Protein 101: How Much Protein Do You REALLY Need?

Posted on 03-Feb-2018 by Kripa Jalan

Whether you’re looking to knock off a few pounds or pack on some mass, you could be a novice to fitness or a “beast” at it, you’ve definitely been hit with “eat more protein”, as the magic pill to get your ideal body. If it were that easy, we’d all be walking around with washboard abs. Nutrition, seemingly easy, is actually a very intricate science. Individuals, whether sedentary or active, need to monitor their protein intake. Too much or too little of this muscle building powerhouse will hinder your progress.

Neither does nutrition start with a prescribed diet, nor does it end with you counting calories. When it comes to protein, not only do you need to really understand how much of it you need but also try to gauge how much of it effectively being utilized in the body. These factors will vary from person to person depending on their training, athletic goals, body type, and basic lifestyle patterns. Here’s what you need to know before you dive deep into the egg and meat diet.

Proteins & Their Significance:

  1. Proteins are a class of nitrogenous compounds fundamentally comprising of repeating units of amino acids. The macronutrient performs a myriad of functions in the body:
  2. Protein and muscle building go hand in hand after all proteins play a primarily structural role in the body.
  3. They contributing to overall growth, repair and maintenance of muscle tissue
  4. This dynamo of a nutrient also plays a vital role in several other bodily functions, such as the Urea Cycle, synthesis of the Growth Hormone, enzymes and even the DNA
  5. Can be easily touted brain food, as an essential nutrient to the nervous system, it helps in the production of neurotransmitters.
  6. Synthesis of Collagen/Connective tissue, which happens to comprise one-third of the body’s protein content.

Ratings: Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins:

These can further be segregated into complete and incomplete proteins:

Complete proteins are rich in all the essential amino acids, sufficient to sustain normal growth and repair. These have a high Biological Value (The ability of a protein to efficiently deposit Nitrogen in the muscles, or the efficiency with which a protein furnishes the required amino acids needed for the synthesis of muscle tissue). These include the proteins found in eggs, meat, dairy products, and other animal proteins.

Incomplete proteins lack one or more essential amino acids, creating a limiting amino acid condition. They have a low Biological Value and can hinder muscle growth and development. Often plant-based proteins like lentils & beans fall under this category. However, combining two incomplete proteins can drastically improve their quality and consequently the Protein Efficiency Ratio (method of determining the quality of protein) of the foods.

Nitrogen Balance:

Dietary protein is the major source of nitrogen in the body. In order to maintain weight, the amount of dietary Nitrogen consumed must equal the amount excreted, which is a condition called Nitrogen Balance.

Too Little Protein:

Just like fats and carbohydrates, amino acids can be used for energy. In this scenario, they cannot perform their primary functions of taking part in the synthesis of muscle tissue and other metabolic processes. This condition can occur during modes of starvation or even exercise when the body runs out of carbohydrates for fuel. If Nitrogen Balance is negative, the body will enter a catabolic stare sacrificing existing muscle tissue to compensate for the protein inadequacy, in order to meet daily metabolic needs. This is primarily seen in a high carb, high fat, and low protein diets.

Too Much Protein:

On the road to building muscle, several people often engage in ingesting pure protein meals, with minimal carbohydrates and fats In general, in order to gain muscle mass, you must maintain a positive nitrogen balance i.e. ensure your body is receiving more protein than it is eliminating. However, many misconstrue this fact and subject their bodies to ridiculously high amounts of protein with little or no carbs and fats. This is counterproductive, as the body will convert the protein into fatty acids and glucose stored in the liver. In these cases of excessive protein consumption; the body converts it to fat and increases blood ammonia and uric acid, which could prove to be toxic.

It’s all about timing:

Proteins don’t make for a greatpre-workoutt meal. Your stomach takes twice as long to process proteins and fats as compared to carbohydrates. Ideally, consume some complex carbs like pasta, grains, legumes or vegetables 2-3 hours prior to a work out or a carbohydrate/energy drink (100-400 calories) or some caffeine just before you begin training. Other than consuming a small amount of protein with each meal, the best time to take your supplement would be post workout, to minimize muscle breakdown, wear and tear, or before sleeping so when the supplement can recover the muscles while the body is in a state of rest delivering maximum results. Alternatively, you could whip up a protein smoothie for breakfast, this would help curb your sugar cravings through the day and keeps you satisfied longer.

Protein Requirements, Quality & Quantity:

Protein requirements vary from person to person. A body builder will require much more protein than a marathon runner. Men require more protein than women on an average. Athletes and individuals training consistently require more than 2-3 times the amount of protein than the sedentary. It is not an easy or convenient task to measure Nitrogen Balance on a daily basis. However, having a rough estimate and controlling your protein intake to suit your body type, fitness level and goal will take you a long way.

In terms of quality, the type of protein consumed, affects how it is used in the body. Consuming foods with a low biological value is pretty much redundant, as the dietary protein will not be used efficiently. Always aim to eat foods with a high biological value, as these are rich in all the essential amino acids and ensure maximum utilization in the body. Below is a list of combinations of foods with high BV in descending order of importance:

  • Engineered Whey Protein
  • Whey & Potatoes
  • Egg & Milk
  • Raw whey
  • Whole Egg
  • Milk
  • Casein
  • Egg White
  • Soy

Quantitavely speaking, calculating ones daily protein requirements is pretty simple.

Lean Body Weight (in lb) x Need Factor = Daily protein requirement in grams

Need factors:

  • 0.5-Sedentary, no training
  • 0.6-Light fitness Training
  • 0.7-Moderate Training (thrice a week atleast)
  • 0.8-Moderate daily weight Training
  • 0.9-Heavy weight training
  • 1.0- Heavy weight training + sports (2x day)

This will give you a rough estimate of how much protein you require daily. As you can see, the more intense your training, the more protein your body requires. The quality and quantity both play a vital role in fortifying dietary protein. Ensure you are getting enough of the green stuff and other fibers which would aid in protein digestion and prevent bloating. Focus on consuming balanced meals, with your fats, carbs and proteins. Deficiency of even one food group, would hamper overall growth and optimal performance.

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