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Thread: Why do we need protein?

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    Sparky_dustin's Avatar
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    Why do we need protein?

    Written by Tom Venuto

    PART 1
    Why are bodybuilders infatuated with protein?

    Bodybuilders are infamous for their love affair with protein. The way iron-pumpers see it, muscle is protein, so they associate eating more dietary protein with gaining more muscle. Devouring egg whites by the dozen, meat by the pound and protein powder by the bucketful is the norm for hard training physique athletes. But is all this carnivorism really necessary? Why the infatuation with eating huge amounts of protein? Are bodybuilders correct in their habitual practice of pounding down the protein or is this immoderation unfounded? To answer these questions, it is first necessary obtain a solid understanding of what protein is and how it is used in the body. Only then can we objectively look at the protein consumption practices of bodybuilders and compare them to what the scientific evidence says in order to make some sensible and productive recommendations.

    Protein Turnover; the dynamic human body

    Although your body appears quite solid, it is always in a constant state of flux. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "You cannot step in the same river twice." What he meant was that a river may look the same every day, but it never is the same because of the constant flow of new water running through it. This is also true of the human body. Body protein is constantly being turned over as old cells die and new cells replace them. Best-selling author and mind-body expert Dr. Deepak Chopra describes this ongoing cellular renewal process like this:

    "It is as if you lived in a building whose bricks were systematically taken out and replaced every year. If you keep the same blueprint then it will still look like the same building. But it won't be the same in actuality. The human body also stands there, looking much the same from day to day, but through the process of respiration, digestion, elimination and so forth, it is constantly and ever in exchange with the rest of the world."

    Quantum physicists have proven that 98% of the atoms in your body are replaced within one year. In three months your body produces an entirely new skeleton. Every six weeks, all the cells have been replaced in your liver. You have a new stomach lining every five days. You are continually replacing old blood cells with new ones. Every month you produce an entirely new skin as dead cells are shed and new cells grow underneath. The proteins in your muscles are continually turned over as muscle is broken down and new tissue is synthesized. Every cell in your body is constantly being recycled.

    Where do all these new cells come from? The answer of course, is from the protein foods you consume every day. That's why the saying, "You are what you eat" is literally true from a molecular standpoint. Once you've accepted this maxim, you'll start being awfully careful about what you put in your body every day.

    Protein 101: What is protein anyway?

    Its not surprising that bodybuilders put so much emphasis on protein. After all, protein is construction material for the human body like bricks are for a building. Body structures made from protein include skin, hair, nails, bones, connective tissue and of course skeletal muscle. Other proteins in your body include antibodies, enzymes, hormones such as insulin, and transporters such as hemoglobin. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in the body, making up approximately 15-20% of your weight. Of most interest to the bodybuilder is the fact that 60-70% of all protein in the body is located in the skeletal muscles. In order for muscle growth to occur, every day you must consume more protein than your body utilizes.

    Like fats and carbohydrates, proteins are also composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The difference is nitrogen. Only protein can bring nitrogen into the body. Because muscle tissue contains most of the body's protein and protein contains nitrogen, scientists can study the effect of dietary protein on muscle growth by comparing the amount of nitrogen consumed with the amount excreted (in feces, urine and sweat). If the intake of nitrogen is greater than the amount excreted, then we know that protein is being retained and new muscle is being synthesized. This is known as positive nitrogen balance. If more nitrogen is excreted than consumed, you are in negative nitrogen balance, indicating that protein is being broken down and muscle is being lost.

    Amino acids: The building blocks of protein

    The smallest units of a protein are called amino acids. Like bricks in a wall, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Just as glycogen is formed from the linkage of numerous glucose molecules, proteins are formed from the joining of numerous amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body. From these 20 amino acids, there are tens of thousands of different protein molecules that can be formed. Each protein is assembled from the bonding of different amino acids into various configurations. Growth hormone, for example, is a protein chain of 156 amino acids.

