Protein Check

By October 2, 2017 Exercise, Nutrition
Protein Power

Five good reasons to make sure you’re getting enough of this vital macronutrient, especially for athletes and other active people.

Everyone is an athlete, and adequate protein is a universal nutritional requirement for all.

Athletes usually require more energy in the form of overall calories, and thus their protein needs are higher too.

Unfortunately, the nutritional status of most people is poor, whether they exercise or not. Low levels of various nutrients are common due to low intake of healthy whole foods and higher junk food consumption. Protein is often a missing component to a healthy diet.

We tend to think of protein as being important for building muscles and strength, which is true. However, even inactive people require modest amounts of protein each day. That’s because muscles do more than provide the means for movement — they also are important for immune, circulatory, hormonal and other activities that require protein.

For muscle activity, protein has many functions:

  • Protein enhances the anabolic actions necessary in muscles following exercise, and is a vital part of recovery.
  • Although all amino acids are important, leucine is often highlighted as a marker for muscles, and found in higher amounts in beef, pork, nuts and seedshealthy dairy, fish and beans.
  • Protein can help prevent muscle injury, as long as the muscles are not abused by excessive volumes and/or intensity of exercise.
  • A healthy protein status is important for athletic performance.
  • Balancing protein intake with healthy fats and unprocessed carbohydrate foods can help improve muscle function and reduce excess body fat.

Optimal protein intake can be usually accomplished by consuming 20-40 grams of protein in each meal or substantial snack.

Whether we’re trying to develop strength, build more muscle, or maintain current body condition, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommendations include 1.4-2.0 grams protein/kg body weight/day. For those performing regular strength-training sports, 2.3-3.1 grams/kg/day, or more, may be necessary.

For example, an healthy and active 160-pound person may require upwards of 170 grams per day.

Examples of daily protein needs:

  • For daily protein intake of 128 grams. The protein foods that would provide this include three eggs and cheese at breakfast, a salad for lunch with a hefty serving of turkey, and salmon for dinner.
  • For a daily protein intake of 106 grams: two eggs for breakfast, a chef’s salad for lunch, and a sirloin steak for dinner.
  • For 90 grams of protein: two eggs at breakfast, tuna salad for lunch, and lamb for dinner.

Reasons people may need additional amounts of protein.

  • Larger body frames or high muscle-mass types.
  • Those performing more extreme sports.
  • Growing children.
  • Those who are over 40 to prevent muscle-mass loss.

However, more is not necessarily better as protein intake above one’s needs won’t help, and could stress the gut. It’s important to estimate your personal needs to determine the amount that works best. This can be done by comparing different intakes with energy levels, post-workout muscle recovery, MAF Tests, gut function, and other signs and symptoms.

Protein is necessary for balancing fats, stabilizing blood sugar and insulin, and regulating nutrients and hormones. It’s important for digestion, nervous-system maintenance, building new cells throughout the body and fueling the immune system, among other functions.

For serious competitive athletes, an evening protein supplement can help in muscle recovery and development. While food consumption in the evening is typically not recommended, during times of intense training or a buildup to key endurance races, consuming about 30-40 grams of an easily digested protein like egg white powder as a shake can be helpful. Avoid this if it causes intestinal upset.

While studies tend to separate protein needs for endurance performance and strength training, everyone benefits from both types of fitness. This does not necessarily mean increasing muscle bulk and added weight.

In addition to consuming protein foods at mealtimes, benefits can occur when consuming protein before or after exercise. Protein can be helpful during training sessions or competition when nutrients besides water are necessary, and can also be added to a carbohydrate drink. This can reduce muscle soreness, and during hard training or competition, reduce muscle damage.

During long workouts and races, endurance athletes can consume approximately 0.25 g of protein/kg body weight per hour, along with their carbohydrate intake. For those using protein before, during, or after workouts, or to supplement a healthy diet, the two best sources are:

Egg white powder.
This protein source may be ideal because it’s less processed, highly digestible, and easy to incorporate in shakes and recipes such as homemade energy bars.

Whey protein powder.
This protein source is not only readily assimilated but also contains cysteine, the building block for the powerful antioxidant glutathione. Be sure to buy the concentrate form not the highly processed isolate or hydrolyzed forms. Avoid products containing added sugar, flavorings, or other unnatural ingredients including synthetic vitamins.

