In Praise of Protein

When it comes to basic nutrition, it is worth being aware of three key macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fat—and the roles they play in our system. In this article we will focus on protein, which are the building blocks behind our muscles.

When training in the gym, we stress and damage our muscle fibres. When we rest, especially during sleep, these fibres recover and rebuild stronger—only if they have sufficient protein supply to work with, however.

“Protein acts as building blocks for our organs and muscles, hormones, enzymes and nerve transmissions,” BC dietician Patricia Chuey told The Province. “Protein, as part of a balanced meal, helps promote satiety—the feeling of being full— and steady blood sugar levels. A lack of protein can also have a negative impact on our hair, skin and nails.”

This is why we recommend roughly one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for those seeking to gain lean mass, as well as those looking to lose fat without losing any muscle. A high-protein diet, regardless of caloric restriction, ensures the optimal building, maintaining, and persevering of precious lean mass. We desire lean mass over fat because it is more functional and passively burns energy, helping to naturally regulate one’s weight.

Current “recommended daily amount” figures for protein are notoriously low—one suggestion from The Province’s article suggests the numbers are just half of what they should be. That’s a low bar to set for something so important. We encourage most people to up their protein intake and improve their sources.

Some ask: Are there downsides to protein consumption? What happens if we have too much protein? Does such a thing exist?

PROTEIN PROS AND CONS

Protein can seem to some like a superior macronutrient to fat and carbs. It’s not better, just different, and most people’s systems thrive best on a moderated combination of all three. Like fats and carbs, too much protein is possible, but most don’t get enough.

Are protein supplements worth it? If you genuinely struggle to meet your minimum protein needs from whole foods, then protein powders are a safe way to bridge the gap. However, powdered and liquid forms of the real solid thing may not be as sating or nutrient-dense.

“Supplements are just that—to supplement, not to replace,” pointed out Chuey to The Province. “They can be helpful for those who truly lack enough protein in their food choices. There are no supplemental products that replace 100 per cent of the benefits of food itself.”

We recommend absorbing as high a percentage of your protein as possible from quality sources, such as lean meats, eggs, and dairy. Higher quality sources of protein feature a greater range of essential amino acids. Amino acids considered “essential” are those which must be obtained via diet as we cannot produce our own.

Consider the timing of your nutrients as well. Leading up to a workout, protein may not be as helpful, as it is not designed to breakdown efficiently for immediate energy. You don’t necessarily want to feel “full” during training either.

Therefore consuming mostly carbs before a workout can maximize your energy for the session. After a workout, then consume primarily protein to begin the delivery of nutrients to your recovering system. Ideally you will get at least one quarter of your daily protein intake from the meal which follows your training session.

For most, excess protein consumption is difficult to achieve. It’s far easier to eat too many carbs by comparison. Potential concerns include extra gas or possible kidney issues—but again, the threat of under-consuming protein far outweighs the risk of having too much for most people today, especially if sources are whole and not processed.

IN SUMMARY

Let’s quickly examine the known benefits of eating enough protein.

• Helps body grow and preserve muscle

• Helps body feel full for longer after eating

• Helps maintain health of hair, skin, and nails

Without enough protein, we may experience sub-optimal muscle growth or even loss of lean mass. We might struggle with hunger more often or more severely. And we may notice other areas of our body, such as hair and skin, appearing lacklustre. What to do?

• Aim for up to one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day

• Source protein from quality sources: lean meats, eggs, dairy

• Emphasize carbs pre-workout and protein post-workout

For more on balanced eating, please read “This is The Best Way to Diet”—where we explain how to earn abs without giving up your favourite indulgences.