Nutrition is one of the most important topics within the wellness space — with most conversations about nutrition eventually making its way to proper protein consumption. Most people know protein is important, but few understand just how essential it is and how much is needed for optimal performance. Further, there are many common misconceptions that you can eat too much of it or get too bulky due to overconsumption of protein. We had the opportunity to discuss the truths and myths of protein consumption with Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, a functional medicine physician who developed a unique system and treatment protocol: muscle-centric medicine.
Truths and Myths of Protein Consumption
Breaking Down Muscle-Centric Medicine
Muscle-centric medicine is founded on the concept that since muscle is the largest organ in the body, it needs to be nurtured to achieve optimal health. Dr. Lyon says, “People don’t even realize that what they’re doing now really affects their trajectory of aging. If you can look good naked, you can maintain an optimal body composition that will serve you throughout your life. In our society now, everyone focuses on how to lose weight, obesity, hypertension, and Alzheimer’s — these diseases are metabolic diseases. The origin of that is not adipose tissue. The origin of these issues is not having quality muscle tissue, chronic inflammation, and having fat infiltrated into the muscle tissue. This affects glucose regulation, fatty acid metabolism, and insulin resistance. The key is understanding the paradigm shift: the issues with muscles happen first. That is the foundation of the problem. Getting fat or being fat is secondary.”
So How Much is Enough?
On an average day, a person should eat one gram of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weight 150 pounds, your daily protein goal would be 150 grams. Not only does the amount of protein matter, but you should also be mindful to eat high-quality protein sources such as beef, chicken, and fish.
There is a common myth that people who actively train only need to eat 18-20 grams of protein per meal. Dr. Lyon believes that’s a great place to start, but there’s no danger in going higher if you need more calories. She says, “As you advance in age, really hitting a minimum of 30 grams is important. And getting that leucine threshold at 2.5 grams will really help anabolic resistance. It’s very well documented in the literature. The best thing to do is eat a protein meal between 30 and 50 grams.”
Muscle Protein Synthesis
You should aim to consume two to three grams of leucine per meal. As you age, leucine consumption becomes more important. This is where vegetarian or vegan protein sources typically fall flat: leucine is typically lacking or missing completely in non-animal proteins. Nearly every vegan protein brands often overlook the importance of supplementing leucine in their products, with a notable exception being VIVL’s PlantProtein-L.
Dr. Lyon says, “In order to stimulate a process called muscle protein synthesis, which will essentially protect your tissue from mid-life throughout your life, you need a certain amount of leucine. It’s an essential amino acid, which means you can only get it through the diet. It needs to be ingested at one time to create a triggering response. People will sip on their protein shakes; you can’t do that. It is not advisable. We are talking about amino acids in the blood reaching a threshold to be ingested at one time.”
Start Your Morning With Protein
To optimize your metabolism, your first meal of the day should be optimized for protein, containing 30-50 grams. Your plate should be anchored in protein so that you can trigger the mechanism necessary for muscle protein synthesis. You can also have carbohydrates with the protein if you’d like, but pass on the baked goods and refined sugars! Dr. Lyon’s recommendation is not to consume more than 40 grams of high quality carbohydrates per meal.
The Myths of Protein Consumption
Eating protein isn’t going to bulk you up — it’s a huge myth that you’ll end up looking like Arnold Swarzanagger if you eat a lot of protein! Remember that professional body builders don’t just eat to look that way- they train very hard, very often, in a very specific way to achieve their body composition goals, it didn’t just happen magically!
Dr. Lyon emphasizes the idea that you absorb everything you eat. While there’s probably not much metabolic benefit if you eat a meal with over 50 grams of protein, the extra protein absorption won’t hurt. In fact, there are many benefits to proper nutrition outside of the metabolic response, you just won’t see added metabolism advantages after that point.