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Home > Protein- Hype or Hope?
Protein- Hype or Hope?
by Dave Foreman
High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are hot, hot, hot! Athletes are grabbing protein shakes to help build muscle. Dieters are gobbling down protein bars in hopes of quick weight loss. Atkins. Protein Powder. Low Carb salad dressings, snacks, and cereal. Given all the hype, it is hard to know what is fact or fiction with regard to protein and your health. My goal here is to help you understand the role of protein in your daily diet. Using the proper amounts and types of protein is key to your health.
Along with fats and carbohydrates, protein is a "macronutrient," meaning that the body needs relatively large amounts of it. Vitamins and minerals, which are needed in only small quantities, are called "micronutrients." But unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply. When protein intake is adequate to meet our normal daily requirements and no more, a condition known as nitrogen equilibrium is experienced. When one is deprived of adequate protein, negative nitrogen balance occurs. Negative nitrogen balance is bad news. When you're sick, injured or on a low calorie or poor quality diet, your body tries to fill its nutritional void by cannibalizing itself, a process also known as catabolism. The body actually eats its own muscle tissue (heart and lungs included) to extract the amino acids it needs to operate. Protein deficiency can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, insulin resistance, hair loss, loss of hair pigment (hair that should be black becomes reddish), loss of muscle mass, low body temperature, and hormonal irregularities. Severe protein deficiency can be fatal.
Some experts suggest that the ideal condition is positive nitrogen balance. Positive nitrogen balance simply means your tissues are getting more protein, and retaining more nitrogen than is being eliminated daily. This state may be achieved by a true health enthusiast, someone who eats correctly all the time and exercises regularly. However, excess protein can cause problems as well. High protein diets, particularly those that emphasize fatty meats, can cause issues with high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and kidney problems. Additionally, there may be issues with toxins related to hormone treatments, antibiotics, or processing. High protein diets have also been linked to liver disfunction from increased toxic residues and bone loss due to increased acidity in the blood.
How Much Is Enough?
It depends on who you ask. Obviously, achieving balance is crucial, so what are the latest recommendations on protein consumption? I usually recommend consuming about 0.65 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds then you should consume 170 grams of protein each day. However, requirements for protein are affected by age, weight, state of health, and other factors.
Whether you're a casual fitness participant or a world-class athlete, try eating RDA-recommended doses of protein (which is less than my recommendation above) for any length of time, and see if you grow in stamina, strength and muscle tone. Chances are you won't. This school of thought recommends that active people consume 1 to 1.5 grams of complete protein for every pound of body weight on a daily basis. The short answer is probably this: Protein needs vary according to the individual and lifestyle. Some people can get by on the low side of the recommendation and maintain a positive nitrogen balance, while others need to increase their protein intake to the higher figure.
The Weight Issue - High Pro, Low Pro, No Pro?
Weight loss diets often decrease muscle mass. A decrease in muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolic rate. This is not the desired outcome as increasing muscle will actually help burn more fat. Increased protein consumption can help to maintain or to increase muscle mass in overweight people during dieting. It can also help to maintain the weight after the diet.
Protein can be converted by the body into glucose for energy, but it takes twice as much effort as converting carbohydrates or fats into glucose. The extra effort translates into fewer calories available. Our muscles can burn fat. Muscles also have a higher density than fat. An increase of our muscle mass can lead to a decrease in fat mass.
Additionally, muscle mass tends to help us look more lean. After all, the realistic goal of dieting for most of us is looking better; how much we weigh is usually less important. You may not lose weight since muscle weighs more than fat, but you tend to lose inches and look fit. If we have more muscle, we are able to burn more calories and this process helps us to maintain a healthy body weight. Exercise, especially resistance training, and higher protein consumption are stimulating factors for protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Obesity among children is rising dramatically. Obese children will often stay obese as they grow up. While kids need calories to grow, they should not take in more calories than their activity consumes. Children must be taught this balance during their formative years so they can develop healthy lifestyle habits. If a child starts to develop a problem with weight, it is much easier to reduce the weight and the body fat during the growing phase than when they reach adulthood. Many children get up to 50% of their total calories from carbohydrates in the form of soft drinks, snack foods, and candy. These foods are often high in glucose, sucrose, fructose and other refined substances which only supply energy in the form of carbohydrates. Replacing these carbohydrates with protein would help the children gain muscle mass, reduce fat mass and achieve a healthy weight and body composition. A side note: There has been an increase in type II diabetes in children. An increase in protein and activity combined with a decrease in simple carbohydrates would end this epidemic before it starts. Lead by example Mom and Dad!
Muscle growth in seniors
During aging, there is an age-associated loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. After the age of 40, the body loses one percent of muscle mass every year! The loss of muscle mass can partly be counteracted by resistance training and by increasing protein consumption to aid in the synthesis of muscular proteins. Increasing protein consumption with food sources like eggs, meat, milk, and cheese is difficult, especially for aging people. These forms of protein always have accompanying byproducts like fat and cholesterol that cause negative health impacts. Presently, most mature adults are not consuming protein supplements because they are hard to digest, hard to swallow and seem to be designed for only athletes and bodybuilders. However, prevention programs have started to educate seniors about actively fighting against aging by starting a wellness program including resistance training and protein supplementation. This is a great way to increase muscle mass and the net synthesis of muscular proteins. Greater muscle mass helps older adults to live an active lifestyle and guard against illness. Stronger muscles will also help maintain and protect aging joints and bones. The best recommendation for seniors is to supplement with protein post-exercise.
Even for the frail elderly, protein supplementation can provide benefits. Protein and carbohydrate supplementation can also offset the loss of muscle mass and strength due to prolonged inactivity. In one study, patients on bed rest who were given this supplement combination maintained muscle mass and showed more muscle strength than those who had no supplement. This shows that protein and carbohydrate supplementation may represent a viable intervention for older adults who have issues with immobility or prolonged bed rest.
Other health benefits from balanced protein in your diet or supplement
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It also contributes to
• Immune Support
• Bone Health (too much or too little can be detrimental to bone growth and support)
• Blood Sugar Balancing
• Exercise/Activity Recovery
There are plenty of ways to add more protein to your diet
If you're interested in adding more protein to your everyday diet but find it challenging, you may want to consider one of the many different choices available at your local Vitamin Shoppe. These powders can be mixed with other beneficial nutrients (such as your good fats, vitamins, herbs, etc.) to make a healthy snack or meal. Consult with a store associate to find the protein that meets your specific needs.