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The Power of Protein

The Importance of Protein

Because of the numerous responsibilities of protein in the body (from muscle regeneration to energy production) consuming the proper amounts on a daily basis are imperative for both health and performance. Your body continually makes new cells for your muscles, organs, glands and bones on a daily basis. All of these are built on the foundation of protein, their main building block. Keep in mind, the longer and/or harder you exercise the higher your protein intake on daily basis needs to be.

The Role of Protein

Before we get into how much protein your need on a daily basis, let’s discuss the role of protein. In addition to growth and repair of muscles and other tissues, some protein is used for energy. Per Dr. Phil Maffetone, the amount of energy contributed by protein may be as high as 15% in some individuals. Protein is also necessary for enzymes important to metabolism.

Protein is essential for maintaining neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers used by the nervous system to signal proper function throughout the body. Additionally, oxygen, fats and vitamins are transported throughout the body with the help of proteins.

Protein also plays an instrumental role in making natural antibodies for your immune system. Those who lose muscle mass through reduced protein consumption have a weakened immune system. Additionally, those who consume inadequate protein may not get enough of certain nutrients necessary for proper immune function. For example, the amino acid cysteine  contained in whey protein can improve immune function. This amino acid is necessary for your body to make its most powerful antioxidant, glutathione.

How Much Protein?

The argument about how much protein is needed for optimum health and performance has become so convoluted, it has been revised by the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowence) 10 times since 1943! The RDA’s current recommendation of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight has been declared too low by many doctors and nutrition experts. Some of these professionals believe that the gram per kilogram needs to be increased by 3 – 4 times this amount to maintain proper lean muscle mass, recover from exercise and keep the blood chemistry healthy.

As clearly declared by Dr. Phil Maffetone, the issue of protein needs dictated by body weight is very distorted and inaccurate. These inaccuracies are created because if you are going to use grams per kilogram of body weight, it needs to be calculated off of body mass (total weight minus your body fat). It is your muscle that needs protein, NOT your stored fat. Keep in mind that over 50% of the dry weight of your body is protein.

As you can see, this can get complex and consuming quite quickly. It is for this exact reason that I don’t want you to count calories, calculate grams or weigh your food. Why? Because you can determine your personal needs by listening to your body, document your mental clarity and performance results and capture eight simple body measurements to determine how your protein, carbohydrate and fat intake is affecting your health and wellness.

Importance of Protein

All bodily functions, from breathing to muscle movement to new muscle development is controlled by thousands of different enzymes – and you guessed it, enzymes are made from protein as well. Even the hemoglobin, that carries the oxygen in your blood, is manufactured out of protein. The structure of your genes and your brain cells are totally fabricated from protein.

As documented by Dr. Michael Colgan, research using radioisotope techniques show that over 98% of the molecules of the human body are completely replaced each year. Bits and pieces of all your structures are constantly being replaced with new proteins. Research has proven that every six months your muscles, blood, enzymes and even the structures of your genes are completely replaced. Think about this, the body that you have today is the result of what you have eaten for the last six months. Garbage in, inferior health, wellness out!

Dangers of Inadequate Protein Intake

Signs of low protein (or low quality) intake includes:

  • Muscle Weakness
  • Low Energy Levels
  • Easily Broken Bones
  • Slow Recovery after Exercise

In a study completed by Dr. Gontzea at the Institute of Medicine in Bucharest, he demonstrated that exercise causes increased demands on the body’s need for protein. During this study (and most studies on protein synthesis) he evaluated the nitrogen balances in urine and feces. A positive nitrogen balance means that the body is obtaining sufficient quantity and quality from the diet. A negative nitrogen balance means that the body is not receiving enough quality or quantity of protein from the diet. A negative nitrogen balance means that the body is not receiving enough quality and quantity of protein so the body literally “eats” muscle and other protein structures in the body for its daily needs.

Dangers of Taking in Too Much Protein

Many people are afraid of eating too much protein – and justifiably so; excessive protein intake is harsh on your body with painful side effects (i.e. kidney stones). However, if your body needs 100 grams of protein per day, then 100 grams is not too much but rather your personalized protein needs!

On a quick side note, many times kidney stones are a result of chronic dehydration, not excessive protein intake. If you are consuming half of your body weight in ounces of water and calculating your sweat rate during exercise, you will minimize your risk of dehydration and the development of kidney stones.

Protein Intake to Build Muscle

One of the big misconceptions of building muscle is that you can accomplish this task by eating tremendous amounts of meat, nuts and protein shakes. The truth about building muscle has little to do with the amount of protein you take in, but rather the demands of the body to “need” more protein to rebuild stressed muscle tissue. If you consume more protein that your body needs (and your liver processes), the excess protein is broken down into carbohydrates and passed as urea waste.

