“Protein and fat are both essential nutrients.
Ironically, there are NO essential carbohydrates.”
—Jay Robb, “The Bad Boy of Nutrition”
Protein is often a misunderstood term that can mean different things to different people. Some people believe that protein is where you get energy. Some folks believe that you need a lot of protein if you are working out. Other folks think that all proteins are the same. Others believe that vegan protein sources are the ideal. And others believe that meat and animal sources are what you need if you are a bodybuilder. Some women think that protein shakes build big muscles, so they shy away from protein powders. A lot of people believe that all protein powders are the same and go shopping by price. There is some truth to a few of the statements above but most of what you just read are protein myths that I will debunk in this article.
What is Protein?
You first need to know that protein is just a term describing a chain of amino acids that are present in various foods we humans consume. Nine of these amino acids are essential, meaning they must be consumed in our food supply because they can’t be synthesized internally. Some foods are richer in all the essential amino acids that others.
Protein is the part of food that your body latches onto for repair and growth. The rest of the food you consume is for energy. Your body can convert protein (amino acids) to glucose to be used for energy, but this usually only happens when calories are very low, you are fasting, you are eating low-carb and low-calorie foods, or when you are exercising for so long your body converts protein from your muscles to glucose to fuel your brain. Under normal conditions, where you are consuming enough calories from protein, fat, and carbohydrate, your body uses fat as energy, carbs as energy, or a combination of both. In other words, protein is for repair and building muscles, while fat and carbs provide you with the energy you need
How Much Protein do You Need?
To understand your protein requirements, there is a limiting amino acid factor you need to be aware of. When I say limiting amino acid, I mean that amino acids come in various concentrations in various foods. The lowest amount of an essential amino acid in any food you consume is the limiting amino acid. Let’s say a protein food has 1000mg of every essential amino acids except for methionine which is at 200mg. Methionine is the limiting amino acid, which means all the other amino acids drop to 200mg to match methionine. The protein is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids, but because methionine is so low, you end up not being able to utilize 800mg of all the essential amino acids. This is why not all proteins are the same. It is always the limiting amino acid that must be looked at so you know how much usable protein each food or protein powder can supply. The good news is that if you consume the limiting amino acid in a higher amount later in the day from another source, because of something called amino acid pooling, it can help bring up the inhibited amino acids.
The richest sources of protein are all meats, fish, seafood, eggs, cheese, milk, cottage cheese, beans, whey protein isolate, egg white protein, and vegan protein powders. Nuts contain amino acid, but are primarily a fat, not a protein food. All grains, vegetables, and fruit contain protein, but to a much lower percentage than the above examples, but they still contribute to your overall daily protein needs.
There is a lot of controversy about how much protein an individual needs each day. There is so much ambiguity on this topic that no clear protein amount is recommended as an AI (adequate intake). But it is often suggested that a person consumes daily about .5 grams of protein per pound of lean tissue. As an example, let’s say a man weighs 170 pounds and is at 10% body fat. This means he is 153 pounds of lean tissue. To meet his daily protein needs, he must consume a little over 75 grams of protein per day. Let’s say a woman weighs 140 pounds and is carrying 20% body fat. This means she is 112 pounds of lean tissue and her daily protein needs are about 56 grams per day. These are just guidelines that you can start with and adjust up or down as needed to give you optimum results.
The Protein Formula
I have put this protein formula to the test many times in my life. I have dropped my protein intake to 30 grams per day and on other experiments it was as high as 300 grams per day. What I discovered is that 30 grams is not enough for recovery and repair my body. On the other hand, 300 grams is way too much and made me feel ill. I discovered that about 75 to 85 grams per day is plenty of total protein for my body as long as my calorie needs are met. When my protein drops below 45 grams per day, I lose muscle quickly, especially on my arms and I look drawn and gaunt. Not a good look. My strength also drops in the gym. This is all quickly turned around by simply upping my protein intake.
From my experience, and I have put this to the test countless times, we humans are not able to effectively thrive on a fruitarian diet (fruit only) or a strict vegan diet. Both are too low in essential protein to support maximum muscle tissue. But, a vegetarian diet works, and can work well. I do not like dietary labels such as vegan, vegetarian, raw food, Paleo, Keto, or macrobiotic because when you are labeled you are stuck in a box and freedom to be flexible ends. I am unique in my diet world. My mind leans heavily in the vegan and vegetarian direction because I do not like killing animals and eating them. It seems foreign to me. At the same time, my body thrives on animal fat and animal protein, and very little plant food. This has caused me a lot of ambiguity inspired grief in the past, because my mind wants something different than my body requires. If I refuse to listen to my body, I suffer, become ill and weak. When I listen to my body and silence my idealistic and philosophical mind, I thrive.
I would love to be a fruitarian, but that style of eating is way too low in protein and makes me shrivel up and look gaunt. I would also love to be a raw vegan, but again, that eating plan is too high in plants and too low in fat and protein.
Like we said back in the hippie ‘60s, “Different strokes for different folks.” In this case, get your protein bases covered, then decide through trial and error if you should get your energy from fat, carbs, or a combination of both. The protein base is about 20% of your total calories, which means the remaining 80% of your diet must meet all your energy needs. For me personally, I do my absolute best in looks and in health, eating at least 70-75% fat, 20% protein, and about 5-10% carbs, with periodic meals that are free meals higher in carbs. This is my Fat Burning Diet. No matter how you choose to partition and meet your energy needs, 20% of your calories must come from protein or else your health can suffer.
Peace, love, and hang loose my friend!
The Bad Boy