Protein Power

By Sara Scheler

February 26, 2014

Do you want to bulk up? Build muscle? Get that six-pack you have always dreamed of?

I have the solution for you!

I’m sure you have heard plenty of these claims and seen them plastered all over supplements, protein powders and smoothie mixes. It seems every company has the best and newest solution to burn fat and build muscle.

First, it is important to remember that many of the models used to sell these products are made to look fit through photo manipulation or use steroids to build muscle, which are very dangerous and can throw off your hormone balance.

Second, from a nutritional standpoint, many of these fad products are dangerous, especially when used as meal replacers. Protein powders and mixes often contain a long list of ingredients, many of them questionable. These items are often packed with sugar, soy products and artificial flavors. Some products boast that they have the perfect combination of easily digestible amino acids, but what they don’t tell you is that too many amino acids forces your body to choose which ones it can absorb, which can cause nutrient deficiencies.

If you want to build muscle, eating lots of protein is not the answer. Your body converts excess protein to fat through a complex process called gluconeogenesis. If you consume more protein than your body needs and do not expend this energy, you can end up gaining weight.

Going low-carb is also not a good solution. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for your body’s metabolism—fat and protein can also be broken down to produce energy but this process is more difficult. 

Shedding fat and building muscle can be accomplished by a pretty simple method: exercise and eat a balanced diet. Of course, everyone’s body is different and results will depend on the person, but this is a good place to start.

The USDA recommends consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, with many nutritionists recommending even more. Fruits and vegetables protect your body against the harmful oxidation that happens when your cells metabolize glucose, so the more you exercise, the more produce you should consume.

Grains are part of a balanced diet, but the type of grain you consume is very important. Whole grains contain much more filling fiber and nutrients than refined grains, so wheat bread is always better than white. Brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn and quinoa are also good options.

Yogurts, cheese and other dairy products are important because of the vitamin D and calcium they contain, which helps with bone health.

Fats and oils should be consumed in moderation, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Increasing your consumption of olive oil, avocados, fish and nuts and lowering your intake of fried foods, butter, shortening, margarine and fatty meats is a great way to keep your heart and your body healthy.

To calculate your daily-recommended protein intake, fill in the table below:

First, figure out your protein needs. For low activity level, write 0.36 in the first box. If you do at least 40 minutes of exercise 4 days per week, write 0.54 in the box. If you are an in-season athlete who does consistent resistance training, put 0.60 in the box. If you are an athlete who regularly cross-trains (basketball, cross-country, etc.), write 0.71 (note: athletes require a wide range of protein needs, depending on their gender and activity level. This is just an estimate).

Now, what does this number mean? Well, milk and yogurt typically have 8 grams of protein per 1 cup serving, eggs contain 6 grams each and meat has about 28 grams per 4 ounce serving (about the size of your fist). 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or one-fourth cup of almonds will give you 8 grams of protein. You can find lists of the protein content in popular foods online and assess your current diet to determine if you need to increase or decrease your protein intake.

While it may not be possible to look like a body-builder unless you use steroids, healthy muscles can be built and maintained through regular, varying exercises and a balanced diet made up of produce, dairy, whole grains and the proper amount of protein.

Sources: Protein needs table and information adapted from University of Arizona Extension