Protein is an important part of any healthy person’s diet. If you’re active or an athlete it’s even more important to assess your needs and take appropriate steps to meet this crucial requirement.

20 Comments

  • Luis says:

    Some authors (like US-based authors Peter Attia or Valter Longo) believe there is a trade-off between increased physical performance provided by protein and longevity and cancer risk. Ingesting more protein than strictly needed might overstimulate both mTOR complexes, which are responsible for upregulating cell growth and proliferation and downregulating autophagy. This implies that cancer cells might increase their chance of surviving the immune system if these pathways are always on. In fact, people with some mutated/dysfunctional mTOR genes suffer from much lower cancer incidence. Any thoughts on this?

    • Luis:

      I’m not well-versed on the carcinogenic effects of proteins, but I do know that excess protein intake can produce toxicity. I wouldn’t be surprised to find they are onto something.

    • Joe says:

      Luis, the concern over mTor is a valid one. This talk by Dr. Ron Rosedale is very informative:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhIMebxDJ38

      Dr Rosedale was one of the very first to understand and talk about the link between high insulin levels and wellness, and he’s not slowed down a bit. You will hear things from him you won’t hear anywhere else, at least for a few decades when it becomes “common sense”

      Stay skeptical.

  • Alan says:

    2 g/kg? As a 66 year old, I struggle to get 100 g of protein. I am 160 lbs. and am fairly active. We have a fair amount of protein at every meal.

  • Bill Kranker says:

    Dr Phil,

    I know from reading your regular emails that you recommend more of a Paleo style diet which has higher levels of animal foods in it and contains healthy unprocessed vegetables. I agree that the more unprocessed the better but I am concerned that the higher levels of animal foods could increase the risk of developing heart issues later in life? What studies or evidence can you point to to suggest that I should not be concerned? Is using non-animal protein an issue?

    Bill

  • Yves Chabot says:

    Hello, since I ditched all animal products and go plant base diet, I never performed so well either for my training (triathlon) or in my daily life.
    I tried for 15 days and and kept this new diet\way of live for a few months now and never looked back. I also feel good about not participating in animal cruelty.

  • There is a HUGE group of people, sport active vegetarians and vegans, who could use more info for their protein and other nutrient needs, especially Omega 3’s and 6’s, among others… Any chance of an article with some guidelines for us? Thanks!

  • Joe says:

    Dr. Maffetone,
    Is there a brand or product you recommend for the whey and egg protein supplements? I am trying to find something that does not having extra additives.

    Thank you,
    Joe

  • Matthew says:

    Overall I really appreciate the holistic approach of the Maffetone method. With that said I must point out that one important aspect is missing though: the environment!
    Animal agriculture is responsible for a huge part of the global warming and there’s no way we’ll be able to reach the climate goals and save the planet without reducing our meat consumption. Therefore I believe it’s higly irresponsible to advice people to eat more meat. There are other sources of protein that people could and should turn to.
    After all, what’s the point of being healthy if it’s ruins the planet? That’s just pure egoism! So please Dr. Phil, include a sincere environmental concern in your theory/method to make it even more holistic.

    • Matthew:

      There are a few polyculture farms out there (e.g. polyface farms) which prove that holistic land management with the use of livestock (which can then be butchered) allows an extraordinary amount of biomass to be cultivated in a small surface, while remaining carbon negative. The brilliance is that it allows for multiple animal and plant species to be raised on the same surface area: while a well-run polyculture farm usually produces far fewer pigs than say, a pig factory farm, it has the potential to produce far more biomass on the same surface area.

      So in principle, there is nothing to say that we can’t consume meat and animal products as part of a plant-based diet as a way of life, as evidenced by these farming methods. That said, the dietary habits of most americans contain extraordinary levels of animal products to levels that are often toxic (relative to their muscle building needs). But the article is directed towards athletes and active individuals, who as a group tend to get less protein than they need. If they got their animal protein from products sourced from polyculture farms, boosting that economic sector, we’d all be better off for it.

  • fm-NYC says:

    Ivan, the Tera whey has Stevia. Isn’t that to be avoided?

  • Steve Rudd says:

    Is there a lab test to determine how much protein an individual needs? Also I subscribe to a largely vegan diet and while I can get enough protein to satisfy 2g per kilo my reading of the China study and other similar books suggest 1g per kilo should be more than enough . Your comments welcome
    Steve DC ND FRCC(cranio)

  • Michele says:

    Hi,
    just starting (a few weeks down) to train under MAF rates here, and I have a weight loss goal too (-10Kg to begin).

