Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eat Less but Enough

How much do you actually need to eat each day?  Well, that depends on a number of factors.  We already looked at caloric intake the other day but calories are not the whole story.  You can increase calories and still lose weight and you can reduce calories and gain weight.  Weight gain and loss is not the goal of this blog but gaining or losing weight can indicate you are either eating more than you need or not enough.  Let's look at PROTEIN.

Protein is the building block of your body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and your body uses them to build or repair new cells in your body.  There are something like twenty known amino acids that form the various proteins that we need.  Some of these our body can create from other molecules but some we cannot make.  The amino acids that we cannot make are called, "Essential Amino Acids".  Those you have to have in your food.  A good, well rounded diet will provide most of these nutrients.  There is usually only a problem if you are on some sort of a restricted diet or are a vegan.  Most commercial protein drinks contain most or all of the essential amino acids so if you are really stressing your body through work or athletic training, you might want to consider them.

How much protein do you need every day?  Again, that depends on many factors.  Gender, size, and activity level all impact your protein needs.  A typical male, relatively fit and average activity level needs about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  Grams and KILOGRAMS?  Sorry, most of this medical science stuff is in the metric system.  One kilogram equals two point two (2.2) pounds. 

So the formula is: your weight in pounds, divided by 2.2, multiplied by 0.8

I weigh 200 lbs.  So I divide 200 by 2.2, which equals 90.91.  Then multiply that by 0.8, which equals 72.72.  Round it up and if I were an average guy I would need about 73 grams of protein per day to meet my average protein requirements.  Since I am a Soldier and I work out pretty hard, I need to increase my protein intake to about 1.4 - 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight to repair the damage I do every day. That comes out to somewhere between 127 and 164 grams of protein a day when I am working out hard.  This is presuming you are also getting adequate calories because your body looks for calories first and will burn protein for calories if it needs to.  Protein is an inefficient source of calories but the human body is programed to feed the brain and other vital organs first and that takes calories.

Most younger American men eat too much protein and most American women eat too little protein. Men typically overestimate how hard they are working out and they eat a lot of meat.  Women tend to not eat quite as much meat, a principle source of complete proteins, as men do.  Protein is usually the most expensive part of your diet so if your food budget is restricted you need to monitor your protein intake closely.

What happens if you eat too little protein? The following are some common symptoms.
  • Edema - A collection of fluid under the skin, which most commonly affects the legs, feet, and ankles, but can occur anywhere on the body.
  • Weight loss
  • Thinning or brittle hair, hair loss
  • Ridges or deep lines in finger and toe nails
  • Skin becomes very light, burns easily in the sun
  • Reduced pigmentation in the hair on scalp and body
  • Skin rashes, dryness, flakiness
  • General weakness and lethargy
  • Muscle soreness and weakness, cramps
  • Slowness in healing wounds, cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Bedsores and other skin ulcers
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headache
  • Nausea and stomach pain
  • Fainting
Not all of the symptoms of protein deficiency are physical. Some are emotional or mental, and include:
  • Crankiness, moodiness
  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of energy, no desire to do things
What happens if you eat too much protein?  Well, your body cannot store excess protein so any excess will be wasted; an expensive waste.  There are four calories in every gram of protein so most of it will be converted into energy.  If you use that energy, fine, but if you don't it will be stored as fat; and expensive way to get fat.  Excess protein causes a strain on the kidneys and can lead to kidney stones, depleted calcium, and in the worst cases - Gout.  Gout is caused by an accumulation of uric acid (a by-product of metabolizing excess proteins) in the body.

How much protein is in your food and how do you keep track of it?  Almost all food labels will show the number of grams of protein per serving size of the food item.  Most people eat more than a serving size so you will have to do some estimating.  Make sure you add all the odds and ends that go into your meal.  The protein in the cheese on your taco adds to that of the hamburger and shell.  Online sites can give you the average protein content of common foods.  If you do not have some sort of diet restriction, just make sure to eat a good mix of animal (meat), dairy, and vegetable protein sources.

I don't eat a whole lot of meat; partially because of the cost and partly because of health concerns.  I try to eat small amounts throughout the day and supplement that with lots of veggies, non-fat dairy products, and real bread (subject of an up-coming blog).  On days that I do hard workouts in the gym, I drink a protein shake right before going to bed.  Most of your muscle repair and building takes place while you sleep.  If you have limits on your protein intake due to costs and availability, try to eat your protein first thing in the morning (breakfast) and/or right before you go to bed.  This will limit the amount that is used for energy and maximize its use as it is intended to be used.

1 comment:

  1. Your list of symptoms indicate I need a big ol' slab of steak. :o)