Monday, March 30, 2009

Protein for Your Health and Weight Loss

Along with the onslaught of fad diets on the market comes a lot of confusion about the best ways to get fit. There are simple formulas that anyone can follow to lose weight, gain muscle mass, or support training regimens for athletes. A balanced diet is critical to achieving and maintaining overall health and wellness. Today, I'd like to take a look at the role that protein plays in each of these scenarios.

The USDA recommends that the general public consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. This is a general baseline for sedentary individuals or those who engage in low to moderate physical activity. Strength, endurance, and team sport athletes should consume higher amounts of protein. Athletes looking to gain or lose weight consume the highest amounts of protein ranging from 1.6 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight. Protein intake should range from 10-35% of an adult's daily calories consumed.

To calculate the minimum amount of protein that your diet should contain, take your weight in pounds, divide it by 2.2 (to convert into kilograms), and multiply that result by .8 g/kg. For example, a 150 pound individual should be consuming 54.5 grams of protein daily (which equals 218 calories):

150 lbs. / 2.2 = 68.2 kg

68.2 kg x .8 g/kg = 54.5 grams of protein.

Protein contains 4 calories per gram, so to calculate the calorie equivalent of 54.5 grams simply multiply by 4:

54.5 grams x 4 calories per gram = 218 calories.

If this same individual consumes a total of 2000 calories per day, then protein will comprise 11% of the total calorie intake.

For active individuals who want to lose weight, protein plays a critical role in building lean muscle and increasing metabolism to burn fat. Training intensity and duration both increase protein requirements (Fink, Burgoon, Mikesky 2009). At the onset of endurance training for less fit individuals, it is critical that protein intake be increased for the first 1-2 weeks (1.2-1.4 times body weight). Soon after, protein levels should return to baseline levels. The majority of calories should come from carbohydrates because they are the primary source of fuel for the body. A good breakdown looks like this:

Carbohydrates 45-65% of total calories
Proteins 10-35% of total calories
Fats 20-35% of total calories

The key here is to ensure that the majority of the proteins ingested come from the diet as opposed to supplements. Meat eaters should include animal proteins like eggs, dairy, lean meats, and fish which are classified as complete proteins. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids that the body is unable to produce. Vegetarians have slightly higher protein needs because plant-based sources of protein are incomplete. Combining beans, grains, and vegetables in one meal or in one day will compensate for amino acid deficiency if paired optimally. A good example of this would be a lentil rice pilaf.

Consuming more than 35% of your daily calorie intake in protein can lead to serious health conditions. Some of these conditions are kidney malfunction, diabetes, high blood pressure, bone mineral loss, and dehydration. In essence, too much of a good thing is bad.

Be good to yourself! More next time...

No comments: