Supplementing Your Protein Needs


Everyone says protein is the end-all, be-all of nutrition, the key to the perfect diet, the key to losing weight, the key to the universe. How much protein is enough and how much is too much? A Personal Trainer explains... The structural integrity of virtually every tissue of the human body relies on a protein framework. To maintain, rebuild, or add to existing muscle mass, the body must synthesize genetically defined protein configurations. All proteins are complex molecular chains comprised of different combinations of 20 amino acids, twelve of which the body is able to manufacture. The other eight (essential) amino acids must be consumed in the diet because the human body lacks the ability to assemble them. During times of duress, such as surgery, illness, intensive physical training, or emotional upheaval, the body requires additional amounts of three particular amino acids. These three, L-arginine, L-glutamine, and L-histidine, are referred to as conditionally essential amino acids.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of adequate dietary protein, when considering the modern day athlete. Both strength and endurance athlete’s bodies exist in a perpetual cycle of muscle breakdown and rebuilding and, as a result, have much greater protein requirements than people who choose to not engage in regular strenuous physical activity. Rigorous exercise of any kind results in micro-tears within muscle tissue. Weight training leads to especially significant degrees of muscular breakdown. With sufficient protein, muscle tissue will be rebuilt, better and stronger. Lacking enough, muscle tissue will neither develop fully nor recover rapidly. Beyond the obvious aesthetic, athletic, and health benefits of maximizing lean tissue, bare in mind that muscle is extremely metabolically active. Maintaining lean tissue requires enormous caloric expenditure even when you’re just sitting around doing nothing. Adipose tissue (i.e. fat), on the other hand, requires virtually no energy investment to survive. In essence, the more lean muscle tissue you possess, the more fat you will burn -- regardless of your activity level.

Currently, the suggested daily requirement for protein consumption falls around 0.4 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight. Unfortunately, these recommendations were made based on 40 year-old studies of sedentary individuals. More recent work by Peter Leman, Ph.D. of Kent State University indicates that endurance athletes should consume 0.6 grams per pound, and strength athletes (the study specified bodybuilders) are advised to consume 0.6-0.8 grams per pound. Other recent studies recommend more for any individual who engages in intensive strength training at least three times a week, up to one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.

How much protein do foods contain? Food labels are a good source of this information. Also there are a number of books available at your local bookstore or library that detail these data. In brief, the following low-fat items contain about 20 grams of protein each:

3 oz. chicken breast 3 oz. turkey breast

1/2 can white meat tuna 6 large egg whites

2 oz. lean beef 4 oz. shrimp or lobster

Keep in mind though, that merely consuming adequate amounts of protein is not enough. Because the body is unable to store excess protein, it should be ingested every 3 - 4 hours to maximize lean tissue development and promote fat burning. Most people simplify protein supplementation with a quality protein powder mixed in a drink to make a shake.

Two important factors make a protein supplement a quality product. First, it should be low in carbohydrates and fat. Second, it should have a high biological value (BV). BV reflects both digestibility and efficiency of protein utilization.

Biological Value of Common Protein Sources

· Whey 104 · Whole Eggs 100

· Egg albumin 88 · Beef 80

· Caseinate 77 · Beans 49

Processed whey protein has the highest BV of any dietary protein source. Whey is one of the main byproducts of the dairy industry and is produced during cheese and casein processing. Cow’s milk contains about 6.25% protein, of which 20% is whey and 80% is caseinate. Initially considered a waste product, whey is now recognized as a functional food with remarkable applications ranging from protein supplementation to immune support. Appropriately treated whey protein is essentially lactose-free, low in calories and glycemic index, (recall last month’s newsletter?) and contains near zero carbs. Moreover, whey protein boasts an extremely high concentration of essential amino acids, those our bodies need but cannot synthesize.

Whey has many additional health benefits. The most formidable being the role it plays in immune system support. Ten percent of whey’s proteins are intact immunoglobulin antibodies which may account for research findings demonstrating that dietary whey supplementation is highly effective at helping to combat bacterial infections. Whey also has the ability to dramatically raise glutathione, maybe the most important water-soluble antioxidant found in the body. Glutathione is made from the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. It serves to protect cells and detoxify a variety of harmful compounds including carcinogens, peroxides, and heavy metals. Glutathione is also intimately connected to immunity and necessary for white blood cell creation. Low levels are typically observed in individuals suffering from AIDS, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Have no fear if you are concerned about potential health risks associated with increased protein intake. Medical literature reveals no evidence that normal, healthy individuals experience health problems on high protein diets. However, increased protein consumption should be accompanied by additional water intake because the excretion of nitrogen waste from protein breakdown increases water loss. This literature also recommends getting at least your recommended daily allowance of calcium. As this mineral can be washed out with the water. Ingesting calcium rich foods or a daily calcium supplement solves this.

In Summary, consuming adequate dietary protein can:

1. optimize lean tissue development

2. elevate metabolism and maximize fat loss

3. minimize recovery time and muscle soreness

4. boost immune function

Stephen Parks, PTCI# 815-8 AFAA Certified Personal Trainer/Fitness Counselor