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Besides the repetitive arguments over the quantity and quality, the precise timing is also of importance, but have we become too obsessed with protein?

Protein fixation: Valid or not?

In the dietary debate around macronutrient ratios, one source reigns supreme

In the question for constant physical progression and performance enhancement, the age-old debate on the importance of protein resurfaces time and time again in gym circles and even among coaches and hard-training athletes.

In the one corner dieticians warn us against the excessive consumption of protein while others continue singing its praises for boosting recovery and aiding muscle growth, and rightly so. Besides the repetitive arguments over the quantity and quality, the precise timing is also of importance, but have we become too obsessed with protein?

What’s all the fuss about?

There is no question that protein is a big deal in a society caught between a spike in obesity statistics and a trend to eat and lead a healthier life. Athletes have known for decades the longer and harder you train the more protein you need to stop the offset of muscle-derived amino acids that the body cannibalises during exercise.

An average person needs around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight a day which adds up to approximately 56 grams for males and 46 grams for females, according to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine.

Protein needs are however highly dependent on what sort of life you lead. If it is a predominantly sedentary one where you only walk from your office to your car and then to the dinner table before falling asleep in front of the TV – all the protein you consumed during the day won’t be converted into muscle as the body repairs itself but instead will be stored and if left unused, turn into fat.

Protein overload questioned

Some nutritional experts don’t believe in additional requirements saying that it is a myth construed by clever marketers to sell truckloads of protein.

Looking at scientific literature, experts often cite studies such as the one conducted by Hartman et al. (2006) as credible evidence that it is not necessary to ingest very large amounts of protein during training as muscle and strength could also increase on a relatively low protein intake of between 1.2 and 1.6g/kgBW/day.

It is further argued that the consumption of processed and red meats, as well as foods rich in saturated fat and protein, have been linked to high rates of cancer and heart disease. Overdosing on protein will only put extra pressure on a person’s kidneys which could lead to digestive problems and long-term health issues with a build-up of insulin, ammonia and other toxic substances in the bloodstream.

Protein proponents, on the other hand, support an intake of between 1.6g/kg to 1.8g/kg for hard-training athletes who need more protein in a surplus rather than in a deficit. A diet high in eggs, steak and chicken breasts is recommended to build muscle, aid fat loss and support the immune system.

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