Protein is the one macronutrient that we get the most overall questions about. People are just unsure because there are so many myths floating around about it that it makes people confused and overwhelmed.
Firstly, we really need to break down the differences between macronutrients and micronutrients so that we are on the same page starting off.
Macro meaning large are the 3 main nutrients that people think of first. They are protein, fats and carbohydrates which most people nowadays call carbs.
Micro meaning small are all of your vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other tiny nutritive substances.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s take a look at the next obvious question before we begin our deep dive into the world of protein.
Disclaimer: The following is for educational purposes only. We are not attempting to diagnose, treat or mitigate any disease or illness. Please seek the advice or council of your nutritionally educated health care practitioner prior to engaging in any changes to your diet or exercise routines.
What Is Protein Exactly?
Protein is comprised of building blocks called amino acids.
Amino acids at their most base levels are crystalline elements containing large amounts of nitrogen and other substances.
These amino acids form a chain with different amino acids in each along with a different number of amino’s in each chain as well.
They are assembled as needed into different, various proteins that have very specific roles and functions.
One group of amino acids may come together and form growth hormone while another forms muscle and another helps for enzymes.
These proteins comprise the third largest portion of your bodily make up. The first is space. Just like everything else on the planet the vast majority of our bodies is space.
The second is water. Males and females differ in their percentages just a bit with females averaging approximately 73.6% and males averaging approximately 70.4%. This makes sense once you calculate the percentages of water in fat VS muscle and then calculate the muscle mass and fat mass of men and women.
The third component is then of course protein or if you break it down into its major chemical constituents, nitrogen.
Other than space and water protein is the macro that holds your body together and makes up the bulk of your muscle, organ tissues, skin and many more.
Let’s just say it’s really important.
Because it’s so important the next question that most people ask is…
How Much Protein Do You Need To Eat?
There are some varying factors such as, are you a man or a woman, an athlete or sedentary and a few other various sundries.
So, let’s break that down, shall we.
Conventional science says that we only need to intake about 56 grams of protein for a normal adult male per day and 46 grams for an average adult female.
However, there are special needs to consider.
These recommendations are to maintain health, not live optimally.
If you are exercising regularly as you should be then you’ll need more than this stated amount.
If you’re under stress you’ll need more, if you’re a bodybuilder as we will cover below then of course you need more, but how much more? Read that section and find out.
How Much Protein Do Bodybuilders Need?
There is a great deal of misinformation out there on this topic. The most credible science is suggesting that 1.4 grams to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is sufficient for most competitive bodybuilders. This is why you’ll see most of the men targeting 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight in the USA in the off season.
The logic is that since your goal is to feed a bigger body along with putting on as much lean tissue as possible and that since protein is the primary constituent of lean tissue that more protein is better.
As with everything though, there are rate limiting factors.
Just because you went from one gram per pound of bodyweight to two grams per pound of bodyweight does not mean that you will grow any faster, and certainly not twice as fast.
There is a limit as to how much protein your body can synthesis in a 24 hour period. It’s not unlimited or you could put on 30 pounds of lean mass per day.
So, as in many things, more is not always better.
Is Too Much Protein Bad For You Or Dangerous?
Yes and no, which leads us to the next question that we get on the dangers of protein where we will answer this question s well.
Can Too Much Protein Damage Your Kidneys?
Here’s where the dangers of protein can come into play. Protein in and of itself is not dangerous. It converts to nitrogen, is held by the nitrogen pools and any excess is just eliminated in the stool or urine.
However, it is possible that too much protein could be damaging to the kidneys but only if they have a preexisting condition that the excess protein exacerbates.
In other words. The protein by itself is not dangerous to the kidneys in reasonable amounts. Even those following the carnivore diet don’t have any issues that are directly caused by the protein.
If they had a kidney or two that were already damaged, sick or diseased then yes, absolutely, more protein than they can comfortably process will start to tax them. Then, protein in excess of that may start to accelerate the disease or damage.
The protein is not really the culprit, it’s the fact that they consumed too much protein while already having kidney challenges.
This is why it’s prudent to go get your kidneys checked if you’re thinking about bodybuilding or going on any of the latest high protein diets.
A very short list of them would be, the keto diet, the carnivore diet, the Atkins diet, the 40-30-30 diet or any other diet that focuses much of its macronutrient profile on protein.
