Protein: Separating Fact from Fiction

Everybody knows that protein is critical in building muscle.

But there exist common misconceptions about protein’s specific role in your body, how much protein you actually need, and what protein can do for weight loss. With all of the buzz around high-protein diets, it’s easy to get lost in the slew of information.

Below are some tips to help you navigate through the misinformation to figure out what’s right for you.

What Does Protein Do? 

We all know that we need protein to build muscles, but its use in your body goes beyond that. Your body also uses protein to building and repairing tissues, create blood, skin, produce chemicals, and much more.

Along with fat and carbohydrates, your body needs large amounts of protein to function properly. Collectively, all three of these are called macronutrients.

But protein works a bit differently than the other two macronutrients. Your body has stores of fat and carbohydrates, but not a store of excess protein. So your body needs a steady, daily supply of protein.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

There seems to a fear among many people that they aren’t getting enough protein in their diets.

However, in many cases, this fear is wildly unfounded.

According to the Dietary Reference Intake issued by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences the recommended intake for grams of protein for an adult is a little over one-third of a person’s body weight in pounds.

For example: A person who weighs 160 pounds would multiple their weight by 0.36 and the resulting amount, 57.6, is the number of grams of protein to consume per day. (160 X 0.36 = 57.6g)

However, for those who are weight-training with the intention of increasing muscle mass, the intake of grams of protein for an adult can be between 54% and 90% of a person’s body weight in pounds.

For example: Someone who weighs 160 pounds that is weight-training with the goal to increase muscle mass would multiply their weight by .54 or .90, and the resulting amount is the number of grams of protein to consume per day. (160 X .54 = 86.4g or 160 X .90 = 144g)

Anyone interested in increasing protein should consult their doctor before deciding to add more than the recommended daily allowance, in order to best judge his or her particular circumstances. Long-term diets with excessive protein have been linked to osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease.

Can A High-Protein Diet Help With Weight Loss?

Yes and no.

Weight loss is achieved by maintaining a negative calorie balance, or taking in fewer calories than necessary for your body to maintain your current weight.

A high-protein diet (any diet above the daily recommended allowance from the Dietary Reference Index) can affect your satiety, ultimately making you feel fuller. This is an important for measure for anyone dieting to lose weight. If you feel hungry all the time, you’re less likely to stick to a diet.

By consuming a high-protein diet, you can feel fuller from fewer calories and encourage your body to lose weight.

But your body requires a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. It is not necessary, nor recommended by most health professionals, to consume a diet that resolves completely around a high intake of protein. You should be eating a diet balanced in protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

As with most diets, by switching to a high-protein diet you are likely to see an immediate weight loss, as your body burns stores of its fat and carbohydrates. But these results will not necessarily continue as you maintain the diet.

Will A High-Protein Diet Increase Muscle Mass?

A high-protein diet alone is not enough for gaining muscle. Overall strength and muscle growth is impacted by the combined effectiveness of a training regimen and diet. From NIH studies, it appears that an effective training regimen to promote muscle growth and strength should: last at least 10-12 weeks, consist of three to five weekly sessions, and include compound lifts that include both the upper and lower body.

Is A High-Protein Shake in the Morning Good Enough?

For those looking to increase muscle mass, studies have shown that one of the keys to protein intake isn’t just how much you consume, but when you consume it.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “protein supplementation either pre- and/or post-workout increases physical performance, training session recovery, lean body mass, muscle [growth], and strength.”

To get the most of protein it’s important to figure out how much is right for you, and what your goals are for your body.

Author: Mike Treadway

Michael Treadway is a writer based in Los Angeles, California. His current goals are to swim a mile in the ocean, and do 100 pushups in a row.