Taking an in Depth Look at Protein

Taking an in Depth Look at Protein

Protein, the king macronutrient when it comes to building lean muscle tissue. Everyone knows the overall importance of it; yet, so many people don’t know how much to consume, when to take it, the differences between the types of proteins, ETC. Let’s first begin with a brief overview of this ever-so important macronutrient protein.

In the body, a protein is a special type of molecule that is comprised of substances known as amino acids. Think of amino acids as the “building blocks” of proteins…without amino acids, the body can’t create protein molecules.

There are many types of proteins in the body, and they perform a wide variety of functions ranging from the replication and repair of DNA, to cell signaling, to the formation of tissues and other substances like hair and nails, and more significantly to us athletes—the formation of muscle tissue.

The building of “muscle proteins” (the types of protein molecules that our muscles are made of) requires a variety of amino acids, some of which must be obtained from food (these are known as “essential” amino acids).When you eat a food that contains protein, your body breaks the protein molecules in the food down into the amino acids that they are comprised of, and then uses those amino acids to build its own proteins. If you eat too few grams of protein every day, your body can become deficient in the amino acids it needs to build and repair muscle, and thus, muscle growth does not occur.

When you exercise, the body needs an increased amount of amino acids to repair damaged muscle fibers and, depending on what you’re doing, grow them larger. This is why athletes need to eat a high-protein diet to maximize performance.  According to the Institute of Medicine, up to 35% of our daily calories should come from protein. .. their paper states--  protein intake of 1.3 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (.6 – .8 grams per pound of body weight) is adequate for stimulating maximal protein synthesis. They note, however, that more proteinmight be needed in the case of athletesregarding frequent and/or high-intensity training, and in the case of dieting to lose fat (restricting calories).

“A widely cited study conducted by The University of Western Ontario concluded the same: 1.6 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight might be enough for athletes, but higher intakes may also be warranted depending on a wide variety of factors including energy intake, carbohydrate availability, exercise intensity, duration and type, dietary protein quality, training history, gender, age, timing of nutrient intake, and more.”

As you can see, the topic is actually quite complex and there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. As a rule of thumb there are a couple basic recommendations that are pretty universally found within the gym setting, and it agrees with the above findings.

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2 g/kg of BW) per day has been an ‘athlete’ rule of thumb for decades.
  • Higher levels of protein intake, usually in the range of 1.2 – 1.5 grams per pound of body weight (2.6 – 3.3 g/kg BW) per day, are commonly recommended when trying to achieve an even leaner physique an obtain higher amounts of muscle mass… a.k.a. bodybuilders.

When it comes to different types of proteins, not all forms of protein are exactly alike. A few factors to consider:

  • Different forms of protein digest at different speeds.
  • Some forms of protein are better utilized by the body than others.
  • Different forms of protein have different amounts of the essential amino acids our bodies need.

Animal protein, for example, is digested quickly and 70-80% of what’s eaten is utilized by the body and has a large amount of essential amino acids.

Whey protein is also digested quickly and its “net protein utilization” (NPU) is in the low 90%s, which means that 90-something percent of it can actually be used by your body. It also is high in essential amino acids, and in leucine in particular. And because of this NPU property, this is a particularly popular protein to ingest immediately after a training session.

Egg protein digests much slower than whey and beef and its NPU also falls in the low 90%s. It too has a great amino acid profile.

Casein protein digests much slower and is usually the choice for some meal replacement shakes and late night meals (slow release of protein throughout the night as recovery occurs during sleep).

The bottom line is if you get plenty of fish, meat, whey (post workout specifically), and eggs in your diet, you’ll have no issues with meeting your body’s protein needs.

In terms of protein/nutrient timing, there is ‘some’ timing to consider. Overall, you will not go catabolic or lose muscle as long as you hit your daily numbers and/or requirements for protein. Meaning, whether you have 3 meals a day or 8 meals a day, research suggests that it doesn’t matter as long as you get in all of your protein within the day. However, when it comes to training, there are conflicting views of protein timing. Some say it is important to consume protein pre and post workout, other research says it makes no difference if protein is immediately consumed after a training session. To be safe, I think the recommendation should be to ingest some form of protein (whey protein shake, a protein-rich meal) after a training session to ensure that muscle repair can begin.

Overall, there are many different proteins that can affect many different parts of the body.  Once you have figured out your goals, determine which proteins will help, how much of those proteins you need, and then decide when to consume those proteins. Now go eat some protein!

Also, make sure you keep checking EONATHLETICS.com and our social media sites for the next big release from EON Athletics! In, the mean time, make sure you stock up on your CREATION! 


John Hornung, MS, CSCS, SCCC