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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Protein

All right. This is a big one. I don't mean long. I mean it's gonna be a lot of work for me. I can't just lie here in bed having my feet rubbed by my house boy as I peck out a few desultory paragraphs. I've actually had to step over Rolando and go to a bookcase. Such a chore. But he can't read, the darling. His skills shine in other arenas.

Involved as I am in some pretty intense physical exertions -- and I don't mean with Rolando -- I've had to pay attention to aspects of diet that would normally tend to themselves. Specifically, about the appropriate amount of protein that various activity levels require. It is common to read something like this: "For those who are physically active, research has shown that between 1-1.5g of protein per pound of body weight is optimal."

In itself this is a virtually meaningless statement, given that no account is taken of gender or lean body mass, let alone body composition. A 105 pound cheerleader and a 240 pound bodybuilder, and a morbidly obese layabed are barely members of the same species -- Homo athleticus ... gracile, robust and otiose. The Weider site -- which is a commercial webpage that sells nutritional supplements ... such as protein powders -- attempts to refine its figure with the following chart.

Fair enough. I've read estimates as high as 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That's 300 grams of protein for someone 150 pounds, and 1200 calories -- which is precisely half the calories of what most men need on a daily basis.

I will burn up to an estimated 3000 calories per workout. I derive that figure by the rough and ready formula of: every pint/pound (of sweat) you lose represents about 350 to 400 calories burned. As I say, a rule of thumb -- ambient temperature, humidity, hydration levels, ventilation all factor in, confoundingly. I will exchange up to 12 pounds in a few hours though -- for all that I drink 6 or 8 pounds (3 or 4 quarts) I'll still walk out four to six pounds lighter -- I'll drink enough water in the next few hours to replace the loss. That puts me at something around 5000 calories that I need, on a hard day. Which is why I feel no guilt at all about my carob-coated almonds or -raisins, or my vegan cookies. I need the calories and I just don't see myself eating 30 pounds of broccoli. What's the difference between 400 calories of bread and 400 calories of natural-ingredient whole grain cookies? The cookies are more nutritious and taste better. But that's a different discussion.

How much protein should a normally active person get, then? Protein is 4 calories per gram -- same as carbs (most fats are just over twice that -- 9 cals; medium chain lipids are 7 cals, same as alcohol). If we go by the Weider numbers, an active 150-pounder with a 2000 calorie diet (I'm rounding of course) would require up to 900 calories of protein daily. That's like 45%, right? Seems really high. Just about half your calories coming from protein. What, are we cavemen?

Well that's the crux of the matter. How much protein. I'll be adding details to this later, and I'll bump it up -- either you're interested and you'll re-read it, or you'll skip it. I've read about how much extra daily protein you need to add muscle, maximally. I do have the info in my head, but I don't like to represent as facts things that I'm only remembering. It has to do with urea nitrogen urine tests, which reveal how much protein the body takes in but cannot use. I have to look it up again. Old training. Before I was an internet blowhard, I used to be a scholar. But the number is much smaller than what the bodybuilders assert.

In any event, standard bodybuilding literature and protein supplement sellers put the number pretty high. Hm. I wonder why. But maybe it's not greed. Maybe they're both profit-minded and sincere. Maybe they're not ignoring contrary evidence in favor of a bias. Maybe they're ignoring it for some other reason.

But the contrary testimony puts the daily protein requirement, at the high end, at something between 10 and 20 percent of total calories. Ten percent of a 2000 calorie diet is 200 calories. Fifty grams of protein. Note the difference please. I'm too stupid and lazy to calculate the difference between 45% and 10%, but it seems like a lot. Maybe 100 times difference? A million? I don't know. Of course I'm comparing low-end needs of low estimates with high-end needs of high estimates -- but I'm pointing that fact out, too. Illustrative of the wide divergence of opinion in the matter.

Protein isn't really supposed to be a fuel. It's about amino acids, which are building blocks and act as peptides and neurotransmitters -- hormone-like. Really important. But not optimal as fuel. When blood glucose isn't available, and when fat isn't up to the job, your body will convert proteins into sugar in an expensive and inefficient process. Your brain needs sugar, you see, more than your body needs muscle. How inefficient? Glad you asked.