The key to building more muscle mass is to stress the tendons, ligaments and muscles in a systematic manner to break down the muscle tissue without tearing it. This is a big problem with athletes who try to grow too fast, they overstress the system and instead of developing new muscle (natural anabolic growth mode) they put their bodies in a tear down mode (catabolic mode).

As you incrementally add more load and stress on your tendons, ligaments and muscles, consuming high quality protein will result in increased muscle mass as the body “absorbs” the much needed amino acids which build new muscle (in addition to repairing the torn down existing muscle tissue).

Amino Acids

Like everything we eat, it isn’t just what you consume but also what you absorb that improves your health and performance. The important component of protein is an element called amino acids. Think about amino acids as the “building blocks of muscle”. Amino acids must be digested in the intestine and broken down into amino acids for absorption. Once absorbed, the amino acids are used either as individual products or recombined as proteins. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is used to make certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Additionally, recombining many amino acids provides for the manufacture of new muscle cells.

Experts say that there are at least 20 amino acids necessary for optimum health and performance. While some of these amino acids can be made by the body (non-essential), others must be taken in through the diet (essential). The following table lists both types:

Essential Amino Acids Non-Essential Amino Acids
Arginine Alanine
Histidine Asparagine
Isoleucine Aspartate
Leucine Cysteine
Lysine Glutamate
Methionine Glutamine
Phenylalanine Glycine
Threonline Proline
Tryptophan Serine
Valine Tyrosine

One topic that pops up when discussing amino acids is “complete amino acids” and “incomplete amino acids”. Animal protein sources such as meat, fish, cheese and eggs contain all amino acids, and are what we consider complete amino acids. The only non-animal product that is a complete protein is tofu. Vegetables foods contain only some of the amino acids. With this in mind, combining various vegetable foods can produce a complete amino acid profile. Keep in mind that it is NOT necessary to eat all of them in one meal. For non-meat eating individuals, the combination of whole grains and legumes will provide a complete amino acid profile. Simple examples are brown rice and beans or almond butter and whole wheat bread.

Protein Sources for Optimum Speed & Endurance – The Nutritional Cell, the Egg!

We previously discussed the importance of protein and the dangers of not consuming enough protein as it relates to your immunity, strength and endurance. If you haven’t had a chance to read that article, please do so before continuing to read (otherwise, this article may not make much sense).

Now that you know the importance of protein in your diet, you need to make good decisions regarding where you source the protein that you eat. For individuals that eat meat and dairy products, getting enough protein should not be a problem. However, there are many health choices to consider if you’re going to eat meat, dairy and eggs for your protein sources (which will be discussed below). For vegetarians, getting enough protein can be a challenge; soy and certain combinations of legumes and grains can supply all essential amino acids.

Consuming a variety of foods from real sources such as eggs, meat, fish, whey or soy improves the potential of your body getting adequate protein and more specifically, amino acids on a daily basis. In addition to consuming a variety of lean, high quality protein, it is important that you strive to consume only high quality protein whenever possible. However, for some individuals, high quality protein may not be readily available. For instance, it’s not often that you’ll find organic steak or eggs on the menu at your local restaurant. Likewise the chicken you buy from the grocery store may not always be free range and you may have to settle for a farm raised salmon the next time you want grilled fish.

The worst thing you can do is not eat protein foods at all. The best thing you can do is make the best decision most of the time. If your body is healthy, eating some less-than-perfect foods from time to time will have less negative effect on your health wellness and performance.

Healthy aspects of animal foods

Humans have been consuming animal food for centuries – specifically meat, fish and eggs. Despite what some mainstream media outlets may report, the human G.I. (Gastro Intestinal) tract is well adapted for consuming food from animals with a history of mankind eating high quality protein, low carbohydrate diet with varying amounts of raw fruits, vegetables & nuts. As described by nutritionalist Dr. Maffetone, the media trend has been towards the misconception that meat consumption is unhealthy. However, there are variety of unique features of an animal food diet that are vital for health, wellness and performance:

  • Animal foods contain all essential amino acids
  • Vitamin A is found only in animal products
  • Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found only in animal foods
  • Iron deficiency is prevented by eating animal foods which contain this mineral and in its most bio-available form
  • EPA, the most powerful fatty acid and the one most preferred by the human body, is almost exclusively found in animal foods
  • Animal products are considered dense protein foods with little or no carbohydrates interfere with digestion and absorption
  • People who consume less animal proteins have greater rates of bone loss that those who need larger amounts of animal protein.

