One of the most common misinterpretations I have encountered working with teens wishing to build muscle is their version of protein consumption. That is, the more protein they consume, the more muscle mass they will build. This misunderstanding is a result of “super-hype” marketing combined with some key points that can frequently be neglected in the process of understanding its role in muscle development.
Protein falls into one of three groups of foods called macronutrients — the other two being fats and carbohydrates. There is absolutely no doubt that we need protein. It serves many significant roles, including muscle repair and development, assistance with immunity from disease and improved wound healing. Consumption of protein also puts the body into a state of thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is a fancy word that means “increased heat,” which in the body is a result of the increased metabolic demands of all cells during the digestion of this macronutrient, and results in greater expenditure of calories in the digestion process.
Protein is comprised of smaller units or building blocks called amino acids. The protein you consume is either “complete” or “incomplete,” which signifies whether it has all 21 amino acids (some argue that there are 22) or needs to be complemented with the consumption of additional amino acids to make it complete.
The most common complete proteins are found in chicken, fish, red meat, eggs and milk and cheese. It can also be found in soybeans, tofu and other soy-based products. The key, however, is to prepare proteins using a method that minimizes fat intake. This can be done through selection of leaner cuts and prepared by baking, broiling, barbecue or even boiling.
Those who are vegans should develop an understanding of the amino acid combinations necessary through consumption of grains, vegetables and nuts that will create a complete protein. For example, corn eaten with black beans makes a complete protein.
The volumes of information we have gathered about protein prompts the question, “how much is enough” and “is eating more necessarily better for us?” Generally, nutritionists use a formula of multiplying our weight in pounds by .37 to reveal the total grams of protein we need on a daily basis.
Although controversial, there is increasing scientific research that demonstrates distance runners and those performing intense resistance training benefit by eating 1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per pound of lean mass.
Consuming copious amounts of protein and countless protein shakes absent of the workout and muscle breakdown to justify its consumption will do only one thing — add unused calories to the body which ultimately get stored as fat.
A common urban legend is that protein “damages kidneys.” Protein by itself does not damage kidneys. It will, however, add to the complications of those who suffer from kidney disease.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and online at http://theflashpoint.org and http://VictorFitnessSystems.com.