In part 1 of the this series, I provided a primer on protein digestibility and quality. In part 2 I'm going to make a case for why we should eat more protein and how it can helps us achieve our goals, as well as discuss the protein requirements for the general public and gym-goers.
Why Eat more Protein?
I don’t get asked this question often enough, if anything I rarely get asked this question which sort of tells me that people in general are not aware of the benefits of having a tad bit more protein in their diets.
First of all, protein is by far the most hunger satisfying macronutrient, meaning that it fills you up more so than fats, carbs and fibers per gram ingested. For example, if you had 50 grams of each nutrient separately, protein would give you the highest index of satiety .
This occurs because protein decreases postprandial Ghrelin (hunger hormone) secretion and slows down digestion more so than carbs and fats, thus making us feel fuller for a longer period of time  . So, if hunger is what’s preventing you from losing weight or maintaining a balanced diet, this is how you fix it, add more protein or replace some carbs with it.
The fact that protein makes us fuller for longer periods of time also implies that we will eat less on any given day, in fact it can reduce snacking behaviors and cravings. This means that we'll be eating less total calories and less junk foods, which can put us closer to our dieting goals .
Another lovely feature of protein is in its unique thermogenic effect where the body loses roughly 20-30% of energy produced during its’ metabolic breakdown. Simply speaking, 1 gram of protein should yield 4 Kcals, when in fact it produces around ≈ 3.1 Kcals .
Now for someone eating 50-80 grams per day, this might be relatively worthless, but when you’re eating double or triple that, it will account to something. It’s a slightly increase in expenditure, but it’s not magic. At best you’ll get an extra 80-100 Kcals off without really adding anything other than replacing some of the carbs with protein. It’s the deficit we didn’t ask for, but the deficit we need (detective Gordon anyone?).
Finally, having higher protein in your diet up to a certain threshold helps in building & maintaining muscle and connective tissue which should be the goal for everyone whether they’re sedentary or physically active, it gives the human body better prospects . In general, more muscle tissue means higher metabolic rate, better physical function, better physical appearance, better sports performance, and better aging (less physical problems in old age). What’s not to want?
This brings us to protein quantity, but how much protein is enough protein? The answer to that is depends. What are your goals and how is your life setup?
The RDA recommendation is 0.8g/kg or 0.36g/pound of bodyweight. For a 100kg person, that is 80g of protein, which is ridiculous to say the least, especially if the person is physically active.
For the general public, I’d recommend at least 1.2-1.5g/kg or 0.55-0.7g/pound of bodyweight, that will essentially help people eat less junk calories, provide more of the important micro-nutrients and improve athletic performance for the active individual.
People will not only physically perform better, but they’ll also note a general improvement in their physical and psychological wellbeing. Small changes for prolonged periods of time make all the difference in the world.
Regarding athletes and regular gym-goes, things are a bit different. The consensus for “optimal” muscle building is somewhere between 0.8-1g/pound or 1.8-2.2g/kg of bodyweight. Which comes out to be somewhere between 150-200g of protein for the average Joe, usually this amount is eaten over 4-5 meals, roughly 40-50 grams of protein per meal.
For someone who is trying to cut down bodyweight, a slightly higher number is recommended, somewhere between 1.1-1.5g/pound or 2.4-3g/Kg of bodyweight. This may seem a rather large amount, but it helps in maintaining muscle tissue . That said, nothing is really set into stone, and discussions are always taking place as to find the ''ideal'' amount of protein required per day, so for now, the above recommendations hold.
I want to point out that protein is not only used by muscle tissue but also connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, etc..), that may mean that for “optimal” muscle building AND connective tissue health, an even higher number is required. Lyle McDonald was to my knowledge the first to allude to this point in one of his recent articles here, I highly recommend reading it for those interested.
And for the non-active ladies, I recommend at least 0.5-.8g/pound or 1-1.5g/kg of bodyweight, and more so for active ones due to their continuous loss of iron, especially those who do a lot of cardio. I encounter iron deficiency anemia and B12 deficiency way too many times at any clinic I attend. It is indeed a rare woman that has a hemoglobin level higher than 13g/dL.
Personally I consume about 1.2g/pound of bodyweight, which comes amounts to 270 grams of protein, and I do that all year round whether I’m cutting, maintaining or bulking for the reasons I stated earlier.
This marks the end of Part 2 of the series, in part 3 I'm going to discuss some of misconceptions and myths that surround protein as macronutrient, stay tuned for that.
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