Are You Protein Deficient?

As a fitness instructor and nutritionist, I am asked by a lot of my clients for a good protein powder recommendation. In hopes of spreading the love, I’ve decided to write an article on that very subject. And geez, you would think this is a quick topic to answer, but that couldn’t be more wrong. I’m going to break this subject up into a few articles. This first article is going to focus primarily on what proteins are and how much you really need in your diet.

Later I will go deeper into why you may need to supplement with a protein powder and what’s the right one for you, but for now let’s start with the basics.

Protein, as well as carbohydrates and fats, are macronutrients which are found in virtually all the food we eat. When we eat something containing protein, our body breaks it down into smaller amino acid constituents. These amino acids are then recombined in our body, forming various proteins which are all used in very unique ways—such as forming our organs, skin, muscles, hair, nails, hormones… you get the idea. Protein does a lot.

You Probably Need to Increase Your Protein

When doing a deeper nutrition analysis with my clients, one recommendation I commonly find is that they need to increase their protein. Especially if they are vegetarian, their dietary protein intake is often too low. (I’ll explain why in a bit…)

 

What Does Protein Deficiency Look Like?

The body is amazing at finding ways to keep itself functioning properly, but after a while if you aren’t consuming adequate protein, you may experience some of the following symptoms (1):

  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Confusion/Foggy Mind – due to lack of neurotransmitter production
  • Slow wound healing
  • Irritability
  • Low libido
  • Food cravings
  • Blood pH dysregulation
  • Fluid retention
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness
  • Thinning of hair, weak nails
  • Loss of healthy bodyweight

 

So How Much Protein Should I Be Eating?

Below we will look at different factors that will dictate how much protein you should be consuming. As a rule, keep in mind that if you are vegetarian these recommendations below should be even higher! This is because most plant-based proteins are incomplete, and although you don’t need to consume all your essential aminos acids in one meal, you just need to make a concerted effort to eat a variety of vegetables, legumes, beans, and grains throughout the day. Doing this will build up a nice reserve of amino acids for your body to have at its disposal to build new proteins within the body.

Omnivores have it a little easier, since all animal proteins are complete. So with that said, the below recommendations are for the individual who consumes animal proteins. Again, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you will need to increase your protein intake above what’s recommended below.

 

The Average Joes

The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends that all sedentary adults consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means a 150-pound sedentary adult should be consuming about 55 grams of protein per day (2).

Active Individuals

Interestingly, athletes or anyone who is relatively active, should consume closer to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That would mean an active adult weighing 150 pounds should consumed something closer to 122 grams of protein per day—if they intend to ward off the muscle wasting effects of hard exercise and stress, while still stimulating new muscle tissue growth (3). And for the really active athlete, such as the cross-fitter, iron-man, marathoner type, you should be consuming as much as 1g per pound of body weight (4).

The Weight-Loss Camp

For those in the weight loss camp, increasing protein is a must. Protein naturally has a higher thermal effect than a lot of foods. This means you burn more calories eating protein than other macronutrients. In fact, protein takes about 20-30% of the calories contained in the protein itself just to digest the stuff! Carbs on the other hand, take about 5-10%, while fats only 0-3% (5).

In addition, it’s always a smart idea to keep your protein intake up when on a weight loss program to preserve lean muscle mass (6). This will allow you to burn fat and not other useful things–such as muscle! And another study found that consuming at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.7 protein/lb body weight) showed an increase in weight loss with less muscle wasting. And for athletes trying to lose weight, it was found that 2.3 g
rams of protein per kilogram of body weight (~1g of protein/lb of body weight)
had the best results in losing weight, while preserving lean muscle mass (7).

 

Is Consuming Too Much Protein Bad For Me?

Good news! As much as there has been a fair amount of panic on the topic of consuming too much protein, this claim proves to be largely unfounded when you look at the research. Truthfully, it’s really difficult to consume too much protein. Protein in and of itself is extremely satiating. Don’t be fooled when you read that too much protein can leach calcium from your bones, causing osteoporosis. Others will comment that high-protein consumption will damage the kidneys, but this too hasn’t been found in solid studies. In fact, protein has been shown to DECREASE risk of osteoporosis, as well as health issues related to kidney disorders such as high-blood pressure and diabetes (8).

 

Final Recommendation – Space Out Your Protein Intake

But that doesn’t mean you should consume 100 grams of protein in one sitting. Doing something like that, at worst you might be looking at health complications and at best, you are just wasting nutrients. The University of Texas conducted a study and found that, in general, we are only able to use about 30 grams of dietary protein at one time (9). That means when you sit down to eat a steak that contains more than 30 grams of protein, the rest is simply going to be burned as energy, excreted, and/or stored as fat. A great way to figure out how much protein you are eating in each meal is by using a calorie tracking app, such as MyFitnessPal or LoseIt.

 

Finish It Up

Protein is an essential nutrient. Many amino acids that our body needs to function properly can only be obtained from food; therefore, it is absolutely critical to be mindful of your protein intake during each meal. Eating protein during breakfast, lunch and dinner will help reduce the risk of the body breaking down muscle tissue.

The articles that follow in this series will look at a supplement that will help you hit your protein goals more easily. This supplement is protein powder. It’s great to take as a pre or post-workout supplement and it can be great to assist in hitting your daily protein goal. There are a lot of different types and a lot of them are just terrible. I’ll help you navigate through the different types and guide you to make the right decision for you.

Stay tuned.

Sources:

  1. Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2011). Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
  2. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/DRI/DRI_Energy/energy_full_report.pdf
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425
  4. Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2011). Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.
  5. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/digesting-whole-vs-processed-foods
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17299116
  7. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-much-protein-should-you-be-eating/
  8. http://authoritynutrition.com/is-too-much-protein-bad-for-you/
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197704/

 

Hi, I’m Andy and I’m the face of OptimizedFit!
I’m a nutritionist, fitness coach, healthy-lifestyle optimizer, and all around health and fitness nerd. My job is to help you discover the cutting-edge biohacks to better optimize your life. I’m on a mission to learn and share my findings with others so we can all become better humans.

Please note: I have the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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28 thoughts on “Are You Protein Deficient?

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