The Egg – A Nutritional Cell

Eggs can be called the “perfect food all wrapped up in one single cell”. Yes that’s right – an egg is an individual cell. In this single cell contains the most complete and highest protein rating of any food containing all essential amino acids. Additionally, eggs also contain many essential nutrients including significant amounts of vitamins a A, D, E, B1 B2 B6 folic acid and especially vitamin B12.

Simple Facts about eggs:

  • An extra large egg contains approximately 75 calories; 7 grams of protein and 2 grams of carbohydrates
  • Eggs also contain port minerals including calcium magnesium potassium zinc and iron. Choline and biotin, also important for energy production and stress management, are contained in large amounts in eggs. Most of these nutrients are found in the yoke of an egg.
  • The fat in an egg yolk is also nearly a perfect balance containing mostly mono unsaturated fats and about 36% saturated fat.
  • Egg yolks contain linoleic and linolenic – both essential fatty acids.
  • Eggs have almost no carbohydrates less than 1 g making them the perfect meal or snack for the millions who are carbohydrate intolerant.
  • Eggs come in many sizes and colors, not just white and brown. The color is dependent on the type of chicken, where the egg is laid and when the egg is laid.
  • Eggs should always be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Because of the egg shell is porous, there is a slight amount of evaporation of moisture from the inner egg which changes its flavor and freshness.
  • If you’re not using your eggs quickly, then store them in a sealed container to prevent loss of moisture.
  • Never store eggs next to highly favored foods such as onions and fish because they will absorb these strong flavors.
  • Always store eggs with the large side up which spends the yolk effectively within the egg.

Most people love taste of eggs but many people are concerned about eating them because of cholesterol. Ironically, the cholesterol in eggs is not something to be feared but rather embraced in to an attempt to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

As outlined by Dr. Maffetone, “while eggs are one of nature’s most perfect foods, they’re only as healthy as the hens that lay them, since the nutritional make up of eggs, especially the fat, is dependent on what the chickens eat. For this reason you should avoid run-of-the-mill grocery store eggs that have been produced in chicken factories. The healthiest eggs are those that come from organic free range hens. This means that the chickens are raised on land that has been certified organic, free range hens. Free range means that the hens are allowed to roam and in doing so they generally will eat bugs and vegetable matter thus the eggs yield a better fat profile with more mono unsaturated fat and more essential fatty acids”.

If you can’t find organic-free range eggs, most grocery stores carry either one or the other: organic or free range. While organic and free range may cost a bit more than regular eggs, they remain a protein bargain. And if you can’t find organic or free range eggs, regular grocery store eggs are better than no eggs at all.

Before you buy your eggs, make sure that they are relatively fresh by looking at the date on the package. Another way to check for freshness is to shake them close to your ear. If you hear a sloshing sound, it is evident that the egg has lost a significant amount of moisture and there’s a big airspace within – avoid these eggs. Eggs also contain a natural barrier and invisible protecting coding which keeps out bacteria, never wash the eggs you’re going to store because you remove this natural protection.

Protein Sources for Optimum Weight Loss & Endurance – Beef, Chicken, Fish and the Vegetarian

In previous articles we have taken a look at how important protein as it relates to health and ultimately performance. In this article we will continue to outline and discuss the various protein sources as outlined by well known nutritionalists Dr’s Maffetone & Michael Colgan. By choosing a variety of protein sources from the healthiest possible: eggs, beef, poultry, fish and other meats, as well as cultured dairy products, and soy in whey, you will obtain a wide variety of other nutrients from these foods. Four instance, eggs contain the important nutrient choline; beef contains L glutamine; Wade contains bio files; and soy contains I.c.e. flavonoids. Additionally, these foods also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Beef – Nutritional Powerhouse

Look at the nutritional facts of a 3 ounce lean porterhouse:

  • At least 70% water, contains 20 g of protein
  • 6 g of saturated fat and balanced by 7 g of monounsaturated fat
  • Rich in B vitamins, glutamine, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and other nutrients that are lacking in many diets

Organic and natural beef have not been treated with antibiotics growth hormones or fed any type of animal source protein common in most other animals.

With the threat of mad cow disease, it is especially important to buy beef that has not been given feeds that contain animal by-products. Organically raised beef cattle are fed only certified organic feed and graze on organically certified land.

When cooking beef keep it on the rare side. Studies show that beef cooked medium, medium well or well is associated with higher rates of stomach cancer. This is due to the production of carcinogens from naturally occurring creatinine during cooking. Heat sensitive nutrients such as the amino acids glutamine are also significantly reduced in the cook beyond rare.

