Let’s talk about protein today. There is this understanding that protein is the most crucial macromolecule that we can eat. It is also widely believed that we are not getting enough in our daily consumption. And, if you are active you must take in even more protein to be healthy. So, let’s find out if any, or all of that is true!
What is protein?
Protein molecules are long chains made up of smaller amino acids. The 21* amino acids that account for every protein on the planet (yes, just 21 make up all proteins, in all living creatures) and are used to make hair, bone, blood, anitbodies, hormones, collagen, muscles and enzymes, and more!
Obviously this is an important class of molecules! You are capable of making 11 of the 20 amino acids whenever you need them. The other 9, known as essential amino acids, must be consumed through food.
Proteins also store energy, just as carbohydrate and fat molecules. In N is for Nutrition we talked about how the cell will break apart atoms to release the stored energy to perform cellular work. Well, the same is true for proteins. The cell can break down the large protein back into amino acids and release energy at the same time.
If you are withholding carbs and fats in your diet and exercising, the cells are able to break down muscle fibers, muscle proteins, to get the energy they require. Remember the cycle of fad diets? How you will loose water and muscle, and gain back fat! This is how that happens!
Even though cells can break down protein, it is much harder do so than breaking down carbohydrates and fats. Making protein the cell’s last choice for its energy needs. So, in the long run a high protein, low carb diet will not work for weight loss.
Are we getting enough Protein?
According to the USDA the average American consumes 69 grams of protein daily. That include vegetarians! An active 130lb female needs 65 grams of protein, so most of us are set! If you workout an hour, for more than five days a week, then you should bump it up a little more.
Can you consume too much Protein?
Yes! A diet too high in protein can stress your kidneys, and even cause heart problems. But, you would have to consume hundreds of grams of protein for a prolong period of time to cause this damage.
Can Protein cause weight gain?
Yes! People tend to talk about protein as if it is a magical answer to all things diet related. Protein can help in building muscle, which burns calories, but protein itself is not calorie free! In fact: 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. You need to consume protein to repair muscle fibers that are damaged during exercise, but if you eat too much protein, the extra will be stored and can cause weight gain. Obviously, if you are not limiting your portions of fatty protein sources you are taking in protein and fat.
So, what should you do?
Be judicious about your protein consumption. Be sure to have some form of lean protein at the start of the day, and a little at each meal. Include a protein snack 30-45 minutes after your workout. This is the magic window when your muscles need access to lean protein sources to repair the damage done during exercise.
Plant based protein sources are just as good as animal based and are very weightloss friendly! 😊
I do hope this clarifies some of your protein concerns 😃
*Selenocysteine is a recently discovered amino acid and is the 21st as it is found in protein synthesis. Ornithine was recently discovered but is a byproduct of urea formation so is not found in proteins.