Seriously, You Do Not Need More Protein
Protein consumption has been on a tear for a decade, and it continues to grow at a torrid pace. Not just whey, but vegan proteins, collagen, and now “air protein.”
The funny thing is that protein deficiency is rare in the USA. Most experts recommend an average person consume about 10-35% of calories as protein. But many Americans eat about double that amount. From protein bars and shakes to protein brownies and cookies, finding more ways to incorporate more protein into our diets is often a solution looking for a problem.
But what about the gains you’ve made in the gym?
Well, we understand that athletes may need more protein than the average individual. And we all want to improve body composition by gaining muscle and losing fat. But interestingly enough, protein is NOT the lone determinant of muscle gain! A large part of that role depends on the health of our gut. Yes, our gut health influences muscle protein synthesis.
Being “healthy” generally means a diverse gut microbiome. In a study in bodybuilders with high protein, low fiber diets, gut microbial diversity declined. High protein, low SCFA.pdf . But you might be wondering if diversity matters if the muscle is there, you look good and your body composition is great. Here’s why gut microbiome diversity still matters:
A lack of diversity results in gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria). Dysbiosis results in gut permeability. Gut permeability leads to increased inflammation that reduces muscle size, leads to poor body composition, and eventually impairs muscle gain and function. A pictorial representation is below.
Interestingly enough, butyrate may contribute just as much to protein balance as protein intake! Butyrate is produced in the body from fermenting fiber and resistant starches in the colon. Does this mean your gains (or losses) are dependent on fiber intake? Yes. Yes it does.
In fact, this study in an animal model showed improved muscle growth by supplementing with a short chain fatty acid called tributyrin: Dietary tributyrin, an HDAC inhibitor, promotes muscle growth through enhanced terminal differentiation of satellite cells – Murray – 2018 – Physiological Reports – Wiley Online Library. This study showed a host of muscle and metabolic benefits when germ-free mice were supplemented with short chain fatty acids: Lahiri Science Translational Medicine 19 GF skeletal muscle mass function.pdf. And this study showed that age-related muscle loss may occur as a function of the short chain fatty acid, butyrate: Grosicki, gut-muscle, 2018.pdf.
We synthesize less muscle protein as we age, which leaves us with lower cardiorespiratory fitness, declines in skeletal muscle size and function and undesirable changes in body composition. Synthesizing less muscle protein as we age is called ‘anabolic resistance.’ Because Leucine is the anabolic trigger, the antidote to anabolic resistance has largely been to ‘add more Leucine’ due to our ‘more protein’ mindset. Over and over again, we try to overcome this anabolic resistance by simply adding more protein ‘fuel.’
But anabolic resistance may not be a function of insufficient protein intake as much as previously thought!
Anabolic resistance is more a function of the gut microbiome (i.e. butyrate). nutrients-13-00706.pdf .
So what are some potential solutions? These researchers suggest starting with gut health: SCFA Muscle Metabolism.pdf
- Keep protein intake as-is and simply work in more fiber and resistant starches
- Lower protein intake and add more fiber and resistant starches to your diet
Either way, adding fiber, resistant starches and polyphenols to a diet is the ideal way to maintain and help build muscle, as well as to improve health overall.
- Whey protein shakes, bars,
- Vegan protein
- Eating more vegetables
- Shakes or add-to-shakes:
- Baobab fiber (as Fibriss™) + resistant pea starch (as Carb10®) + pomegranate extract
- Baobab fiber (as Fibriss™) + resistant potato starch (Solnul®)
- Nut butters and nut butter bars + added fibers
- Bars and drinks with fiber and prebiotic bars and drinks
- Shakes and pancake mixes with resistant starches like pea (as Carb10®), green banana, cassava and more
- protein | NCHStats ; [Protein deficiency – a rare nutrient deficiency] – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Protein | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- How Much Protein Do We Need? – The New York Times (nytimes.com)