If you’re considering these go get checked by your doctor. Once you’re cleared by them you can go on any of these diets without concern.
Here’s something for you to think about before we move on to the next section.
If high protein or high fat diets in an of themselves were damaging to humans we would have a lot of dead Eskimo’s.
Look at where they live and what they eat. They literally live in a land where nothing grows for most of the year, they’re covered in icepack.
The bulk of their diet’s calories come from fat and protein with very little carbohydrate at all.
This is not isolated to the Eskimo peoples. Other peoples throughout history have done the same or similar all around the planet for various reasons, such as the tribes of Africa, Mongolia, Arab nations and others.
If protein really was the cause, these people would have died out hundreds of years ago.
What Are Animal Based Proteins And Are They Safe?
Animal based proteins are as one would presume those that come from animal sources. Just a short list of these would be, meat, fowl (such as duck, chicken, game hens, turkey etc.), pork, bacon, eggs, milk, cheese, fish, squid and other animal products.
The general safety of most of these products has been well established.
Where the concerns are to be found with them is that they are very susceptible to contamination or bacterial overgrowth.
It is not uncommon for these products to have full blown nationwide recalls because they were found to be contaminated or overrun with bacteria and other agents that like to survive in and on them.
Even when you think you have a farm fresh egg in the shell, untouched. It could still be contaminated by salmonella via the smallest fracture in the eggshell that you never even noticed.
Seafood such as fish, clams and oysters are quite susceptible to bacterial contamination and for best results should always be cooked and consumed fresh out of the waters.
Keeping these things in mind, the vast majority of the animal-based proteins are safe to consume from licensed, inspected and approved vendors.
What Are Plant Based Proteins And Are They Safe?
They are as they sound, made from all source plant material. However, there is some confusion about the term ‘plant based’ because based does not mean 100%. Based can just as easily mean that its base or the majority of or its foundation is from plants and that there could be other ingredients that are from animal sources.
The industry really needs to come up with a better term than this, this term means nonexclusive just in its definition. If one thing is the base of an object like a steel disc can be the base of a lamp, it could still be a lava lamp and be called steel based.
Plant based proteins have an even longer track record of safety than their meat or animal sourced proteins because humans first ate plant-based proteins after weening.
These were the easiest and safest to gather as the first animal proteins were quite likely insects, many of which were poisonous or had painful venomous stings.
Next on the list were likely carcasses. But these could come at a high price. You generally had to steal a piece from the animals that killed it. If you got caught you could easily pay with your life.
What are plant based proteins?
Well, they are generally every type of plant that you eat, as most all plants have at least some proteins in them, even most fruits.
Some plants are prized for their protein content and are what most think of when they speak of plant-based proteins. These are, but are not limited to, soy, wheat, nuts, seeds, some various grains and many others.
As far as safety, they are some of the safest foods you can eat, so long as they were not contaminated and are organic.
In fact, you’d have a seriously hard time beating the safety record of plant foods.
Yes, our ancestors had to do some trial and error because some berries tasted great and some killed you, but over a few generations they figured it out.
Are Plant Based Proteins Better For You Than Meat?
As just one example, a study published in the BMJ stated that: “After adjustment for the effects of smoking, body mass index, and socioeconomic status death rate ratios in non-meat eaters compared with meat eaters were 0.72 (0.47 to 1.10) for ischaemic heart disease and 0.61 (0.44 to 0.84) for all cancers.”
This was a 12-year mortality study performed in the United Kingdom on 6,115 nonmeat eaters and 5015 meat eaters.
There are hundreds of studies that we could quote, but the best evidence is just logic.
Take a look at the average human, he has his abdomen to the front for easy injuries. Dogs, cats, wolves and lions have a heavy muscled front to absorb strikes and their soft parts are to the rear and hidden making them far less vulnerable.
Predators of the oceans or the lands generally have sharp teeth, beaks or fangs, humans have none.
Predators generally have claws or talons, humans have none.
Predators are either guile or fast, humans are slow and clumsy.
When humans see fresh roadkill with its guts hanging out, we say ‘gross’ and some even want to puke.
If you were a predator, you’d get hungry and start salivating.
And for the last piece of common-sense evidence. If you take a baby bunny and an apple and put it into a hungry child’s play pen they will play with the rabbit and eat the apple, not the other way around like a predator would.
This shows that plant foods are generally safe, well tolerated and have been the mainstay of human diets since our beginnings.