    After stumbling on Dr. Maffetone’s research and implementing the training regime, I decided to couple it with a LCHF type of diet. I am now 9 days down the road.
    I tried to stick to 95g of proteins a day, following the formula:

    proteins_g = 0.7 x lean_mass_pound

    I got the measure of my muscle mass from a machine called “boditrax” available at the gym.
    I had started MAF training two weeks prior to this, aiming for 50′ runs every other day,
    and general jogging training a couple of weeks back.
    I am a very poor runner (my HR skyrockets very easily) and I have ‘something’ obstructing my air ways so I decided to try something to really train my cardio-vascular system more than anything else, and as said I came to know MAF and decided to give it a try.
    During the first weeks of MAF training, during which I did not really follow any particular dietary regime, I lost weight and gained a little ‘performance’ on my runs.
    My average pace on the 50 mins was (slowly but) steadily going up, while keeping my HR constant at max 140bpm (I’m 45 but my max HR is 183 so I moved the bar slightly higher).

    Around a week ago, I started implementing LCHF. I then noticed that in my next jogging session (after 2 days) my heart tended to race faster: as a result, I went back in terms of pace for my 50 minutes. I kept noticing that, while before diet my resting HR was going down a little, now it was on the rise.
    This trend kept going the whole week. I did not feel ‘bad’ in any other sense, and I am quite enjoying these low carb meals: they leave me very satisfied and seem to go OK with my guts.
    Only thing is, it is difficult to meet the caloric intake, and I am actually constantly under.
    I thought: well, given the exercise I’m doing and the adequate protein intake, I should be just burning more fat, since I’m not feeling deprived or starving in any way.

    But, to my dismay, when I stepped on the scale yesterday, I found out that I lost 2Kg…of muscle mass!!
    That was very disappointing. Now, it might still be that my previous measurement, which I did maybe 20-30 minutes after my jog, was off. The machine reading should be done prior to workout, indeed.
    But I can’t but couple a few things together here:

    – my resting HR has risen (my starting was 75-ish, it went down to 64, now it’s up again at 70 or more)
    – my pace for same HR has gone down: I’m regressing instead of progressing (last week)
    – according to the sophisticated scale, I lost 2Kg of lean mass, and 0.1Kg of fat!!

    I find the latter very counter intuitive if I look at myself in the mirror, as I clearly see more of the muscle shining through my waist and legs, but I am not sure at this point whether something went wrong, it is just ‘normal oscillations’ and adjustments due to the radical style changes I’ve made, or what else.

    Am I taking too little protein? Maybe running 50 mins at 140bpm is too much for my body and I should take it easier? Is 30-35g total Carbs still too low and I should ease into these levels more gradually?

    Thanks for your comments and help,

    Michele

    • Hi, Michele,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll get to your questions in a sec but I wanted to mention this: the first thing that strikes me is when you say that “something” is obstructing your airway. Do you know what that is? Without knowing more, I would urge you to go to a physician to get it figured out, perhaps even an endocrinologist—there are several important hormonal reasons why your airways may close, which have to do with the likes of chronic stress.

      People often get slower when they start implementing LCHF. The short of it is that when you rely on your carbohydrate-burning system to power the majority of your efforts, your fat-burning system is quite weak. When you eliminate carbohydrates, the fat-burning system has to take on the entire load of energy production, and since it is weak, your overall speed drops. Adding carbs would “solve” the problem, but it wouldn’t let you achieve what you set out to do, which is improve your fat-burning systems: the best stimulation to get your fat-burning systems to grow is the realization that they now have to power the majority of your activity.

      On another note, it seems like the lack of caloric intake generally (and quite possibly your protein intake specifically) may be causing a reduced muscle mass. It’s very hard to put a number of calories, since the body can do lots of different things to increase or decrease its energy output: if you eat less, you may be able to maintain the same workout and even the same number of steps, but your spontaneous movements (fidgeting, getting up for a folder, etc.) may drop dramatically, reducing your caloric output despite your best attempts to measure it. (And that’s just one example of many: your body temperature may also fall to conserve energy, for example).

