Protein and Dieting

As previously promised today will mark the start of a series on nutrition and dieting. My goal is to help you understand how your body uses different nutrients and how you can maximize fat loss by eating properly and exercising.

Truth of the matter is any diet will work for a period of time. The glut of information and misinformation we are constantly exposed to makes it even harder to know how to properly go about losing weight and keep it off. Instead of denying yourself the foods you desire, you must learn to eat in moderation and allow yourself “cheat days”. Your health is a lifelong process, and your diet must reflect that. Most diets are arduously torturous and you revert back to old eating habits once you have lost the desired weight. I will show you how to avoid all that. First though we must understand the body and what we put in it, so lets begin.

Your body has evolved over many, many years into the efficient and amazing machine that we take for granted today. There was no bottled water, potato chips, soda or processed foods when man first appeared. Man started eating twigs, berries and what ever was available at the time. As we became hunters, meat was introduced into our diet. All the while our bodies managed to keep us active, vital human beings. It did that because the body does one thing well: it survives.

You must understand that your body does not want to diet. It seeks a state of homeostasis, which is a perfect balance, not too much, not too little. It doesn’t care if you carry a little bit of extra weight or fat. As a matter of fact it wants that fat and weight so it can have some fuel in reserve. Your body fights dieting like it fights infections, colds, cuts, etc. It treats it as a hostile act and tries to stamp it out. You must learn to beat the body at its own game and win.

The only things your body needs to survive are air, water and food. It doesn’t care what food tastes like or where it comes from. Its sole purpose is survival. We humans create an emotional attachment to food. Your body can care less if Wolfgang Puck prepared the meal you are about to eat. Unfortunately food brings out intense feelings in human beings. Who amongst us doesn’t have a favorite food, a comfort food? What were we taught as children? You cannot leave the table unless you finish everything on your plate. Combine that with all the ads for food, availability of junk food and our dwindling time, and its no wonder 1 out of every 3 Americans is obese.

In order to facilitate fat loss you must think your body as a fine automobile and food as the fuel that powers it. I have used this metaphor in the past but it is spot on. If you own a Ferrari or a Bentley you use the finest gas and oil available. Yet we put toxic foods in our bodies daily. As goes the car so goes your body. Even at rest it needs fuel. It needs energy in order to breathe, to pump blood, even to read this article. This is why you need to give the body the right nutrients in the right amounts, at the right time. When you starve your body it doesn’t perform as it is should. If you starve a car of fuel what happens? It stops running. Well your body is not much different. When you starve it of calories it slows down considerably. When you do finally eat it will store most of the nutrients for later, because it knows it will be deprived of fuel. That’s why starvation diets are a horrible idea and never truly work.

Every 72 hours your body evaluates its caloric needs. It calculates how much energy it expended and how much fuel was taken in and adjusts accordingly. A shortage is perceived as a threat to survival. This is why weight loss on a starvation diet will cease almost immediately. This is also why a diet always hits a plateau. Your body adapts to the deprivation by adjusting expenditure. It has outwitted its opponent and survived yet again.

Protein is the only macronutrient that will support lean mass in the body. Lean mass is muscle tissue, and bone. Protein is responsible for repair, growth, repair and maintenance of all body tissue, so you can see why I think it’s the most important macronutrient. Working out, running, or even just standing in line cause wear and tear on your body. Lifting weights build muscle tissue, but what occurs first is the breakdown of said tissue. Microscopic tears in the muscle occur and must be repaired by the body. If you wonder why you are sore after a workout it is because of the breakdown of muscle tissue. Protein repairs those tears and you become stronger the next time out. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is something you have heard countless times. Protein is also needed for the formation of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. It is the main source of building material for muscle, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. As a bonus protein heats up your metabolism by consuming more calories when ingested than other macronutrients such as carbohydrates, and fats. This is what is known as the thermic effect of food. Food needs to be broken down in order to be absorbed and this takes energy. Protein requires more energy expenditure than fat or carbohydrates in order to be utilized by the body.

Ok so now that I have shown you how important protein is, how much do you need and when? I favor a high protein diet but my needs are much different than the average person. A good rule of thumb for everyone is 1 g per pound of lean mass(1) you weigh. Active people should consume 1.5 to 2 g per pound of lean mass. You need to consume protein with every meal as it cannot be stored and what is not immediately used is processed by the kidneys and excreted (25-40 g per meal is adequate). If you don’t the body will turn to lean muscle for fuel and not fat as many think. Fat is the last thing your body wants to use as it provides insurance for survival. I will address that in another newsletter.

Protein is rated by its biological value; a measure, which shows how well a food, is utilized. The best protein is the egg (natures perfect food) which has a biovalue of 100, closely followed by beef, poultry, and fish. Milk is in the 80th percentile while soy is somewhere in the 60th percentile. I have said this time and time again but soy is a very poor source of protein. Keep your proteins lean by buying lean meats, chicken, and fish. When in a need, a Ready to Drink Protein shake can supplement your intake by providing a low calorie high quality protein source with very little fat. After all if you are trying to lose weight caloric intake should be adjusted, but not depended on as the only means to create caloric deficit.

Protein intake throughout the day keeps your metabolism elevated thereby burning more calories at rest. It also helps to balance blood sugar levels so nutrients are optimally used.

Eating small meals throughout the day helps to keep nitrogen levels balanced. Nitrogen is what keeps your muscle hard and firm. When you are in a negative nitrogen state your body and its muscles feel soft and “squishy”. When muscle is not healthy the body will use it as energy, which is the last thing you need. I advocate 4-5 small meals throughout the day to achieve positive nitrogen balance, regulate blood sugar, and keep you from feeling starved. Make protein your ally in fighting fat.

Next newsletter: “Carbs: Friend or Foe?”

(1) Lean mass is calculated by figuring out your body fat percentage( body fat scales or calipers work well) then subtracting that weight from your total weight. Example if you weigh 200 lbs and your body fat % is 30%, your body fat weight is 60lbs. You then subtract 60 lbs from 200 and your lean mass is 140 lbs.

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