When is not enough protein a problem?

By | November 25, 2009

The reason why I’m asking this is because I feel many people do not actually get enough protein in easily consumable form (biologically available), and do not realize it. If you frequently exercise, your need for protein certainly goes way up (as does your need for most other nutrients), and that is when you really need to be taking adequate supplemental protein.

Although I should not need to mention it, but extra protein is needed for maintaining the integrity of the muscles, becoming essential when you do any kind of intensive exercise, (jogging included). Physical activity stresses the muscle tissues and breaks them down a little each time you work them. The muscles only get to rebuild themselves if they have the raw materials they need – which is mainly protein.

If the body does not receive enough protein, it starts to catabolize the muscles and tissue. This is why if you don’t supply your body with enough protein while you undergo frequent workouts at the gym, you WILL end up worse for wear! Increased protein intake helps prevent this loss of body mass.

Protein needed per day

What constitutes an optimal protein intake? For that you need to evaluate your current age, health condition, metabolism, activity level, weight and many other factors. There is no consensus on what is acceptable protein consumption level, because there is no one size fits all quantum. Some sources have suggested 0.8 g/kg of body weight while others suggest 1.5 g/kg of body weight. And there are few others that suggest even more – 3 g/kg of body weight.

At the upper end of the recommendation limits, this translates into a seemingly high protein intake per day. For example, an average male weighing 60-something kilos and more than five feet eight height, would need to consume something between 130-160 grams of protein a day.

This might seem excessive to some, due to unfounded fears of kidney complications (and an outdated RDA). Most health experts these days agree that for the majority of people aged 40 and below without previous kidney issues, high protein diets are not the cause of kidney problems.

Another issue is the loss of calcium from the bones caused by high protein intake, but my research so far leads me to believe this is mainly an issue with animal based proteins. Animal protein contains much higher levels of sulphur-containing amino acids like methionine, cystine, and glutathione which acidify the blood (leading to calcium leaching from the bones) when the body attempts to balance the pH level.

While it is important to bear these things in mind if you intend to increase your protein intake, you have to remember that many studies do not factor in exercise which helps the body to metabolize the extra protein much more efficiently. It boils down to the rule: More activity, more protein is needed.

Protein biological value

If you’re losing weight rather than gaining it yet working out more, you definitely need to increase your protein intake. And what is the best way to do that? Protein shakes. But I caution not all protein shakes are equal; what defines a good protein shake is if your body is able to make use of all that protein in there. This is termed the biological value (BV) of the protein.

Biological value is gathered from the bioavailability of the protein, which in fancy terms is the ratio of essential, non essential and branched chain amino acids found in the particular food. Whey and eggs are at the top of the BV chart, followed by meat, dairy and soya.

protein-shake-powder

I’ve a personal preference for soy protein shakes (being non animal protein and high in calcium), but high quality whey powder is good too (they are high in branch chain amino acids). Solid foods like eggs may have a high BV, but are not as easily absorbed as liquids which take up less energy to digest. Basically, the main route for gaining weight or muscle mass the right way, is to take adequate amounts of easily digestible, small, but highly concentrated protein rich meals in-between your regular meals, and protein shakes fulfill this need very well.

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