Protein is King

Dr. Lowell Greib MSC ND CISSN

The Protein Conundrum

In recent years, a heated discussion has been evolving in the world of sport sciences that has permeated the lives of every active individual.  This chatter revolves around protein and how much of this essential macronutrient we should each be consuming on a daily basis.  The further one dives into the topic, the more the waters become muddied as to who needs to eat what. One special population emerges (i.e. virtually every individual over the age of 50) and will be discussed in a separate article. This particular blog entry is meant to help the active population, at large, identify means of optimizing their protein consumption and improving their lean body (muscle) quality.

What is Protein?

Protein is regarded as one of the three key macronutrients and is derived of fundamental building blocks called amino acids.  These small organic molecules are linked together in a very specific and organized pattern (defined by genetics) and then folded to make the finished protein product which is then integrated into the biological organism in some capacity.  Every human needs 20 different amino acids to make proteins. Of these, 9 need to be consumed in our diets as they can not be synthesized in our bodies.  The latter are referred to as Essential Amino Acids.  One of these essential amino acids is critical for muscle development (again a topic in a future article).

Why Protein?

Being an essential macronutrient, protein is found throughout the body.  It is part of muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part.  Protein is also a fundamental component of enzymes which allow for every chemical reaction to occur in your body.  Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein component of blood. Your immune system is also comprised of an array of specialized proteins that allow for protection from foreign invaders. It is easy to see that without the appropriate quantity of protein in our diets, there can be significant biochemical effects.

Protein, protein, and more protein

Over the last two decades, a significant body of literature has been amassed regarding optimal protein intake.  Within the context of active living, sport, and exercise science it is has become apparent that current recommendations may fall short.  Our current Recommended Daily Allowance (or RDA) for protein is 0.8g per kilogram.  This means that a 150lb person (which is regarded as ‘average’ in literature) should consume about 55g of protein. In determining the RDA, there is, however, a gross oversight.  It is assumed that one would get sufficient protein when an element (nitrogen – which is only found in protein) is in the balance between intake and output.  With further understanding of protein biochemistry, this assumption has been identified as flawed (yet the age-old RDA remains).  Current literature now clearly supports that active individuals require more protein than sedentary people.  This should be in the quantity of AT LEAST 1.4g per kilogram.  Using the earlier example, the 150lb pound individual should be consuming a MINIMUM of 96g of protein.  Almost double the current ‘recommendation’!

Spreading It Out

Now that it is apparent that many of us need more protein in our diets, there is now an eating methodology that should be taken into consideration.  Although bodybuilders have been utilizing a fuelling strategy that spaces multiple meals over the course of the day for decades, most of the population eats three squares per day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When reviewing your dietary patterns, think about what is traditional breakfast and lunches.  Generally speaking, morning meals are rich in carbohydrates and may include cereals or bread products. Low protein consumption at breakfast is a hallmark in societal eating.  Lunch may consist of starch with a small amount of protein sandwiched in the middle. Again, a relatively minimal protein intake.  Population data analysis suggests that protein consumption is 3 fold greater at dinner when compared to breakfast.  Relative protein distribution can easily be 15% at breakfast, 25% at lunch, and 60% at dinner.  This eating structure, however, does not optimize protein biochemistry and particularly muscle protein synthesis.  Seminal research, published almost 20 years ago, is suggestive that in order to optimize the muscle response to protein intake, we should be consuming upward of 30g of protein at EACH meal. 

Eating Strategy with Protein in Command

Now that you have a better understanding of not only the quantity of protein in your diet but also the quantity in each meal, consider the following when building a new daily fuelling strategy.

For individuals under 200 pounds – 

  • Eat 4 meals per day with at least 30g of protein as the central macronutrient of the meal.
  • One of the meals can be as simple as adding a protein powder shake.

For individuals over 200 pounds – 

  • Eat 5 meals per day with at least 30g of protein as the central macronutrient of the meal.
  • Two of the meals can be as simple as adding protein powder shakes.

Albeit, these fuelling strategies are generalized in nature, they can be regarded as a starting point for dietary intake modifications.  For further detailed nutrition and fuelling information, The SportLab clinicians can offer individualized guidance and also make recommendations on a protein supplement that may be helpful in meeting your daily need for optimum health.

1 https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/dietary-reference-intakes/tables/reference-values-macronutrients-dietary-reference-intakes-tables-2005.html

2 Campbell et al., JISSN, 4(8), 2007.

3 Mamerow. M et al., J Nutr., 144(6), 2014.

4 Wolfe. R et al., J. Nutr. 132(10), 2002.

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