Advanced Stuff: Optimizing Protein

Can you optimize your body’s ability to take advantage of the protein you eat by changing things like timing, volume, and the type of protein? Elite athletes and body-builders of the world spend a lot of time and effort managing these factors. But does it make any difference?

The answer is:  Yes! Science has discovered that protein intake can absolutely be optimized by managing a variety of factors related to how it’s consumed. Let’s go through them!

1) Eat the right amount

Most studies conclude that the body can’t take advantage of any amount of protein in excess of 0.81g per pound of body weight. (So if you weigh 200lbs, your body can’t use more than 162g of protein in a single day). Your optimal protein intake is a little more complex than that (Weightix will calculate it for you).

While there’s no real downside to eating “too much” protein, your body does convert the excess into a low-quality energy source. Also, people doing keto/CarbX may find that if they exceed that number, they will have difficulty getting into Ketosis.

2) Spread it out

Nearly every scientific study in the last 20 years related to protein has concluded that your body actually can’t process more than about 60g of protein in a short period of time. As above, any protein consumed in a single sitting, above and beyond that 60g number, is converted to a low-quality energy source. (Or, put another way, you would have been better off eating fat or carbs).

So while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with eating too much protein all at once (more than 60g), there’s nothing to be gained from it either.  Getting to the end of the day and drinking 4 protein shakes at once to fill in your macros, as it turns out, doesn’t actually count.

For best results, spread your protein intake throughout the day.

3) Stick with “clean” sources of protein

While not required by any means, your body will digest the clean sources of protein much easier than the kind that’s heavy in fat, or comes from red meat.

Chicken, turkey, egg-whites, and plain greek yogurt are my four favorite “clean” sources.  If you’re looking for optimal return, stay away from things like bacon, sausage, steak, and other sources that are paired with high amounts of fat.  (Exceptions here for Keto / CarbX people, by the way, who need extremely high amounts of fat in their daily intake).

And there’s probably no cleaner, easier to digest form of protein than Whey, which is why it’s the most common basis for protein supplements.

4) Time your protein intake strategically

In addition to “spreading it out”, mentioned above, there are certain times when it’s appropriate to place your protein during your daily meal planning.  For the purposes of weight loss, protein has two primary functions. First, to help you stave off hunger and keep your metabolism in a fat-burning mode, and 2) For muscle and cellular repair.  If you keep these two things in mind, a few obvious “windows of opportunity” for protein will appear.

(A) Right after your work-outs, since this is when your body switches from “fat burn” mode to “muscle repair” mode. Feed your body the protein it needs to build and repair existing muscle, so that it doesn’t need to steal from healthy tissue.

(B) Right before bed. Most cellular repair and muscle building takes place while you sleep, so it makes sense to provide your body with plenty of protein at the time when it’ll want / need it the most.  Note that right before bed, for additional optimization, you might consider using Casein (instead of Whey), since it digests much, much slower.   Protein at night will also help avoid the late-night hunger munchies.

(C) For every meal:  A good dose of protein at each meal helps you spread it out (See the first item above). You’ll also find that by incorporating a big dose of protein into each meal, you’ll stave-off the hunger-monster between meals.

5) Use BCAA supplements

I thought I’d throw this in, because it’s an often overlooked supplement.  If you’re in a situation where you can’t or don’t want to eat protein at an optimal time (such as right before bed, or right after a workout), using a BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) supplement is a great substitute. They contain no real calories, but they stimulate the production of amino acids in the body, and prevent the body from going catabolic (that’s a fancy way of saying they prevent your body from burning healthy muscle in order to repair cells). People doing intermittent fasting, for example, may choose to use a BCAA supplement immediately following a workout, instead of a protein shake, as a way to prevent having to eat, but still get the post-workout benefits of protein.  Put another way, a BCAA is a great supplement for working out on an empty stomach.

Disclaimer – Please Read:

The advanced tips presented here won’t make a huge difference in your overall ability to lose weight. 80% of weight loss is what you eat. 15% of weight loss is exercise, and the other 5% is a series of completely optional “advanced tips & tricks” that you can choose to incorporate to get an extra edge. In almost all cases, if you’re not doing the other 95% of the things required to lose weight, the remaining “5%” isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever.  For that reason, I encourage people to skip and ignore all of these advanced tips until you’re 100% “on protocol” with everything else you’re doing. Don’t make things more complicated until what you’re doing no longer feels complicated.