    "Amino acids are somewhat like letters in the alphabet. If you had only the letter G, all you could write would be a string of Gs: G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G. But with 20 different letters available, you could create poems, songs, or novels. The 20 amino acids can be linked together in an even greater variety of sequences than are possible for letters in a word or words in a sentence. The variety of possible sequences for polypeptide chains is tremendous." -Eleanor Whitney and Sharon Rolfes, "Understanding Nutrition."

    Essential vs. Non-essential amino acids

    Out of the twenty amino acids, the human body can make eleven of them. These are called the non-essential amino acids (also known as "dispensable amino acids). The other nine amino acids are called "essential amino acids" or (indispensable amino acids). Essential amino acids are those which cannot be manufactured by your body and must be supplied from your food.

    Essential (indispensable) amino acids

    Non essential (dispensable) amino acids

    Aspartic Acid
    Glutamic acid

    Why bodybuilders must eat "complete" proteins every three hours

    Foods that contain a balanced combination of all the essential and nonessential amino acids in the exact amounts required by the body for growth are called "complete proteins." In order for the body to synthesize muscle, all the essential amino acids must be available simultaneously. Any non-essential amino acids that are in short supply can be produced by the liver, but if an essential amino acid is missing, the body must break down its own proteins to obtain it. To prevent muscle cell breakdown, dietary protein must supply all the essential amino acids. If your diet is missing any essential amino acids, protein synthesis will be inhibited.

    Carbohydrates have a storage depot in the body called glycogen. Glycogen can be stored in the muscles and liver and then drawn upon hours or even days later when it is needed. Proteins cannot be stored in the body. There is only a very small and transient amino acid pool in the bloodstream. To maintain the optimal environment for muscle growth (positive nitrogen balance), complete proteins must be eaten with every meal. This explains the rationale behind the common bodybuilding practice of eating six protein-containing meals per day (one about every three hours.)

    Protein Quality: Complete vs. Incomplete proteins

    Protein isn't just found in meat, eggs and milk. There is also protein in vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. However, the protein in these foods is not considered "complete" because it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids. Generally speaking, proteins from vegetable sources are lower in quality and that's the reason they are eschewed by bodybuilders. The complete proteins are those that come from animal sources such as eggs, milk and meat.

    Many grains and legumes contain substantial amounts of protein, but none provide the full array of essential amino acids. Beans, for example, are very high in protein with about 15 grams per cup, however, they are missing the essential amino acid Methionine. Similarly, grains are lacking the essential amino acid Lysine. It has been frequently pointed out that combining two incomplete sources of vegetable protein such as rice and beans provides you with the full complement of essential amino acids. This may be true, but there's a decided difference between simply meeting your minimum amino acid requirements for health and consuming the optimal quality of protein for building muscle. Combining complementary vegetable sources of protein just doesn't cut it for the serious bodybuilder.

    Is "Vegetarian bodybuilder" an oxymoron?

    A pure vegetarian (vegan) diet is not conducive to building muscle. One thing you will never see is a rock-hard, massive and muscular vegan. Lacto-vegetarians (those who use dairy products) and ovo-lacto-vegetarians (those who use eggs and dairy products) can build excellent physiques. Bodybuilding champion Bill Pearl is just one example. Pearl is well known for his lifelong aversion to eating meat, but he does use complete proteins from eggs or dairy products. With this semi-vegetarian approach, Pearl won the Mr. America and Mr. Universe tittles and became a legend in the bodybuilding and fitness world.

    The bottom line is that you can get fit and healthy without consuming animal proteins, but unless you include eggs or dairy products, you will never develop a physique worthy of the bodybuilding stage. If a hard and muscular physique is what you're after, then heed the advice of Robert Kennedy, publisher of Muscle Mag International and author of "Rock Hard, Supernutrition for Bodybuilders:"

    "The bodybuilder would be ill-advised to adopt a true vegetarian diet. You can be one of the millions who are eating less meat and more vegetables. You may even want to drop all flesh entirely. But is would be a mistake to try for pure vegetarianism. Only 3.7% of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, and of those only a fraction of 1% are purists. In the bodybuilding world of champions, that percentage is currently.... ZERO!"

    Lean sources of complete proteins

    Complete proteins come from animal sources including meat, eggs and dairy products. The obvious problem with animal proteins is that they also contain large amounts of saturated fat. To stay lean, bodybuilders must always keep fats in the diet low. Fortunately, fat from animal proteins can easily be avoided simply by making the correct choices. For example, use egg whites instead of egg yolks, lean meats such as turkey breast and chicken breast instead of fatty cuts of meat, and 1% low fat or non-fat dairy products instead of whole milk dairy products. These are some of the best sources of lean protein for bodybuilding purposes:

    Chicken breast

    Turkey breast
    Shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, etc)
    Egg whites
    Lean red meats (top round, lean sirloin, and flank)
    Nonfat or low fat dairy products
    Protein powders (Whey protein, for example).
    The great debate; The RDA vs. the "protein pushers"

    For years a heated controversy has raged over whether or not extra protein will boost muscle development. On one side of the debate you have the conservative dietitians and medical community who stubbornly insist that the recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is all you need to develop muscle. The RDA's are the official government guidelines set by the national research council. Currently the RDA for protein is based on body weight and is set at .8 grams per kilogram of body weight (that's .36 grams per lb. of body weight). For a 172 lb. man that equates to a paltry 62 grams per day. It is important to note that the RDA's were developed for the "average" sedentary person to avoid deficiency, not for athletes in hard training to gain muscle and strength. In fact, the RDA handbook even says, "no added allowance is made for stresses encountered in daily living which can give rise to increases in urinary nitrogen output."

    On the other side of the debate, you have the "protein pushers" who claim that megadoses of protein are the key to muscular growth. These high protein fanatics often suggest intakes of 400-500 grams a day or more. More often than not, the protein pushers are in some way affiliated with a supplement company and have a vested interest in selling you protein powder. In other cases, these high protein advocates may be professional bodybuilders who are taking large amounts of anabolic steroids, which can allow the body to utilize more protein than normal.

    So who is right, the conservative medical and scientific community or the protein pushers? The answer is neither; the optimal intake is clearly somewhere in between the two extremes. An "optimal" protein intake for bodybuilders is still unknown at this time and will require further research, but one thing is for certain: The RDA is not enough to support the added requirements for intense bodybuilding training. Even the RDA handbook itself says, "No added allowance is made here for stresses encountered in daily living which can give rise to transient increases in urinary nitrogen output. It is assumed that the subjects of experiments forming the basis for the requirement estimates are usually exposed to the same stresses as the population generally." If bodybuilding isn't an "unusual stress" beyond what is normally encountered in daily living then I don't know what is.

    What the current research says about protein and bodybuilding

    Research has conclusively proven that exercise increases protein needs. Dr. Peter Lemon is the world's leading researcher on protein requirements and athletes. In the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" (19:5, S179-S190,1986) Dr. Lemon writes;

    "Several types of evidence indicate that exercise causes substantial changes in protein metabolism. In fact, recent data suggests that the protein recommended dietary allowance might actually be 100% higher for individuals who exercise on a regular basis. Optimal intakes, although unknown, may be even higher, especially for individuals attempting to increase muscle mass and strength."

    Dr. Lemon's most recent research published in "Nutrition Reviews," (54:S169-175, 1996) indicates that strength athletes need up to 1.8g of protein per kg. of body weight to maintain positive nitrogen balance. That's .8 grams per lb. of body weight or almost 140 grams a day for someone who weighs 172 lbs. This is very close to the long-held belief of bodybuilders that 1 gram per pound of body weight is optimal. Some studies have shown that even higher protein intakes may be necessary in hard training strength athletes. In one study of Polish weightlifters (Nutr. Metabolism 12:259-274), 5 of 10 athletes were still in negative nitrogen balance even while consuming 250% of the RDA.

    So much research has been done on protein and athletes that it's amazing that so many conservative registered dietitians and medical professionals still cling to the outdated notion that the RDA for protein is sufficient for muscle growth. The biggest irony is the fact that many of these "RDA pushers" are overweight, flabby, out of shape professors, researchers or white lab coat types. I don't know about you, but I have a very hard time taking advice from "armchair experts" who don't walk the walk. After years of being criticized by the academic and scientific communities for their "excess" protein intakes, bodybuilders today have received their vindication; It is no longer a theory that protein intakes higher than the RDA are more effective for building muscle, it is now scientific fact.

    Keep going for part 2
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    In part one of "Bodybuilders & Protein," we talked about the ABC's of protein: what it is, what it is used for, and how it is processed in the body. We also looked at what the scientific literature says about protein needs. From this discussion, we came to five important conclusions:

    1. Protein is the only nutrient directly responsible for building muscle.
    2. Exercise increases protein needs.
    3. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein (.36 grams per pound of body weight) is woefully inadequate if you work out on a regular basis.
    4. Studies by the world’s top protein researchers such as Dr. Peter Lemon, have determined that .8 grams per pound of body weight should be your minimum for protein if you exercise regularly (more than double the RDA!)
    5. Optimal intakes for hard-training athletes, such as bodybuilders, are still unknown and may be even higher. In one study of Polish weightlifters, 50% of the subjects were still in negative nitrogen balance, even while consuming 250% of the RDA.

    Now that we’ve established these facts, that still leaves one burning question: How do you determine the precise amount of protein that is right for you? Read on to find out.

    Protein needs by body weight: The one gram per pound of body weight rule

    For body builders, one gram per pound of body weight has been a rule of thumb for years - and it's very close to the .8 grams per pound of body weight recommended in the most recent research. However, .8 grams per pound of body weight should be considered a minimum for strength athletes and bodybuilders. When you account for factors such as biochemical individuality, varying metabolic rates and the added protein needed to accommodate for intense training and gaining muscle, adding an extra margin of .2g/lb makes sense. Under certain circumstances, one gram per pound might not even be enough, but we'll talk more about that later.

    The one gram per pound rule is the easiest and most commonly used method of calculating your daily protein requirement, but it does have drawbacks. For example, the more body fat you have, the more this method will overestimate your protein needs. It also doesn't take into account whether your goal is to gain or lose weight. Nevertheless, as long you are training regularly and you are within the normal ranges for body composition, then this simple formula is a solid recommendation and a good place to start.

    Example 1:
    You are female
    Your total body weight = 130 lbs.
    Your protein requirement = 130 grams per day
    If you eat 5 - 6 meals a day (like you should) that’s 22 - 26 grams of protein per meal

    Example 2:
    You are male
    Your total body weight = 190 lbs.
    Your protein requirement = 190 grams per day
    Spread over 5 - 6 meals per day, that’s 32 - 38 grams of protein per meal

    Protein needs as a percentage of total calories

    Another way to calculate your daily protein needs is to multiply your total calorie intake for the day by the desired percentage of calories from protein. To do this, you’ll need to know how many calories you’re supposed to take in. There is not enough space to discuss calorie calculations in this article, but you can find all the formulas on my website in the article titled, "Calorie Calculators." For now, let it suffice to say that exercise physiologists tell us the average maintenance level is 2000-2100 calories per day for women and 2700-2900 per day for men. After you’ve determined your caloric maintenance level, you then adjust it up or down depending on whether you want to gain or lose weight.

    30% of total calories should come from protein

    The next step is to select the optimal percentage of calories from protein. The percentage you choose must be in line with your goals, activity requirements, body type and metabolic rate. The ideal ratios may vary widely based on these factors, but as a "baseline" I recommend that 30% of your calories come from protein. That leaves 15% from fat and 55% from natural, unrefined complex carbohydrates.

