Protein is a group of complex organic macromolecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and usually sulphur and are composed of one or more chains of amino acids. Proteins are fundamental components of all living cells and include many substances, such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, that are necessary for the proper functioning of an organism. They are essential in the diet of animals for the growth and repair of tissue and can be obtained from foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, and legumes.
Every living cell in your body is made from protein. However it's the way you obtain the protein which is important. E.g. if you eat too much meat you'll become constipated. If you drink too many man made protein supplements, you'll get diarrhoea. If you eat vegetables as a protein source then you'll have to eat plenty a day to see any significant change. It’s creating a balance of these that is the key.
I am confident that If you ask a room full of bodybuilders if there is any controversy about the importance of high-protein intake for muscle and strength gains, they will unanimously say, “Nope, more is better.” But can we really trust bodybuilders? They take just about everything to the extreme and protein is no exception. Interestingly, if we take that same question and ask a room full of academics you will undoubtedly get a 70/30 split with most saying that athletes, including weightlifters, will gain no benefit from eating a high-protein diet. Yet the minority that condones this type of diet seem every bit as confident as the naysayers. So why is this? It’s simply because the results from research on protein intake and strength training are all over the map.
Interestingly, the majority of studies looking specifically at the impact of additional protein intake on resistance exercise outcomes show a significant positive effect. Nevertheless, to date there is still no consensus about the benefits of higher protein intakes for muscle mass and strength gains. This discrepancy in results from protein intake studies is precisely what a recent paper published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition tried to settle, or at least explain.
"The paper offers two theories for why studies on protein intake and gains in mass and strength with weight training do not always agree. The authors have named the two theories “sufficient spread” and “protein change.” The Sufficient spread theory states that there must be a sufficient difference in the amount of protein intake between experimental groups to see muscle and strength differences. Many studies try to compare differences as small as 9% in grams of protein per day between groups. The authors postulate, and demonstrate with this latest paper that in fact, those studies that fail to show benefits from increased protein are comparing groups that differ very little in actual protein intake. So comparing the two is unlikely to show a significant difference at all.
The protein change theory states that in order to see an impact of increasing protein intake, you have to increase beyond what the subject habitually eats. The average change in habitual protein intake in studies showing higher protein to be more effective was 60% versus 7% when additional protein was no more effective than control. The authors remind us that just because you are eating a relatively high-protein intake already, it may not be offering you the same benefits as actually increasing protein intake does. This is because your body will adapt and adjust to the amount of protein you eat each day by disposing of more each night, otherwise you literally would continue to grow and grow from diet alone. So, you are going to have to increase your protein intake by perhaps 50%. If you have been eating 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day, consider slowly tapering down by 50 grams or so. Then, when you are ready to blast for a bit, up your protein abruptly and see if you can’t put some of that protein toward new gains."
I do however like to play devils advocate in many of my articles so will clearly state that the conflicting theories to these studies DO show significant muscle increase when the number of grams of protein in the diet is increased. My personal opinion is that the most important parts of a food source is not the content of that food source BUT the absorption rate or absorption % of it. For example, just because 180g of chicken breast contains approximately 40g of protein, the absorption percentage of the protein found within chicken is not 100%. So you may be consuming 40g of protein but your body may only be able to absorb 28g of it in total.
I am a firm believer that the body will only use what is actually needed and too much of anything is never good. The human body works on a ‘supply and demand’ basis. The harder the body is worked, the higher the demand for nutrients and therefore you will need to consume more macronutrients in order to adequately recover. This is very similar to dieting. If a calorific deficit is created over a prolonged period of time but the essential needs of the body are still met, this will lead to a decrease in body fat and / or muscle mass.
I understand by now that I am starting to digress, so bringing the subject back to ‘Protein’, You may have read or heard about the article on protein drinks, published in the July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports magazine or various other pieces of literature or news reports in recent months. You should definitely be aware of the implications that may be involved when consuming large amounts of protein, but always remain mindful of the fact that these ‘Consumer Reports’ printed on this subject are always a one-sided investigation and never a fair spread of results.
Wouldn’t it be nice if these figures were compared with that of say the link between serious health conditions or death of individuals who smoke and drink alcohol? I can guarantee that the statistics would shock you because smoking and drinking combined are by far the largest killers in the UK (along with obesity). The cost implications of these alone will be thousands of times more than that of individuals who consume protein in excess. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone die from a protein overdose!?
I think the issues that the media often present us with are all down to social acceptance. For some reason people accept that 50% of smokers die as a result of a smoking related illness but if you drink a protein shake or take a pre-workout drink, you are some type of addict. Our minds are very often conditioned and controlled by the media without us realising. Thousands of people die each year as a result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol but because it is socially acceptable to go out drinking in order to socialise, people don’t even consider it to be a problem. However, if someone just so happens to die as a result of a man made nutritional product or supplement, there is a large scale investigation and usually a very poorly put together one sided documentary all about how nutritional shakes are single handedly destroying the health of athletes. Remember to stick to published FACTS.
Overall, protein is one of the most important basic food groups that the human body needs to live off of. It is close to 16% of a person’s total body weight. It is a large part of making sure that all cells in our bodies are strong and healthy. Also many of the chemicals in our bodies’ that include the hormones, enzymes, DNA, and neurotransmitters are partly made up of protein.
Our bodies do have the ability to recycle protein - but it is something that our bodies will burn easily and fast. That is why we need to make sure that we eat the foods that will help to replace it back into our bodies. Protein contained in our bodies is made up of amino acids. Because our bodies do not have the ability to produce nine amino acids we need to make sure that we eat the foods that will include it.
When someone does not receive the required amount of protein that their body needs, their muscles would start to break down. This happens because the body does not have many places to store it like it can with fat so remember…Eat the right foods everyday and the right amount of protein and you will see those muscles building in no time!
Stephen Greensted – Sponsored Athlete