Proactive About Protein
The ins and outs of the body's building blocks
By Denis Faye
In the last few months, we've gotten the skinny on fats and sweetened up our knowledge of carbohydrates. Now it's time to beef up on protein.
Unlike carbs and fat, protein isn't actually a fuel. In extreme circumstances, it can be used as a fuel, but this causes great stress to the body and can result in loss of muscle mass, given being used as a fuel causes protein to stop doing what it's supposed to do—act as a building block for body tissue. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons are all made of and repaired by the stuff.
Meet Team Protein
When you eat protein, your body breaks it back down into twenty different amino acids. Of the twenty, eight cannot be manufactured by the human body; therefore, it is essential that we get them through our diet. These fittingly entitled essential amino acids are tryptophan, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine, leucine, and isoleucine.
The other twelve are glutamine, arginine, tyrosine, glycine, serine, glutamic acid, aspartic acid, taurine, cystine, histidine, proline, and alanine. While they aren't necessary for a healthy diet, supplementing of these amino acids isn't uncommon. For example, many athletes take glutamine. Being the body's primary transporter of nitrogen into muscle cells, it's used to support muscle growth and inhibit muscle tissue breakdown. But if you choose to supplement single amino acids, do so with caution. There still isn't a lot of research on the practice, and some experts believe it can have negative effects such as inhibiting the absorption of other essential amino acids, since amino acids compete for space when crossing something called the blood-brain barrier.
And this is where you'll find them
Let's focus on the essential eight. The traditional source of complete protein is meat. Pork, beef, foul, lamb, fish, alligator, and ants—all creatures great and small are made of protein. Dairy and eggs are also good sources of complete protein.
But what happens if you don't want to take all your protein from animals? No problem. The only nonanimal-derived source of complete protein is soy, so soy milk, tempeh, and tofu all provide the essential eight.
Even if you don't like soy, there's still hope, but it gets a little more complex. Whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat, provide some of the eight. Legumes, such as beans, nuts, and peas, also provide a few of the eight, so by combining the two, grains and legumes, you get yet another complete source of protein. No wonder rice and beans play such a major part in diets across the world!
And then there's protein powder. While it may seem like some magic amino acid elixir, protein powder comes from pretty mundane stuff. Most powders are either soy- or whey-based, so they're complete. By the way, although whey is dairy, as in "curds and whey," whey protein powders are generally lactose free. When choosing a protein powder, keep in mind that soy tends to aid muscle endurance while whey works better for muscle resynthesis, so when on a serious weight-training program, whey can be more advantageous.
Soy and other vegetable protein sources are perfectly healthy. Vegans and vegetarians may have to pay more attention to their diet, but they can be just as fit as their flesh-eating counterparts.
Sounds great, let's eat!
So how much protein do you need? The RDA is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Any less than that can lead to reduced resistance to disease, skin and blood changes, slow wound healing, and muscle wasting. For athletes, the numbers are more like 1.2 to 1.7 grams. But you can lose a lot of sleep juggling these all these numbers, so if you're trying to lose weight, making protein 30% of your caloric intake is a good start. Once you've lost the weight and want to build muscle, you might want to start shifting that percentage around. Many athletes lower that number, mainly because the more exercise you get the higher percentage of carbs you need for energy. Others use short-term high-protein diets, which come into play mainly for bodybuilders trying to get ripped for a competition.
On a meal-to-meal basis, keep in mind that the body can only digest so much protein per meal. For women, that number is usually around 25–35 grams. For men, it's around 40–50 grams. If you eat more than that, your body will still break it down to amino acids, but it will store those acids as fat. This is highly variable and based on a number of factors, mainly weight and exercise frequency, but we all have a saturation point. So try and get some protein at each meal.
As with carbs and fat, taking in protein is all about balance, but if you do find that magic number (think 40-30-30), your muscles will thank you by growing and toning. The rest of your body will thank you by staying healthy.
Meet Beachbody in Miami!
Hey everyone, Beachbody is heading to South Florida to take part in the 6th annual Miami Beach Fitness Festival. If you're in the Miami area, come on out and join us for an unforgettable fitness experience that will leave you feeling empowered, sexy, and strong! We'll be performing a fun and energizing session of our highly popular Yoga Booty Ballet. Led by creators Gillian Marloth and Teigh McDonough, this is one workout you won't want to miss. So bring your beach body to the beach and get ready to shake that booty.
In the heart of South Beach's Art Deco District, between 7th and 9th Streets
on Ocean Drive
When: March 28, 11:45 AM
March 18th at 5:00 PM PST/8:00 PM EST
Tony's Gonna WOWY!
WOWY fever is spreading throughout Beachbody, and now Tony Horton is getting into the act: Join Tony for a live chat at 5:00 PM PST on Thursday, March 18th, and then log in to WOWY to crush your daily workout! (Tony and some of his workout buddies will be doing "Back & Biceps." You can do whatever workout you choose—just be sure to BRING IT!) Be prepared—sign up now for WOWY, so you can log in and work out with THE MAN! click here!