Thursday, January 15, 2009

More protein is not always better

There is a misconception out there that the more protein the better, especially for weightlifters or people that want to gain mass/lose weight quickly.  Actually carbohydrates are really one of the most important things for our active bodies because our bodies prefer glucose as an energy source first, and then if glucose isn’t in good supply it will usually go to protein and fat to break down for energy.  So if our bodies have the right amount of glucose in supply for exercise, we can preserve and increase our muscle mass (replenish glycogen) while decreasing body fat.  The Atkins approach is probably the worst “diet” for an active person, because carbohydrates are essential.  Without enough carbohydrates in the daily menu, you’ll actually lose some muscle mass if your body has to breakdown and use amino acids for energy.  And the reason people lose a great amount of weight on this “diet” is because for every gram of glycogen (this is essentially energy in the muscles) there is a fair amount of water attached to it.  So, it is mostly water weight!  And that is also the reason why, when people do go off this “diet” they tend to gain all their weight back, in addition to slowing their metabolisms from the loss of muscle mass.  Ok, I think I’ve got my venting out :)  

But, what about all those protein shakes out there claiming to build lean muscle mass to get ripped in no time flat?  Honestly, you don’t need the protein shake if you are incorporating enough lean protein, complex carbohydrates and some good fats into a balanced diet.  I usually use these for added convenience and portability, but they are not absolutely necessary and can be quite expensive!  That’s about $50 of wasted money!!  It’s not only the protein we eat really that chisels our muscles, but the work that we impose on them.  All those little tiny tears in the muscle that happen during a workout causes them to rebuild a little bit bigger each time if we eat properly.

The average person needs 0.8g/kg of protein a day.  So for a 130-lb person this would be about 48g.  One chicken breast (3 oz or a deck of cards) has about 27g of protein.  While protein is definitely important in a person’s daily menu in building/maintaining our muscles and immune system, most Americans tend to get plenty of protein.

For endurance athletes it is recommended that they get 1.2-1.4 g/kg of protein/day and resistance trained athletes get 1.4-1.7 g/kg per day.  This is very dependent of the individual athlete and the sport they are in.  So a 130-lb endurance athlete would require about 71-80g of protein/day.  A larger 180-lb male doing intense resistance training would want about 114-140g protein/day, which is completely doable with wholesome foods. 

As a dietitian, we always say to get your daily nutritional needs from wholesome foods first if at all possible.  How much of a nutritional bang for your buck (calories) are you getting?  There are still many compounds within foods that all work synergistically together that we don’t even know about yet.  Simply taking a vitamin as an excuse to not eat well doesn’t really work in the long run in prevention of many chronic diseases.  But, there are certain situations out there when certain foods won’t work, and then we analyze and assess different options.  So, eat good food first most of the time and your body will thank you!

I think this quote is a little harsh, but fitting:

"Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork."

- English Proverb

There will be more to come on what to eat for an active lifestyle and to make the best of your hard work!  . . .

No comments: