Fitness is so much more than just working out and most of my clients are very aware of how their diet directly impacts their healthy weight goals. As a personal trainer I get asked all of the time about protein and how it impacts our bodies. What is protein and why does our body need it? Protein is a macronutrient necessary for our bodies to build, maintain and repair tissues. It is what our body uses for bone, cartilage, muscle, hair, nails, skin, blood, enzymes and hormones. Without protein, our bodies are unable to maintain proper health.
High protein, low carb diets are all the rage and there is good reason for such. Our bodies use more energy to breakdown proteins than it does digesting fats and carbs. We are burning calories just digesting protein! We feel full longer than we would if we ate carbs or fats too because it takes longer for our bodies to process. While protein isn’t our main source of energy; it is used as a fuel source. Approximately 5% of all calories burned comes from protein. This amount increases as our activity level increases. For all of my workout peeps, we burn approximately 10-15% during our workouts. When you go to the gym and you see a bodybuilder working out, you will often see them drinking a protein shake or eating protein after. Our bodies need to replenish the amino acids used during the workouts and assist in the muscle building and repair process. In addition to burning more protein during our workouts, we also have to consider the length of time and level of intensity of these workouts. If we are not eating the proper amounts of carbohydrates, which is our main source of energy, then our bodies will need to utilize even more protein. So once you have burned your carbohydrates and fats; the body will break down the protein in your system and begin burning it as energy. Since our body doesn’t keep a large storage supply of protein, the muscle tissues themselves are what gets broken down.
How much protein does the average person need? According to the institute of medicine, .8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. So an average woman weighing 150 lbs would need approximately 54.4 grams of protein per day. An athlete weighing 150 lbs should eat around 112 grams of protein per day. A person who is more sedentary needs less protein and generally less calories than a person who is more active. Another thing to consider is that as workouts become more intense, more energy is used. Food is our energy and fuel so if we think of our bodies as cars and food as gas…we can get a better understanding of why our bodies need more protein at higher activity levels. Does that make sense? We wouldn’t fill up our gas tanks for our cars to sit in a garage.
Just like anything else though, we can get too much protein in our system. Women generally shouldn’t consume more than 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. So for the same 150 lb woman who should consume at least 54 grams of protein per day; she should consume no more than 170 grams per day. Eating too much protein can cause someone to gain weight, have diarrhea, nausea and even death.
Sound a little confusing? The basics are to make sure you are getting sufficient amounts of protein in your bodies for the activity level at which you live your life. Should your activities increase in intensity then your protein levels should also increase. More miles equals more fuel. Protein is powerful, but just as with any powerful tool we need to use it wisely.
1 Corinthians 10:31 – So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.