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Dr. Sears' Blog

Breaking down the latest research on Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition
Written By: Dr. Barry Sears, Ph. D | Creator of the Zone Diet

Written by Dr. Barry Sears
on August 19, 2022

The global market for protein supplements is anticipated to rise 8.5% by 2030. This increased demand is widely due health-conscious individuals, fitness go-ers, and millennials looking to add more balance to their diets. In this blog, Dr. Sears covers some basic questions on protein and then gets into protein powders and what you need to know.

Q. How much protein do you need each day?

A. It depends on your lean body mass and your level of physical activity. The reason you need protein is to maintain and repair damaged muscle tissue. If you are an active athlete, you will have more muscle mass, and your training will damage your existing muscle. Therefore, these individuals are going to need more protein. On the other hand, the average American male needs about 110 grams of protein per day, and the average American female requires about 90 grams per day. That amount of protein should be spread out throughout the day. This means you should eat no more protein at a meal than can fit on the palm of your hand. That’s about 3 ounces of protein for a female and 4 ounces for a male.

Q. What are the primary nutritional differences between animal protein versus plant protein?

A. Of the 20 amino acids in any protein source, only nine are essential. This designation is because essential amino acids can’t be synthesized by the body and must be supplied by the diet. Animal protein has a complete range of amino acids, whereas plant protein is usually deficient in some essential amino acids. 

Q. Does protein build muscle mass?

A. To help with muscle growth, you need adequate protein in the diet and weight-bearing exercise.Simply consuming more protein doesn’t build muscle. Exercise causes muscle damage and this stimulates new muscle formation to replace the muscle that has been damaged. The higher the intensity of exercise, the more protein you need.

Q. Does protein increase satiety?

A. A benefit of adequate protein consumption is that it increases satiety. It does this by releasing hormones from the gut that go directly to the brain to stop hunger and by increasing the release of the hormone glucagon from the pancreas to stabilize blood sugar levels. This lack of appetite is why you want to consume adequate protein at every meal, especially breakfast.

Q. Can you consume too much protein?

A. The answer is yes. Of the nine essential amino acids, three are branched-chain amino acids. These amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and these have the most significant effect on stimulating muscle development by activating the gene transcription factor called mTOR. High levels of mTOR are associated with insulin resistance, eventually leading to many chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Q. Is there a connection between mTOR and AMPK?

A. The more you activate mTOR, the more you inhibit your master regulator of metabolism known as AMPK. Low levels of AMPK activity ultimately cause insulin resistance. As a result, you want to keep your protein consumption in a zone; not too high but not too low. With this as a background, let’s talk about using protein powder to ensure you get enough protein to maintain your muscle mass but not too much to inhibit AMPK.

Q. What are the benefits of using protein powder?

A. Many of our meals, especially breakfast, can fall short on protein. If you are over the age of 50, you are likely not getting enough protein in your day. Protein is vital as we age since older adults are prone to losing muscle mass, resulting in loss of strength and function. Protein powder can help fill in the gaps when intake falls short. Isolated protein powder can also help balance out excess carbohydrate intake to provide a better hormonal response at meals generating stable blood sugar levels and hence greater satiety between meals.

Q. Can protein powder help with weight management?

A. It can as it helps to create satiety and minimize cravings.  

Q. How should protein powder be used?

A. It should be used as an additive to carbohydrate-rich meals. For example, adding protein powder to oatmeal provides a superior meal compared to oatmeal alone, or adding protein power to a fruit smoothie will give excellent appetite suppression.

Q. Can you use protein powder daily and is there a better time of day to use it?

A. Yes, you can use protein powder daily as long as you don't exceed your daily protein requirements. Breakfast is probably the best meal to use it since that meal is most likely to contain excess carbohydrates relative to protein. 

Q. Who should use protein powder? 

A. Anyone who does not feel they are getting enough protein in a meal.

Q. How do you know if it’s right for you or working?

A. Your best indicator is the increasing lack of hunger after a meal.

Q. Are there any negatives to using protein powder? 

The key with protein powder is making sure you do not consume too much relative to the rest of your meal. I generally tell people to aim for a total of 25 grams of protein at each meal and about 7-14 grams at each snack. This takes into account all of the sources of protein at each meal and a good gauge to know how much to consume. You do want to pay attention to the quality of the amino acids in the protein powder you choose. Some sources such as collagen are very poor in essential amino acids and therefore would not be recommended.

Q. What type of protein powder is best, and what ingredients should you look for?

A. I think dairy protein powders are best, but recommend looking for ones that are lactose-free. Plant-based protein sources such a soy or pea don't have the taste of dairy-based protein powders, but can be used for those who avoid dairy. All protein powders are superior to collagen protein which is highly deficient in essential amino acids.



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