Why You Should Eat More Protein for Better Fitness Results
Protein is the macronutrient building block of the body. It is what builds bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, nails and blood. But this all-important nutrient does not stop there. Because it is an amino acid, it also helps synthesize enzymes and hormones, maintains fluid balance, and regulates vital bodily functions, like creating antibodies, protecting against infection, and helping with blood clotting and scar tissue formation.
And because your body does not store protein, you need a certain amount every day just to adequately nourish your body so it can function. But a question frequently ask is how much is the right amount?
Let’s start by clearing up one misconception – more is not necessarily better. The body can only use up so much protein at one time. If your goal is building muscle mass you need a maximum of just under 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight to maintain tissue construction which is what builds muscle mass; the actual formula is 0.9 gram of protein per pound of weight. Anything more is just wasted and can be counterproductive to your goal.
If your goal is weight loss, that amount drops to 0.36 gram per pound of body weight. Doing the math, we find a 170-pound person wanting to lose weight should consume about 61 grams of protein per day, whereas the goal of someone wanting to build muscle would be 153 grams.
Calorie-wise, protein should make up about 20% of your total daily calories. So taking the above number into consideration at 4 calories per gram of protein, this would give you a diet of 1,952 calories per day to lose weight and 4,896 calories per day to build muscle, respectively.
Keep in mind this is a starting point. Because each body is different, you’ll have to monitor your results and adjust your protein intake accordingly. Ideally, you’ll settle somewhere in between these two figures.
However, do not go let your protein intake go above 30%. Doing so at the sacrifice of carbohydrates changes your metabolism into a state called ketosis. The result is a suppressed appetite (causing you to eat less) and an increase in fluid excretion in the form of urine (resulting in water weight loss). While this would seem like a good thing, because you are losing weight, you are losing it for all the wrong reasons and can lead to severe dehydration and malnutrition.
As this article shows, eating more protein – up to a point – can help you achieve your fitness goal. The key is to eat smart by eating around 50% of your daily calories as complex carbohydrates, 30% good fats (poly and mono-unsaturated) and 20% protein and then adjusting as needed based on your desired results.
How Quickly Can You Improve Your Fitness?
Before answering the question of how quickly you can improve fitness, we have to accept two proven assumptions:
1. The body can only improve at a certain rate.
2. You can only exercise for a given amount of time without significantly increasing your risk for injury.
Let’s look at the first one. Your fitness level can improve about 50% per week sequentially, based on the training load or how much exertion you put on your body. To further explain this, if you increase your training load (whether that load is adding five miles per week to your running or lifting an additional 20 pounds of weight per strength training session, etc.), your body will improve and adjust to the new load at the rate of:
50% the first week
25% the second week (50% of 50%)
12.5% the third week (50% of 25%)
6.25% the fourth week (50% of 12.5%)
To show it another way, it would look like this:
Week one – 50%
Week two – 75%
Week three – 87.5%
Week four – 94%
So after four weeks of training using your new routine, your body has improved 94%. To increase any more significantly, you would have to increase the load and start over again from your last stopping point.
Let’s look at the second one – you can only exercise for a given amount of time. Regardless of your fitness level, your body is conditioned at a certain level. If you try to push your body harder than you should, you increase your risk of an injury. Plus add to the fact that your body only has so much energy it can burn at any one time. Based on these two facts, don’t expect to go from being a couch potato to running 5 miles in one day- it’s just not going to happen.
However, if you begin by walking 30 minutes the first day and then start a progressive walk/run exercise routine where you strive to walk less and run more, you should, over the course of a month, reach your goal of running 5 miles.
The other fact worth noting is different parts of the body develop at different rates. Your heart and skeletal muscles responds more quickly to exercise than do your bones. So for example if you have been doing cardio training by biking, your heart and large lower muscle groups may be ready to run, but your leg bones may not and thus you have an increased risk of a stress fracture due to the pounding of running. So to take up running, you must start slow and build from there.
The bottom line is when trying to improve your fitness level, listen to your body. It will tell you if you are trying to progress too fast. Listen and adjust or be prepared to suffer the consequences!