Debunking Protein Myths – How Much Protein Is Best?

How Much Protein is Best?

Whey protein should be part of every serious trainer’s sports nutrition arsenal, because of its power to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and add lean muscle— even when you don’t lift weights. Whey protein works best when combined with weight training, and consuming whey protein supplements after exercise promotes recovery and increases gains in strength and lean body mass. Protein is perhaps the most misunderstood macronutrient, so let’s clear the air and answer some of the most pressing protein questions.

Eat protein before or after exercise? The amino acids in protein serve as building blocks for muscle proteins and as chemical signalers for turning on protein synthesis after exercise. An ongoing controversy in sports nutrition is the timing of protein intake before or after exercise. In older people, consuming protein before exercise might interfere with protein absorption from the gastrointestinal tract. A Dutch study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at older and younger subjects, and found that consuming protein after exercise boosted protein synthesis, and age did not influence the results. Consuming protein after exercise, either as a meal or as part of a supplement, turns on protein synthesis and maximizes the benefit of your exercise program. A protein supplement that contains Velositol® will amplify muscle protein synthesis even further.

How much protein do you need? There’s a lot of confusion and conflicting information on this topic, much of it unsupported by research. First off, forget percentages. Your body needs a certain amount of protein, regardless of caloric intake. Therefore, protein requirements should be based on ideal bodyweight, not on a percentage of total calories. If your aim is to diet down to a lower body fat level, calories should be cut either from dietary fat and/or carbs— but protein intake always must be kept constant.

The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (which corresponds to a little less than 4/10 of a gram per pound). Problem is, the RDA is based on the needs of a sedentary couch potato. And since you’re reading this, chances are you’re not the average couch potato.

Research clearly shows that those involved in regimented exercise need more protein. How much more? At least double that of the RDA. Studies done on resistance-training athletes show that approximately 1.6 to 1.7 g/kg of protein is necessary to remain in non-negative nitrogen balance (i.e., your body isn’t losing tissue proteins). These figures seem to be a minimum requirement.

Other studies indicate that protein needs might actually be even higher. Using a technique called Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation (which is believed to be a more accurate measure of protein requirements than previous methods), researchers estimate that the requirement for sedentary individuals might be as high as 1.2 g/kg and that serious exercisers might need as much as 2 g/kg.

Higher protein intakes are particularly important while dieting. Studies have clearly shown that the body tends to cannibalize muscle protein stores when calories are reduced below maintenance level. The greater the caloric deficit, the greater the potential for muscle loss. Only by consuming higher levels of protein is muscle tissue preserved. Moreover, dietary protein promotes the release of satiety hormones, reducing appetite. This helps to prevent the urge to binge, which is the biggest impediment to getting lean.

Assuming you are otherwise healthy, the general recommendation is to err on the side of caution and consume around one gram of protein per pound of ideal bodyweight. Remember, dietary protein is what your body uses to repair and build muscle tissue. If you don’t take in sufficient protein, muscle development will be impaired. Consult a nutritionist to determine your macronutrient needs depending on your metabolism and activity level.

What about leucine? For best results, add leucine to your protein. Leucine is an essential amino acid that serves as a building block for muscle protein synthesis. Leucine promotes recovery by stimulating the mTOR pathway to increase protein synthesis to repair injured tissue. Leucine is a powerful anabolic trigger— it’s the most potent branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) and a key activator of the mTOR pathway that is critical increasing lean mass.

Stuart Phillips from McMaster University in Canada, with colleagues, found that a supplement containing 25 grams of whey protein was optimal for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Consuming less whey slowed protein synthesis. However, consuming low levels of protein (6.25 grams) but adding a leucine supplement caused the same rate of protein synthesis as the 25-gram supplement. Supplements containing 25 grams of whey protein are optimal for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. You can achieve the same result by consuming less whey protein but adding leucine supplements. Products like Velositol® can be added to protein to double the power of protein on muscle protein synthesis.

Will too much protein harm my kidneys? As far as any possible detriments of protein consumption on health and wellness, you can rest easy. Studies on athletes consuming up to 2.8 g/kg of protein have failed to reveal any negative impact on kidney function— only in the case of existing kidney disease is a high-protein diet potentially contraindicated. And despite what some may have you believe, there is no compelling evidence that a higher protein intake has any adverse effects on bone health, provided adequate calcium is consumed. In fact, multiple studies show that those who consume higher levels of protein have reduced risk of fractures, compared to those with a low protein intake.

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