      For that reason, we don’t really put a lot of stock in calorie counting: you may be able to track precisely how many calories are going in, but counting how many calories are going out through movement and then to figure out how many of each are being put into muscle mass vs. bone mass vs. connective tissue vs. brain and nervous system mass (to name a few) makes it almost impossible to get truly useful insights out of it—unless you have a team of specialists behind you. What I would suggest instead is to improve your food quality, without worrying about specifically counting grams.

      It’s also worthwhile to say that the first step to burning more fat isn’t actually to burn it, but to train the body’s fat-burning systems. As long as the body gets really good at taking fat out of your tissue and burning it, your body fat levels will eventually lower and stabilize at increasingly lower, but healthy, levels. However, the important intervention here isn’t simply building muscle mass or lowering body fat, but training the body’s infrastructure that allows body fat to be burned (and therefore lower).

      I kind of want to go back to the airway obstruction: If I were you I wouldn’t bet on the possibility that exercise will help. Instead I would work under the assumption that it is making exercise improvements more difficult until you know conclusively what it is—and more importantly, what it means.

      • Michele says:

        Hi Ivan,

        thank you for your reply. I would like to expand a little on my lungs condition and then also recap what I got from your reply, in terms of “dos and don’ts”.
        As far as my condition is concerned, I said ‘something’ because – so far – I don’t know exactly. I’ve done spyrometries in the past and the issue there is that my flow curve is really crappy. My lung volume and other things are very good, but I can’t just breathe out/in as fast as a 45 years old male should. Also, things don’t get better if I inhale cortisone (or what that is): the benefit is minimal.
        This is something I ‘feel’ since many, many years but only really now I’ve decided to tackle it. That’s why I said ‘something’. I’ve had a CT scan, blood tests and lung function tests just recently. I’ll see the consultant in January and only then will I have a better picture. I find your hint about endocrinologist interesting, I’ll dig more into that as well.
        I always thought that – since I can’t breathe as ‘fast’ as I should – this reflects in a higher-than-normal HR (normal for me, of course), especially when I’m running. It is certainly true that if I go beyond a certain effort threshold (not very fast, let’s say 11/12Kmh –> 165-170bpm) it becomes a little of a struggle. I always thought that this was because of my ‘something’ in the lungs.
        That’s when I thought: OK, let’s try to just lower my HR with good endurance exercise. This is when I came to know about Dr. Maffetone research (from the site runandbecome, btw), and decided to give it a try.
        When I run under my MAF, I do not experience any of the stress on my lungs. Anything at all.

        I know this is incomplete and does not really answer your question: I’ll post more details as soon as I get them, and would be really interested in your opinion.

        Onto what I got from your reply:

        1) becoming slower/loss of performance can be related to LCHF diet changes — The body needs to build its fat-exploiting system and might need some time, during which it might opt for protein breakdown instead of fat.

        2) lean mass loss could be related to protein/calories intake, but it’s difficult to trace exactly because metabolism adapts in a gazillion ways and one should add a lot of monitors to actually understand what’s going on this way.

        3) from 2), it descends that I should just try to raise the quality of food and not look at the calories. On this, I have a few questions but I’ll leave them for later.

        4) I can keep running at my MAF rate (or slightly below) as I’m doing now, 50 mins (plus warm-up/cool-dn) every other day: this would be my “burn my fat” message, more than actually burning a lot of fat there and then.

        I have a question on 3): I understood that to trigger the fat-burning system one has to constraint the carb intake. The numbers vary but a ballpark figure seems to be 30-35g/day. If that’s true, I wouldn’t know any other way of guaranteeing that without counting. Of course, this goes for the first times when you don’t have a clue of your macro distribution. With time, it can go on auto-pilot. Secondly, I’m Italian so you can imagine that my life has been dominated by pasta, pizza, bread in all forms and shapes, with a sprinkle of mandolino 😉 — This means that avoiding all these, plus fruits and non-green veggies, pushes me to other foods I’m not too familiar with, which need some sort of evaluation otherwise I’d end on inputting 800Kcal/day!!
        So that’s why I’m counting. Any advice on this point is very much appreciated, of course.

        Again, thanks for your inputs, they’re a great help to me.

        Regards,
        Michele

  • Bogdan says:

    Hello, I use to drink warm lactose free milk after my workouts. I don’t have any intestinal upsets. What is your opinion on lactose free milk?

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