    The Baseline Diet:
    30% protein
    55% carbohydrates
    15% fat

    Once you’ve selected the proper ratio of calories to come from protein, simply multiply the percentage of calories from protein by the total calories for the day. That will tell you how many calories should come from protein.

    The final step is to divide the protein calories by four (there are four calories in each gram of protein) and that will give you how many grams of protein you should eat per day.

    Example 1:
    You are a female, 130 lbs.
    Your optimal calorie intake to lose fat is 1700 calories per day
    To determine your protein intake, multiply your caloric intake by 30%
    1700 calories per day X .30% = 510 calories from protein
    There are 4 calories per gram of protein
    510 protein calories divided by 4 calories per gram of protein = 127.5 grams of protein

    Example 2:
    You are male, 190 lbs.
    Your optimal calorie intake to lose fat is 2600 calories per day
    To determine your protein intake, multiply your caloric intake by 30%
    2600 calories per day X .30% = 780 calories from protein
    There are 4 calories per gram of protein
    780 protein calories divided by 4 calories per gram of protein = 195 grams of protein

    Three times when higher protein is called for

    You probably noticed in the example above that using 30% of calories from protein comes out very close to one gram per pound of body weight. However, the percentage of total calories method is more accurate because it accounts for different goals. The examples above were for someone who wanted to lose weight. Obviously your optimal caloric intake, and therefore your protein intake, will vary depending on what you want to achieve. If you want to gain weight, you’re going to need more calories, and a substantial portion of those extra calories should come from protein.

    Clearly, there are times when a higher protein intake is necessary. These include:

    1) When you are trying to gain muscular body weight
    2) When you are using a low carbohydrate diet for fat loss
    3) When you are "carbohydrate sensitive"

    Protein Intake and Gaining Muscular Body Weight

    Let's suppose you're male, you weigh 190 lbs. and you maintain your weight on 3000 calories per day. To gain weight you’ll need to increase your calories. Makes sense, right? Specifically, you’d need about 3500 per day. Now let’s do the math: 30% of 3500 calories is 1050 calories per day. 1050 calories divided by four calories per gram is 262 grams of protein a day. That’s nearly 1.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight!

    After everything we’ve discussed so far, you’re probably wondering, "isn’t that entirely too much protein?" True, 1.4 grams per pound of bodyweight seems like a heck of a lot of protein. However, there is a very logical reason for this extra protein, so stay with me for a minute. Granted, there’s no scientific "proof" that high protein intakes this high will grow more muscle, but that’s not the reason for the extra protein. The reason is your protein intake has to go up along with your calories in order to keep your nutrient ratios "balanced."

    You need more calories to gain weight, but if you only add the extra calories from fat or carbohydrate, you would probably find yourself getting fat - and fast! As bodybuilders know all too well, excess carbohydrates, especially in the presence of a calorie surplus, can easily cause fat storage. The same goes for dietary fats. A high calorie diet with 70% of the calories from carbohydrates might be ok for a long distance runner, but chances are, a bodybuilder would get as smooth as a baby’s butt eating like that!

    Protein intake and low carbohydrate dieting

    The second time when more protein is justified is when you are using a low carbohydrate diet. The baseline diet of 55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15% fat is without a doubt the healthiest, most balanced way to eat, and most people will lose weight on this diet, as long as calories are below maintenance. However, take a look at the diets of the world's best bodybuilders and fitness competitors and you'll discover that nearly all of them use some variation of the low carbohydrate or moderate carbohydrate diet to achieve the "ripped" look necessary to win competitions.

    If you decide to choose the low carbohydrate approach to dieting, the problem is that you can’t just drop out all those carbohydrates and leave the amounts of protein and fat right where they were. If carbohydrates are decreased substantially, the protein (and to some extent, the healthy "good" fats) must be increased correspondingly so the calorie deficit doesn’t become too large.

