We have arrived at the third installment of this epic three part series.
If you missed Parts 1 and 2, get the hell out of here!
No seriously, catch up.
You can check out Part 1, here.
And Part 2, here.
For those of you that have already done so, congratulations on being awesome.
Now, let’s get this party started, shall we?
Proteins are the building blocks of life.
Every single cell in our bodies is made up of proteins.
They are found in virtually every body part and tissue, including our skin and hair.
They make up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions, and even make up the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood.
At least 10,000 different kinds of protein make up the human body and keep it that way.
Amino Acids –
The building blocks of protein are known as amino acids.
The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.
Amino acids are classified into 3 groups:
Essential, Nonessential, and Conditional.
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through food.
They include phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lycine, and histidine.
Nonessential amino acids can be made by the body in the normal breakdown of protein.
They include alanine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, and serine.
Conditional amino acids are synthesized by the human body, but can be limited under times of catabolic stress and/or illness.
These include arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine.
Complete Protein Vs. Incomplete Protein –
A complete protein, or “whole” protein, is a source of protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Generally speaking, proteins derived from animal foods (meat, eggs, fish, dairy) are complete.
Most plant based foods are incomplete protein sources, meaning that they are missing at least one or more of the essential 9 amino acids.
Some notable exceptions, however, include chia seeds, quinoa, buckwheat, Ezekiel bread, and hemp seed.
Protein Synthesis –
Many of us have heard about the so called benefits of eating a “high protein” diet.
Athletes, as well as folks just looking to burn fat and build muscle, can definitely benefit from increased protein intake in their diets.
The truth is, though, that the numbers we have been told to consume in the bodybuilding magazines, and what our bro‘s tell us to eat to “get large,” are vastly exaggerated.
Anyone that’s every tried to eat their body weight in grams of protein (or more) will tell you that you probably don’t want to stand too close to them whenever they’re around.
When your body breaks down protein, nitrogen is left over.
When you consume too much, this puts your body in a “positive” nitrogen balance.
The result of this speaks (and smells) for itself.
So how much protein do we really need then?
Brad Pilon, author of “How Much Protein,” breaks down the science quite well.
In a nut shell, only about 20-25 grams (depending on the person) of protein is required for protein synthesis.
Protein synthesis is the process by which amino acids are linearly arranged into proteins, and is essential to the body’s ongoing growth, repair, and maintenance of its skeletal muscle groups.
After that 20-25 grams of protein is consumed, protein synthesis is “maximized” for the next four hours.
That means that any amount of protein consumed over 25 grams (per serving) does more for your … um…. aura than it does for your muscles.
So if the maximum amount of protein required for protein synthesis in a single serving is 25 grams, and that lasts 4 hours, and there are 24 hours in a day, that would mean that 150 grams of protein would be the absolute MOST anyone would need to eat in a day – and that’s if you’re a pretty big active dude.
The average person looking to build muscle and lose body fat would probably be just fine consuming between 70 and 120 grams per day, depending on the their age, gender, and activity level of course.
Practical Application –
Humans evolved as omnivorous creatures, meaning that we can survive on a wide variety of food sources that can and do include lots of plants and animals.
That said, I titled this post “Healthy Fats, Good Carbs, Clean Protein.”
What do I mean by “clean” protein?
A clean protein is one that is not only good for our bodies, but also has the least amount of negative impact on our planet in regards to its production and consumption.
While it is true that we evolved as opportunistic feeders, pretty much consuming whatever was around, the fact is that this does not need to be the case anymore.
We have choices over what we eat and the foods we buy.
If you’re reading this on your personal computer, or cell phone, or iPad, then you’re probably fortunate enough to be fastidious about what goes into your body.
We learned in this post that we don’t need nearly as much protein as what the magazines tell us.
And according to most scientists, global food production, specifically that of meat in general, is the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and fresh water consumption.
So while I don’t think we need to go to any extremes or give up eating meat entirely, I do think we could eat less meat in general, and that when we do consume animal products, that they are raised in a sustainable and humane fashion.
A hemp protein shake for breakfast, 4 eggs for lunch, and an 8 oz grass fed steak for dinner puts you at around 100 grams of protein for the day.
That’s not even including the additional protein consumed in the other foods we should be ingesting like fruits, veggies, oats, nuts and seeds.
As you can see, that’s well into the average of what most of us will need to lose fat and build muscle, and probably much less – in terms of meat consumption – than what most of society consumes on a daily basis.
So, as the omnivorous creatures we still are, we should look to get our protein from a wide variety of plant and animal based sources, being mindful of our personal health as well as our environmental footprint.