. Should
one take in 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight? Or is it 1 gram per kilogram?
And, to the non-scientist, just how much is that?
Well, before discussing this issue, I think it’s important to explore
the difference between protein need and protein optimization. When someone asks
the question – how much protein should I eat – they are usually
trying to figure out how much protein they need to optimize body composition
and performance. But the question, "How much protein does an athlete
need?" is a very different one from "How much protein should
an athlete consume to improve body composition and athletic performance?"
In the research world, the word need is in no way associated with optimization.
Instead it's defined as the minimum amount necessary in order to prevent deficiency.
Therefore, in asking how much protein an athlete needs, you're asking the question
"What's the minimum amount of protein an athlete can get away with to prevent
wasting and eventual death?"
Since most athletes have access to and usually consume enough protein to stave
off death, the common protein question about how much protein an athlete needs
is a bad one. This question doesn't address the issue of real importance, the
one that addresses what an athlete should consume to improve performance and
So, how much protein do individuals need to optimize performance and body composition?
Well, the truth is, I don’t know. Everyone is different. However, what
I do know is this – about 85% of all the individuals I’ve ever consulted
with have been eating less protein that I recommend. And the first thing I do
to stimulate results (usually “results” mean body composition changes)
is to increase the protein intake while making a few concomitant changes to
carbs and fat intake.
Now, there are a number of reasons why I boost protein intake in most clients
so I’d like to outline them in this article.
Increased Thermic Effect of Feeding — While all macronutrients require
metabolic processing for digestion, absorption, and storage or oxidation, the
thermic effect of protein is significantly higher than that of carbohydrates
and fat. In fact, protein requires 25-30% of the energy it provides just for
digestion, absorption, and assimilation while carbs only require 6-8% and fat
requires 2-3%. That means that eating protein is actually thermogenic and can
lead to a higher metabolic rate. This means greater fat loss when dieting and
less fat gain during hypercaloric diets.
Increased Glucagon — Protein consumption increases plasma concentrations
of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon is responsible for antagonizing the effects
of insulin in adipose tissue, leading to greater fat mobilization. In addition,
glucagon also decreases the amounts and activities of the enzymes responsible
for making and storing fat in adipose and liver cells. Again, this leads to
greater fat loss during dieting and less fat gain during overfeeding.
Increased IGF-1 — Protein and amino-acid supplementation has been shown
to increase the IGF-1 response to both exercise and feeding. Since IGF-1 is
an anabolic hormone that's related to muscle growth, another advantage associated
with consuming more protein is more muscle growth when overfeeding and/or muscle
sparing when dieting.
Reduction in Cardiovascular Risk — Several studies have shown that increasing
the percentage of protein in the diet (from 11% to 23%) while decreasing the
percentage of carbohydrate (from 63% to 48%) lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride
concentrations with concomitant increases in HDL cholesterol concentrations.
Improved Weight-Loss Profile — Research from Layman and colleagues has
demonstrated that reducing the carbohydrate ratio from 3.5 - 1 to 1.4 - 1 increases
body fat loss, spares muscle mass, reduces triglyceride concentrations, improves
satiety, and improves blood glucose management.
Increased Protein Turnover — All tissues of the body, including muscle,
go through a regular program of turnover. Since the balance between protein
breakdown and protein synthesis governs muscle protein turnover, you need to
increase your protein turnover rates in order to best improve your muscle quality.
A high protein diet does just this. By increasing both protein synthesis and
protein breakdown, a high protein diet helps you get rid of the old muscle more
quickly and build up new, more functional muscle to take its place.
Increased Nitrogen Status — Earlier I indicated that a positive nitrogen
status means that more protein is entering the body than is leaving the body.
High protein diets cause a strong positive protein status and when this increased
protein availability is coupled with an exercise program that increases the
body's anabolic efficiency, the growth process may be accelerated.
Increased Provision of Auxiliary Nutrients — Although the benefits mentioned
above have related specifically to protein and amino acids, it's important to
recognize that we don't just eat protein and amino acids — we eat food.
Therefore, high protein diets often provide auxiliary nutrients that could enhance
performance and/or muscle growth. These nutrients include creatine, branched
chain amino acids, conjugated linoleic acids, and/or additional nutrients that
are important but remain to be discovered. This illustrates the need to get
most of your protein from food, rather than supplements alone.
So, looking over this list of benefits, isn't it clear that for many individuals,
an increase in protein intake would be advantageous for most people’s
training goals? Since a high protein diet can lead to a better health profile,
an increased metabolism, improved body composition, and an improved training
response, why would anyone ever try to limit their protein intake to the bare
minimum necessary to stave off malnutrition?
It seems to me that whether someone's on a hypoenergetic diet or a hyperenergetic
diet, the one macronutrient they would want to be sure to overeat would be protein.
Instead, by limiting protein intake, most individuals look for what they consider
the bare minimum of protein, and then overeat carbohydrates and fats instead.
That's a big performance and body composition mistake.
Please check out Dr. John Berardi's Nurition DVD.
Protein - Picking the right type of
for Fat Burning
Protein and Building Muscle
Highest in Protein