Hard Time Consuming Enough Protein? Here’s Why:
Protein is one of the 4 macro nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol are considered the other 3), and by far one of the most important. As a nutritional coach, I concentrate on this in both sedentary clients and elite athletes with the same amount of emphasis. But some folks have a hard time eating the required amount, which is usually 1g/lb BW, or 1g/lb target BW. Why do some clients struggle with this? There can be a few reasons which I’ll outline below:
- Satiety Index: Protein has the highest satiety index out of any of the macros—that is, it causes you to feel “full” quicker, and longer, therefore decreasing appetite. One of the reasons for this is how protein affects the secretion and sensitivity of the hormone leptin, which shuts down hunger. While the myth that “you can’t over-eat protein” is untrue, there is some factual underlying science.
- Digestion: Protein is also the hardest macronutrient to digest—specifically animal based protein. Due to the makeup of muscle fiber & connective tissue, pancreatic enzymes like protease and gastric secretions like HCL (hydrochloric acid) are required. In clients that have chronically consumed low protein/low or no animal based protein diets, these enzymes and secretions have been down-regulated. Since the demand wasn’t there, the body didn’t need to produce a large amount. Another digestion factor may be the presence of H.Pylorii, a bacteria that actually “uses” up HCL, and reduces the amount in the stomach. Common prescription medications for ulcers, like PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) can exacerbate this issue by reducing endogenous HCL secretion even more.
- Emotional Connection: Due to mass media dogma and misinformation, we’ve been programmed to think higher protein intakes equate with poor health and cardiovascular risk (which is entirely untrue); it can be hard, mentally, for some clients to change the way they food certain food items.
So…How To Eat More Protein?
- Be patient. Up-regulating protein digestion can take time. Track your intake, and increase slowly. While the general target is 1g/lb BW, this goal may be long term. Strength training increases protein synthesis, and need for more dietary protein; carbohydrate partitioning to later in the day can enable one to consume more protein in the AM (which has other beneficial metabolic & cognitive benefits, as well.)
- Get tested. You may have an underlying digestion issue from hypochloridia (low stomach acid) or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) that needs to be assessed and treated by a professional; a simple measure of urinary indican (how well your body breaks protein down) or a urea breath test (for H.Pylorii) can yield extremely useful information.
- Become educated. There’s a lot of misinformation about food and health—find an expert that KNOWS the science, and has successfully implemented strategies with clients. Nutrition is the most powerful tool we have 100% control over—at times people need guidance from a knowledgeable coach.
I’ve worked with many clients who thought they would never be able to eat the amount of protein I asked them to eat. Over time, with patience and dedication, they learned how to eat more protein. Their bodies adapted, both in their ability to digest the protein as well as improved body composition, increased performance, and more energy.
Mike Kesthely has been involved in athletics his entire life, ranging from years playing box lacrosse, martial arts, rock climbing, mountain biking and Crossfit. He has worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic for the Lethbridge Fire Dept since 2000, and is the past Health & Fitness Coordinator for the department. His passion now lies with nutrition & functional lab analysis, and improving performance measures in competitive athletes.