Protein Absorption

Author: Craig Coghlin CPT (Canfit Pro), CFC (CSEP)
Protein is a big topic when it comes to weight training. Many people are constantly asking me, “How much protein do I need to take in if I want to get bigger?” First of all, genetics may play a large role in the ability to gain mass, but that is not to say it can’t be done. But as far as protein goes, it is one of the most supplemented nutrients around because many feel they must get as much protein as possible to reap the benefits of weight training. This comes from the fact that muscle is made mostly of protein, and when you work out and tear the fibres, protein is used to rebuild these fibres. Yet is supplementation really necessary? Or is it possible to get all the protein you need from a healthful diet?

Current recommended values for protein intake are set up to 35% of total energy intake. For a sedentary individual, a value of 0.8 g/kg is the usual recommendation. Yet some studies have shown that higher intakes may be helpful in some cases. For strength related activities, an intake of 1.5-1.8 g/kg seems to be optimal. For endurance activities, 1.1-1.4 g/kg is recommended and for high intensity activities like hockey and basketball, 1.4-1.7 g/kg. It is extremely important though that these intakes accompany an adequate diet in both carbohydrate and fat as well. In fact, carbohydrates will actually aid protein balance, and with overall energy. This leads me to a problem that many face with regards to increasing their protein intakes.

By increasing the amount of protein you take in, while at the same time not altering total energy intake, you are actually decreasing the amount of carbs you are taking in. As mentioned earlier, carbs contribute to energy, thus the less you are taking in, the less energy you will have. Protein can be used for energy, but only a very small amount (10-15% max).

Supplementation with protein powders in NOT necessary. The average diet already contains more than enough protein, although with an increase in activity, there will also be an increase in caloric needs. There is little or no evidence supporting the effectiveness of these supplements.

If you decide to load up on protein, although you have an otherwise healthful diet, you may not be in the clear. Excess protein can worsen a pre-existing kidney problem. The long-term effects of protein supplements though are relat
ively uncharted territory; they just haven’t been around long enough. Excess protein will either be excreted or added to a protein pool that the body dips into when needed. By increasing your protein intake, you won’t necessarily get huge; there are way too many other factors to consider.

In closing, save your money. Protein supplements are very expensive and you can get more than enough protein by eating a normal diet.

Williams, Melvin H. 2002. Nutrition for Health, Fitness and Sport. Sixth Edition.
McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.

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