Chicken

Recently the poultry industry decided to stop adding antibiotics for poultry feed. This action was based on evidence that bacteria in chicken and turkey were becoming resistance to the drugs. The result is that when humans become infected with bacteria, antibiotics prescribed to them mat be ineffective. This actually follows a measure in the 1950s banning the use of growth hormone and poultry.

While these actions are certainly steps in the right direction, there are still some concerns when it comes to eating chicken or turkey. The poultry industry has done a good job telling you on paper how healthy chicken is over other meats, but few people really look at the way chickens are raised. Typically more than any other animals, chickens are raised in very unhealthy environments. The chicken houses are really a city containing hundred thousand birds or more, cooped up in tiny boxes and very crowded conditions.

Most turkeys, like chicken, are raised in unhealthy environments of poultry factories and are managed for quick growth rather than healthy table fare. In addition, some birds are injected after slaughter with unhealthy substances for flavor and color it to tenderize the meat.

All this does not mean that chicken and other poultry is not a good source of protein – you just need to find a good source. The best for the table is organic raised. This means that the animal has not been treated with or fed any chemicals or drugs, and has only been fed certified organic feed. This is the safest of all poultry. If you can’t find organic poultry, free range bird that have not been treated with pesticides, and which have been fed a diet that does not include animal byproducts such as chicken parts are your best option.

Fish – The Power of Omega 3

Many people turned his fish as a healthy protein source. Fish are a good source of protein and some also contain significant amounts of essential fatty acids especially omega-3 fats. However just as with other protein foods, some fish are healthier choices than others. For instance if you’re eating farm raised salmon or other fish, your catch of the day may include antibiotic’s, pesticides, steroids, hormones and artificial pigments. Additionally, pollution of waterways and oceans has increased the potential danger to eating all fish and seafood.

As outlined by Dr. Maffetone, farm raised salmon, which make up 95% of the salmon on the market, and the bulk of fish purchased by consumers, are raised in aquatic pens – the undersea equivalent to cattle feedlots and chicken factories. Since these fish are raised in confined crowded and unsanitary conditions, the threat of disease and parasites is great. To combat disease and parasites, some fish farms add antibiotics to salmon feed and treat the salmon and their pens with pesticides. Some salmon are also treated with steroids to make the fish sterile and growth hormone to speed them to market size and reduce production costs. In addition, since farm raised salmon do not naturally eat crustaceans, which makes the flesh pink or orange, salmon growers often feed color additives to pigment the flesh.

As clearly outlined by Dr. Maffetone, if you choose to eat fish, it is best to buy wild caught fish. However this is not perfectly safe either. One study found that more than 74% of wild fish caught near fish farms contained antibiotics from eating feed that drifted out of the fish farm pens. In addition to feeds from the fish farms, there are other concerns to eating wild fish. Contamination is possible due to infection from bacteria or viruses, heavy metals such as mercury, food additives such as sulfites and histamines, pesticides such as DDT and other chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s).

As a general rule, avoid consuming seafood that includes the so-called bottom feeders, these fish and others see that eat from the ocean’s floor, are extremely dangerous because of the potential of consuming toxic material is at its highest concentration levels. This is especially true for those species that feed close to shore. Flounder, sole, catfish and crabs are some examples of foods to avoid eating regularly. Oysters, clams, mussels and scallops are also sources of potential pollutants.

Clams are perhaps the worst seafood to eat, especially when raw, since they normally filter out and concentrate viruses and bacteria, heavy metals and other chemical pollutants from the waters in which they live.

If you enjoy eating seafood, here are some tips for doing so more safely and more nutritiously:

  • Choose fish and crustaceans caught far away from polluted industrial areas. Some examples are northern Maine lobster, Canadian salmon, sardines and herring.
  • Look for cold water fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and others which contain higher amounts of omega-3 fat and EPA.
  • Eat smaller fish and crustaceans; Trout, bass and shrimp rather than Marlon and swordfish. Smaller and younger fish have not accumulated the toxins found in larger and older species.
  • Avoid pre-cooked fish, and prepared or processed seafood such as breaded fish or seafood, fish cakes, ground fish and imitation crab meat.
  • If you catch your own fish, ask local authorities about the limits of safety. Some regions recommend limiting how much of certain species you should eat any year.

Other Meats

In addition to beef, poultry and fish, other meats are also good sources of protein according to Dr. Maffetone. Pork and lamb are popular meats and recently more exotic meat such as buffalo have appeared in some grocery stores and fresh markets. When choosing these meats, use the same guidelines as with beef and poultry – buy those that are raised naturally, or better yet, organically. A good deal of pork on the market is raising large-scale hog operations just like chickens, so it is advisable to look for better sources of meat.

