Protein – How Much and How Often
All the muscle-builders are jacking up on protein these days. I will walk you through many of the tidbits I have learned, and come to accept, after a ton of my own research.
What is Protein?
Proteins make up every cell in our bodies. They are formed from chains of amino acids. When we digest protein, it is broken down into its amino acids, then used for our metabolism (fuel). This is why it is said that we do not actually store protein; we absorb what is needed and burn the rest off1.
Not all proteins are created equal. Complete proteins grant us all of the essential amino acids our bodies need (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and other animal-based foods). Incomplete proteins are low in some essential amino acids. When combined correctly, these incomplete proteins form full chains of the essential amino acids. Examples include nuts/seeds with apples, rice with beans, and many more2.
How Much and How Often?
The consumption quantity and frequency of food vs. synthetic protein is very confusing to most people. It’s no wonder! The information available on this subject is so diverse and spread out. Again, the below statements are what I have garnered from the plethora of data that exists.
- You can consume as much food protein as your body needs for absorption3.
- You can consume food protein as often as your body needs for absorption3.
- You should not consume more than 1 typical serving size (20-30 grams) of synthetic protein (shake/powder/bar) within 90 to 120 minutes (1.5 to 2 hours).
- I am uncertain about ingesting food protein and synthetic protein at the same time. My current usage dictates that I can eat food protein with up to 20-30 g of synthetic protein within a 90 to 120-minute window. However, I reserve this option for times that I cannot avoid separating the two due to my schedule.
How Much is Too Much?
Eating more protein than is needed by your body is generally not the best idea. I say, “generally,” because most people can definitely get away with eating more protein than they need. However, most people usually eat moderate amounts of extra protein; not huge amounts extra. Eating much more than you need can lead to kidney overdrive, then dehydration. If you keep it up too long, you risk muscle loss, bone calcium loss, heart strain, and further kidney strain4. The key to all of this is to make sure that you increase your exercise and caloric intake if you increase your protein consumption. Your body simply cannot store protein; it can only absorb what it needs. An excessive amount that is not absorbed must be processed by your kidneys. Drink enough water, regardless (but not too much)!
Does Protein Degrade in Liquid?
Protein does not generally degrade in liquid, like creatine does, due to its structure. Feel free to mix your protein powder, scramble your egg whites, and mix your Accelerade (or most other recovery drink) the night before. The only exceptions are mixes that contain creatine. Some protein mixes and recovery drinks include creatine in their ingredients. For example, the P90X Recovery Drink and Endurox both have creatine. This would only affect the benefits of the creatine, however; not the protein. Accelerade does not contain creatine and is safe to pre-mix regardless.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help
Use your head and think about what you are doing as logically as possible. Often, you will have a great deal of common-sense that sheds light on these health topics.
I recommend that you listen to the experts when changing your diet or exercise. I consider Tony Horton and his P90X team experts. I also consider professional nutritionists and trainers experts; as long as they let me see their credentials in their field. If you are unsure about anything, instead of risking your health, consult an expert; which I am not.
1 Source: “Protein” on Wikipedia.com.
3 Any protein that is consumed will only be absorbed by your muscles if they need it. If you are not working out, you will not absorb a whole lot of protein. On the other hand, during bouts of extreme workouts (P90X), your muscles will need a lot of protein in order to repair the micro-tears your workout deals them. Repairing those micro-tears involves a slight build-up of muscle; much like a callous. This results in your muscles growing.