    When your carbohydrates are too low and your calories are also low, the result is almost always muscle loss. Not exactly what a bodybuilder wants, is it? So, to offset the drop in carbohydrates and keep your calories above "starvation level," your protein intake must be increased - sometimes to very high levels. Exactly what ratio of protein to carbohydrate you take in depends entirely on your type of metabolism and can only be determined through trial and error.

    Not only does a high protein level fend off muscle loss while on low carbohydrates, but it can also speed up the fat burning process. Protein has the highest "thermic effect" of any food. That means that protein foods speed up your metabolism because your body has to work harder to digest, process and utilize this nutrient compared to fat or carbohydrate. The "thermic" effect of protein is one of the reasons that a higher protein diet is more effective for fat loss than a high fat diet or a high carbohydrate diet. Too much of any food type can be stored as body fat, but protein is less likely to be converted to fat than any other nutrient.

    Protein intake for the carbohydrate sensitive or insulin resistant

    A high protein, low carbohydrate diet may not be appropriate (or healthy) for year round maintenance, but there is no question that a higher protein diet makes it easier to lose body fat. One reason for this is because of the thermic effect of proteins, but another reason is the effect of moderate or low carbohydrates and high protein on insulin and blood sugar levels. Let me explain:

    Some people are very "sensitive" to carbohydrates. This means that when they eat a lot of carbohydrates, they "overreact" and there is an unusually large surge in their blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin is an important anabolic hormone and is responsible for moving glucose into body cells, but too much is not a good thing. Large concentrations of insulin in the bloodstream activate fat storage enzymes and promote the movement of triglycerides in the bloodstream into fat cells for storage. Too much insulin also inhibits enzymes that promote the breakdown of stored body fat. The only solution to this problem is less carbohydrates and - you guessed it - more protein.

    Conclusion - There are no "rules"

    The one gram per pound of bodyweight guideline is good as a general rule of thumb for bodybuilders, and the 30% of total calories guideline is even better. However, it's impossible to set hard and fast rules about protein intakes, because no single rule could possibly apply to everyone. The amount of protein you need depends on how hard you are training and on whether you want to gain, maintain, or lose bodyweight. It also depends on whether you decide to take the high carbohydrate, low fat approach or the high protein, low carbohydrate method. Neither way is right or wrong. What's right is what works for you.

    No single diet will work for everyone. Nutrition is a highly individual issue and you must make adjustments to your diet to account for the differences in your metabolism and your body type. If you've tried the conventional, high carbohydrate, low fat diet and it hasn't produced satisfactory results, a diet with moderate or even low carbohydrates might be the answer. If you decide to take the low carbohydrate approach, you're going to have to increase your protein to make up for the lower carbohydrates. If you don't, you'll end up losing your hard-earned muscle. You're also going to have to eat more protein if you want to gain lean body weight.

    Even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom and seems excessive, it's entirely possible that you might need as much as 1.25 grams to 1.5 grams of protein per day - or more - to get optimal results.
    What we do in life, echoes in eternity.

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    I know its a bit of a read but very interesting, enjoy
    What we do in life, echoes in eternity.

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    i havent read it yet, but when i saw the thread i was shocked and thought that Sparky Dustin didnt know what was important with protein lol... but i will read later..

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    bbdude u need to read the whole lot. INTERESTING!!!

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    i will, tomorrow, my favourite TV series is soon on television. LOST u know... pretty good if u have followed it all the way...

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    well worth the long read..quality post

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    when i read the title i thought "**** another dumb ass post by someone who dident google bodybuilding+protien" then i saw the person who made this thread: sparky, and i immediatly knew this post would be a ripper.
    good find brother!

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    Lightbulb TO SUM IT UP

    Quote Originally Posted by Sparky_dustin View Post
    I know its a bit of a read but very interesting, enjoy
    : bb needs 1 g or maybe more of protein per body pound weight

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    in a nut shell...ya thats pretty much it.
    What we do in life, echoes in eternity.

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    Great post. It gave alot of info that people might already know but went deeper into it, very interesting.

    Team BRoLiC

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    Animal Flesh shall set me free.

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