Wild Game

Including big-game animals such as deer as well as small game such as rabbits and game birds, is also another great source of protein. Wild game meat is generally leaner but higher in essential fatty acids than domestic meats. While hunting your own meat is nearly ideal, there’s a growing concern in some areas like the northeastern United States that the use of pesticides and other environmental chemicals have affected wild animals. But in general, wild game is much safer than store bought meat.

Ground Meat (of any kind)

One of the worst types of meat to consume is ground meat of any kind. Avoid all ground beef, poultry, pork or other meats, unless it has been freshly ground right before you freeze or consume immediately.

Ground meat is a haven for bacteria in can ferment in your intestine much worse than whole meat. If you like ground meat, or have a recipe that requires it, it is better to buy a large piece of meat and have it ground up just before cooking – most butchers, even those in large grocery stores, will do this for you. Also, beware of other meats that have been cut, such as sliced meat, chopped meat and stew meat. Try to buy as large a piece of meat as possible and cut it yourself.

Please Pass the Cheese for Nutritional Power

Cheese, cottage cheese and plain yogurt are dairy products that contain quality protein without many of the problems associated with milk. This is especially true if you can find products made from goat or sheep milk rather than cow milk. Goat and sheep milk are much more compatible for humans than cow milk.

As described by Dr. Maffetone, whichever type of milk they’re made from; culture products such as these are good sources of protein because the lactose, or milk sugar, has been consumed by bacteria in the culturing process. These bacteria literally gobble up the sugar. To be sure that an item is fully cultured, check the nutritional facts on the label; the carbohydrate should be very low. This is also true of yogurt – many popular brands are not fully cultured. Of course you want to avoid the fruit flavored varieties which are always full of sugar, with some containing more than ice cream.

If you use cheese, whole milk cottage cheese or yogurt as protein sources, it’s important to remember that these are also high in B fat. Avoid American cheese, cheese spreads and other processed cheeses. These highly processed products, which outsell natural cheese, are usually several types of unripe cheeses, ground up with added chemical stabilizers, preservatives and emulsifiers. Sheep, goat cheese and yogurt can be found in many supermarkets, health food stores and are also available on the Internet.

Whey Protein

Two proteins found in milk: curds and whey. Whey protein is the thin liquid part of milk remaining after the casein (the curds) and fat are removed. Whey is the part of the milk containing most of the vitamins and minerals, including calcium. Whey is a complete protein. It’s nutritional and therapeutic values are well documented, and this food is often referred to as nutraceutical.

Biothiols are a group of natural sulfur containing substances that promote basic antioxidant activity in your cells, and are contained in high amounts in whey. In providing this vital raw material, whey is a key food for the immune system – one that can help prevent and treat many chronic conditions, from asthma and allergies to cancer and heart disease. It can also help improve muscle function.

The body uses the biothiols in whey as a raw material to produce a substance called glutathione. This substance is at the heart of regulating the bodies antioxidant defense mechanism, and is even more important than vitamin C and E, and others in that group of popular antioxidants.

Those who are allergic to cow’s milk can usually consume whey without problems. Small amounts of lactose are found in whey (much less than is found in liquid milk), but this is usually too little to cause intestinal problems, even in most people sensitive to lactose. In those who are truly lactose intolerant (less than 5% of the population), this amount of lactose could be a problem.

Whey protein is contained in high amounts in certain cheeses, such as a Italian ricotta (check the ingredient label on ricotta to make sure the main ingredient is whey). Avoid highly processed whey products such as those, which contain whey-protein isolate and caseinate.

Myths and facts About Soy

According to Dr. Maffetone, soy is one vegetarian source of a complete protein. Whole green soybeans or edamame are excellent sources of protein and also fiber. Soy products such as tofu also contain quality protein.

When buying products that contain soy it is important to avoid those which have been highly processed. These include soy protein isolate and caseinates and hydrolyzed soy, which often contain monosoodium glutamate (MSG) as a byproduct of processing. This MSG byproduct is not listed in the ingredients.

Soy is acceptable as a food and food ingredient only if it reflects real soybean quantity and quality rather than a highly processed product. Examples of real soy foods include soy beans, tofu and soy concentrates with the same amino acid profile as whole soybeans.

Many people think soy is a wonder food. But like all foods, some people will benefit from soy while others may not. In fact, just as many people maybe intolerant to soy as dairy. In addition, soy products fortified with concentrated isoflavones can pose serious dangers, including an increased risk of cancer, particularly for postmenopausal women, the very audiences products are marketed to by the big companies. This may also contribute to hormone imbalance.