I've been meaning to give this info to a young fella I had a brief conversation with, sort of, some months ago. Finally went and looked it up. This is from "The Second Brain" by Michael Gershon, the seminal figure in modern enteric system research. A few preliminaries, though. You don't need a stomach. "The small intestine and its associated glands can make do without them." [pp. 93-4] Vitamin B12 is the essential issue, since it cannot be absorbed without the "intrinsic factor" that is made in the stomach. Well, we have pills and shots nowadays.

The stomach's parietal cells which make intrinsic factor also make the hydrochloric acid that handles the digestion of protein in the stomach. Only protein is digested in the stomach. Carbs and fats are broken down further along the tube. An interesting question is, why doesn't hydrochloric acid digest the cell that makes it? It's a wonderful mystery, that the Infinitely Typing Monkeys of Evolution have posed and solved. All hail, Randomness!

"To produce the hydrochloric acid of gastric juice, the parietal cells pump hydrogen ions from the blood into the lumen [lining] of the stomach. Chloride ions follow the movement of hydrogen, resulting in the formation of hydrochloric acid outside the cell where the two ions meet.

"The trick is to be able to pump the hydrogen ions. This is not easy. Hydrogen ions carry a positive charge. Moving charged particles is difficult because they affect one another. Particles with the same charge repel.... A cell thus cannot just gather up a bunch of positively charged hydrogen ions and move them from one place to another. To successfully transfer a large number of positively charged hydrogen ions from one side of a cell to the other, some other particles with the same charge have to be moved back the other way to replace the hydrogen.

“Pareital cells manage to avoid charge separation by making the pumping of hydrogen ions a simple transfer operation. The cells exchange hydrogen ions for potassium ions. Which are similarly charged. ...This hydrogen-potassium exchange is the process that is blocked by omeprazole (Prilosec). Once it stops, acid production comes to a screeching halt.

“Since the concentration of hydrogen ions in blood is far less than the concentration required in the gastric lumen, the pariental cell pumps against staggeringly unfavorable electrical and chemical gradients. In terms of the amount of work involved, the pumping of hydrogen ions is not unlike going *up* Niagara Falls in a barrel. The effort is vast and requires the consumption of immense quantities of oxygen, the utilization of magecalories, and the production of an amazing amount of the high-energy molecule ATP. ATP is the currency that the cells spend to get the work done.” [p. 95; Gershon's *italics*, my emphases.]

All this work, in order to produce hydrochloric acid, for the sole purpose of digesting proteins. Do you see why I went to all the bother, all hunched over and squinting, of typing out these paragraphs? Protein is astronomically expensive as an energy source. It's not like burning coal. It's like burning diamonds. That would be an amazing, vastly immense megawaste of staggering effort. Every effort should be made to spare this expense. Get it?

Per Colin Campbell, grand old man of protein research and author of The China Study, the RDA for protein is "about 10%.... This is considerably more than the actual amount required." [p. 58] "Relative to total calorie intake, only 5-6% dietary protein is required to replace the protein regularly excreted by the body (as amino acids)." [p. 308] He's speaking of course about mere metabolic requirements, not fantastical bodybuilder conceits of beef-packing. I won't elaborate on Campbell's frankly compelling argument. His conclusion is that high levels of protein are carcinogenic. If you object, I refer you to the source; if you don't review it, given the prestige of his research, you are intellectually disreputable.

However much protein the body actually requires, any more than that amount is simply stupid. Am I unfair? I quoted at length to establish the context. Digestion produces energy, but it uses energy too. The body is an economy. Profitable economies run as efficiently as is reasonable. When all conditions are optimal, we can afford to be profligate. When there are wide-open frontiers, we might pollute. When we are looking for elite results, we need to apply intelligence and diligence to the process. It should be self-evident.

So how much protein do we actually need? For sedentary adults, the RDA for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. "Health experts say that at maximum, athletes may require 0.55 to 0.73 grams per pound." That's quite a range, isn't it. The caveman estimate of 1 to 1.5 grams is twice the, uh, smart man estimate. Heh heh. How ever shall we determine which is the more likely?

I am totally vegetarian. No animal protein whatsoever. It's been that way since 1979. At age 48, my body fat is about 8% -- I expect actually lower. My BMI is 21.9, which is the exact center of "healthy". I have visible intercostals and abdominal obliques, with no interest in bodybuilding or bulk. So I'm lean and fit. I have the reputation for being strong beyond reasonable expectation. My daily protein intake consists of a quarter pound of extra firm tofu -- 20g protein (meat is roughly a quarter protein by weight, so a "quarter pounder" has about an ounce {28 grams} of protein, the rest being fat, blood, fear and sex hormones, parasites and E. coli) -- about 20 grams of protein powder that I add to a recovery drink I make, and whatever comes from broccoli and the like. Maybe 70 grams total -- .39 grams per pound -- 280 protein calories, out of something over 3000 calories daily. It really would be less than 9% calories from protein. On which I exercise vigorously for 2 and 3 hours a day.

For once the point is not about my beauty and power. It's to demonstrate something. Do you see what?

There is much more to say. I won't. As for the Zone diet, Barry Sears has a high protein requirement, but it's for lean body mass. Oh god. I'm done. I'll do this some other time. Rolando has my bubble bath ready. And don't even get me started on Atkins.

That was a lot of work. Send me a dollar.


J

8 comments:

G.W.C. said...

Some useful info there. Thanks Jack. I'm still not becoming a vegan. Sorry, I like meat to much. But, as I said, I've switched to mostly plant proteins. My "macho" friends are starting to notice the changes in me. I even got one to eat tofu. He was even less impressed than I was the first time I tried it. However, since I can toss most of them around like children (despite being 3 inches shorter than the shortest of them), they don't tease me much. A few are even considering cutting out red meat. Well, at least to the extent that I have. No more than once every week or two.

Jack H said...

Oh. Gee. Thanks. "Some" useful info. Golly, I'm blushing. Anytime I can slave over this obdurate hateful keyboard so that I may produce some small ort of amusement to fill a few of your idle moments, just you let me know and I'll get to work.

Tofu by itself isn't much. But it's a fine filler, mixed with just about anything. Pretty neutral taste. I've grown to like it, actually. It should be just a minor part of the diet. Just heard that 10% of the calories in the American diet comes from soy. Mostly oil, then hydrogenated fats. Not so healthful.

I tell folks to do what they can. When they start noticing benefit, it becomes easier. Then, sneaky body, meat becomes less attractive (just think about what it is, a little), and the body simply stops being able to digest it as well. No need to make all that powerful acid, mentioned heretofore.

Then you notice how pukey it is, and it's easy.

J

G.W.C. said...

Smart-ass. Really though, your effort is duly noted, and much appreciated. I mean that both seriously, and patronizingly. Feel better? Ego stroked? ;P

G.W.C. said...

Almost forgot, here you go. 1$ (imaginary)USD. Just for you, Jack.

Jack H said...

I am glutinous with extorted encomium. I'll just go buy some imaginary food for my imaginary family with that imaginary money. Hope you enjoyed the imaginary information.

For those of you of a more substantive gratitude, I'm regestered with paypal. Just click the link to make a donation. Five, twenty, a hundred, more -- use your judgment. The worker is worthy of his hire.

J

G.W.C. said...

I've never used Paypal. Wouldn't know how. But, there might, possibly, in some strange turn of circumstance, at some point, be a first time for everything. Maybe.

(That's me above, trying to be suitably chastised, it didn't work out well, feels unnatural.)

Jack, despite my snarkiness, I really do appreciate your work. Seriously.

Jack H said...

More patronizing. Go ahead. When the Revolution comes, we will find you.

And what is this sick obsession you have with protein? How will you explain it to your wife and children? It's just sad, is all. Just sad.


I kid. You understand that.

J

G.W.C. said...

Yes, Jack, I understand. I hope you understand I mean no disrespect. The more serious I think something is, the more I joke about it. Except war, I rarely joke about that. Although, occasionally I find myself laughing hyserically, despite my intentions.

As for my "sick obsession with protein", well, I don't think my sex life is any of your business. ;)