Q. What is Protein?
What is protein?Are you confused about how much protein you need? Many athletes and exercisers are increasing their protein intake to help them both lose weight and build more muscle, but is that the right way to go? It makes sense that, since muscles are made of protein, eating more dietary protein will help you build more muscle. But, is eating tons of eggs, meat and protein supplements really necessary?
A Little Bit of Science
A. Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body. They are made up of amino acids, and help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body, and most of it (around 60% to 70%) is located in the skeletal muscles.
There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body and all but eight can be produced in an adult body.These eight amino acids are called essential amino acids and must be supplied to the body by food or supplements. The other twelve non-essential amino acids are manufactured within the body, but both essential and non-essential amino acids are necessary for the synthesis of tissue proteins. What does all this mean? It means that if you don't supply your body with the essential amino acids it needs, the amount of protein your body can use for building muscle is limited.
Getting the Right Kind of Protein
Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and just about anything else derived from animal sources. Incomplete proteins do not have all of the essential amino acids and generally include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts. So, if you're a vegetarian, does this mean you can't get complete protein? Not at all. Below is a chart listing some incomplete proteins. To get all of the essential amino acids, simply choose foods from two or more of the columns.
|Grains||Legumes||Seeds & Nuts||Vegetables|
|Barley||Beans||Sesame Seeds||Leafy Greens|
|Corn Meal||Lentils||Sunflower Seeds||Broccoli|
|Pasta||Soy Products||Other Nuts|
|Whole Grain Breads|
Calculate your protein needsMost North Americans get more than enough protein daily. In fact, the average American consumes about 50% more than the recommended daily amount. Yet we often see athletes, business executives and weight loss fanatics turning to protein powders, drinks and nutritional bars in their quest for more protein. Is this really necessary? That depends. It is true that resistance training and endurance workouts can rapidly break down muscle protein. If you exercise heavily, you might need to up your protein intake from the RDA's recommendation of 0.8 g/kg to 1.2-1.8 g/kg.
What if you're trying to build more muscle? Shouldn't you eat more protein? Covert Bailey in his book Smart Exercise: Burning Fat, Getting Fit, states that "the maximum muscle mass the human body can add in one week is one pound. That is the upper limit of the muscle fiber's capacity to make protein into muscle; any protein beyond that is simply converted to fat." Dr.Lemon, in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (19:5, S179-S190,1986), states:
"Several types of evidence indicate that exercise causes substantial changes in protein metabolism. In fact, recent data suggests that the protein recommended dietary allowance might actually be 100% higher for individuals who exercise on a regular basis. Optimal intakes, although unknown, may be even higher, especially for individuals attempting to increase muscle mass and strength."
So, in essence, the more you exercise, the greater your protein needs will be.
How to Calculate Your Protein Needs:
1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
2. Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm.
Use a lower number if you are in good health and are sedentary. Use a higher number (between 1 and 1.8) if you are under stress, are pregnant, are recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.
Example: 154 lb male who is a regular exerciser and lifts weights
154 lbs/2.2 = 70kg
70kg x 1.5 = 105 gm protein/day
Calculating Protein as a Percentage of Total Calories
Another way to calculate how much protein you need is by using daily calorie intake and the percentage of calories that will come from protein. To do this, you'll need to know how many calories your body needs each day. First, find out what your Basal Metabolic Rate is by using this BMR calculator. Using the activity calculator located on the same page, you can then calculate the number of calories you need each day to maintain where you are.
After you've figured out your maintenance calories, next figure out what percentage of your diet will come from protein. The percentage you choose will be based on your goals, fitness level, age, body type and metabolic rate. Most experts recommend that your protein intake be somewhere between 15 and 30%. When you've determined your desired percentage of protein, multiply that percentage by the total number of calories for the day.
For a 140lb female, calorie intake=1800 calories, protein=20%:
1800 x .20 = 360 calories from protein. Since 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, divide protein calories by four:
360/4 = 90 grams of protein per day.
No matter what your calculations are, remember that there are no magic foods or supplements that can replace the right training and the right diet. The foundation of any program, whether your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle, is a combination of strength training and a healthy diet that includes plenty of carbs, with a balance of protein and fat. To gain weight, you need to consistently eat more calories than your body uses.
Please consult your physician before starting any diet or exercise program
Glen Edward Mitchell
Got a question? Ask Glen!