1. Bioavailability AND Amino Acid Profile

The emphasis of having enough protein in your diet can not be stated enough. It’s the most important of the macronutrients (i.e. fat, carbs) and used by every cell in the body. But, not all proteins are created equal. When considering protein sources you should factor in its bioavailability and amino acid profile. What do I mean?

Bioavailability refers to the ability of the protein sources to be broken down, digested, and used to make other proteins. This is important because this let’s us know how much of the protein is actually absorbed versus excreted by the body. Let’s say you consume 20g of protein from soy. You might only absorb and process 20% of the protein while the rest is removed. However, if you consume the same amount of protein from meat you body might absorb 35% of the protein. That’s a massive difference and can have incredible effects on your hormone regulation, cellular functions, etc.

Second, we need to understand the amino acid profile. To keep things simple there are 20 amino acids that make up protein BUT only 9 of these are essential which means the body and need an outside source such as milk or meat can’t make them.  If your protein source does not these 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) then you’ll shortchange the benefits your body can gain from consuming enough protein.

  • Thermic Effect

When you consume food your body uses energy to process, absorb, and excrete the remains. This requires energy usage and protein has the highest thermic effect of any macronutrient.  Nearly 10% of the calories our bodies burn every day are due to processing the food in our diet. So, logic would stand that the more protein you consume the more energy should be burned, right? Not so fast.

While it is true more protein in ones diet can help burn more calories through digestion, this varies greatly from person to person. The two biggest factors are muscle mass and physical activity. The more muscle mass you have and the more rigorous (i.e. muscle damaging) your training program then the greater thermic protein will have on your diet. Over time these calories add up. In addition, protein is the most satiating food sources. So, you’ll feel full longer and sooner than if you ate less protein.

  • Survive AND Thrive

Your body is very efficient at using multiple sources for energy. Even on a diet with only protein and fat the body has several processes to convert those sources to energy. In other words, carbohydrates are not essential for survival.  This is not an argument to follow a zero carb diet. Far from it. We’re simply pointing out the hierarchy of carbohydrate intake when compared to protein and fat.

Unlike carbohydrates, some fat is essential to our diet (specially, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid). We call these fats EFAs (essential fatty acids). After 50 years of research we’ve learned that even a diet that has zero fat consumption from fat specific sources (i.e. butter, nuts) the body can utilize the fat from meat sources to offset any negative effects from “zero” fat consumption. So, while fat is essential it takes a great a long on a purely fat free diet for the body to suffer fat deficiencies.

What have we learned so far? First, carbohydrates are non-essential due to the body finding other sources of energy so we’re never truly in a carbohydrate deficieny. Second, we’ve learned that fat sources, while essential, can be used from meat based sources preventing any issues that might arise from a diet with zero fat (outside of animal fat of course). That leaves us with only one macronutrient for survival: protein.

Yes, you can actually be protein deficient even if you are eating a diet with enough calories (let’s say 2,000 kcal for the average person). That’s a lot of calories to consume with little benefit that protein brings to the table and which carbs and fats can’t make up. The best example of this is done through a protein-sparing modified fast (PSMF).  During this fast obese subjects are subjected to consuming only the needed amount of protein for their diets (averaging 102g per day) while not consuming any forms of fats or carbs. In order to maintain overall health during the study subjects were given vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Over the course of 4 months subjects lost an average of 2.7lbs per week. At the end of the study 84% of the weight lost was fat (the remainder was water and a minor amount of muscle). In addition, all of the subjects had minimal negative health side effects by not consuming carbs or fat.

So, there you have it! Protein is the winner!


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