Battling for Your Life with a Sword Called Protein
Two gladiators enter an arena. The crowds are roaring and thirsting for blood. While these two proud warriors enter, only one will leave.
They have similar combat training, similar intelligence, and both years of war experience having survived countless battles. They have faced serious injuries and deep bouts of anxiety wondering if this day will be their last on the face of this earth.
Now their lives collide at this moment and only one will live to breathe another day. The one who is the fastest and strongest will walk away victorious, while the other will be left to the birds to never see his loved ones again.
The chances are slim you and I will ever have to face a battle to the death. At the same time battles for our life still exist, just a bit more subtle. We still face excruciating anxiety and fear, but in longer spells.
The fight today is around your health. 2 in 3 in developed countries are overweight and 1 in 3 are obese. It is an epidemic killing us through violent competitors that are named “Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer” instead of Brutus. The question is…do you have the strength to live healthy so you can see your children get married, grow old with your significant other, and keep your job until retirement?
With dietary protein it is more than just survival. It is unlocking a vault to allow you to flourish. This means:
- the courage to go comfortably out in public,
- to be confident at work in order to get that raise,
- to not wonder if someone is judging you on date based on your weight, and
- and being an inspiration to you friends and family so they get in shape.
This will be a little hard to swallow…but we are natural omnivores. We are supposed to eat animal protein, and not rely on the protein in grains, dairy, and beans. It is in our DNA.
Our ancestors have done this for over a million years and when protein has been included in their diet it has made a world of difference in energy and aging. And as your uncle Steve always said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
As we go through this series you will see that protein is not only vital, but can be that boost you need to shine in your life.
So What is This “Pro-teen” You Speak Of?
No, this isn’t some “Pro-teen” movement for shows like Glee. Protein is who we are. Our bodies are made up of a lot of it. It’s important.
Dudes we need protein to build rip-roarin’ muscle. It also does a great job of making up our skin, hair, and of course those beautiful nails for the ladies. Protein feeds into our hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and enables kitties to jump buildings.
So digging a bit deeper, amino acids are the Legos for protein and in turn muscle tissue. They are the building blocks.
These little guys break apart upon digestion in the small intestines and participate in many vital chemical reactions going on inside your body. We call this a metabolic process. The fate of amino acids can now go one of a few ways. The liver can use it for energy, circulated and stored as muscle, or change it to glucose which can also be used for energy as well.
Amino acids do some other fun things:
- give cells structure,
- help cells work with each other (cellular communication), and
- help keep muscle cells maintained and growing.
It’s pretty obvious we need these twenty-one amino acids to help us. There are 8 essential ones. They are called essential because we have to get them from our food. They don’t naturally occur in our body. Starvation of protein causes a negative nitrogen balance, which is a lack of a proper amount of amino acids.
Yes while amino acids are small, they are rather important. One is named Frodo, another Samwise, and a third Bilbo. I don’t remember the rest, but that is neither here nor there.
Think about this. In your body cells are replaced daily by new cells. In fact, it happens so often that after a year you have 98% new cells. It is like you have a completely new body. That is pretty crazy to think about.
Food has a huge impact on what type of body you are producing year in and year out. Remember you are what you eat. Protein plays a big part in this because it is the second largest substance in your body behind water.
Our insulin levels get whacky as we eat more grains and sugar. This causes our bodies to retain more fat and sends cravings for even more grains and sugar. Protein counters this by improving insulin sensitivity by increasing levels of another hormone called glucagon, which puts the brakes on volatile insulin and stabilizes blood sugar levels. One thing to remember, the human system is used to protein after eating it for millions of years, whereas grains and sugars are relatively new to the human body. Since there is insulin stability with protein, this means less risk for diabetes, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of a stroke.
Insulin resistance is a serious problem and most people who are overweight have it. A great sign of this is fat around the waist. With insulin resistance, the pancreas must make extra insulin to clear blood sugar-glucose from the bloodstream. After a while the pancreas starts to get flooded by glucose and can’t overcome this waging tide. It can’t fight the glucose created by sugar and grains anymore. This, my friends is insulin resistance.
Once insulin resistance starts, it prompts a domino effect of metabolic changes. The body frequently stores more fat, and excessive insulin in the bloodstream can cause low blood sugar, which some of you may know as hypoglycemia.
It’s only recently that scientists have begun looking at insulin resistance as being a negative impact on many diseases. In research worldwide, this condition is being linked to many other chronic diseases and health problems like heart disease and cancer. These issues all begin with obesity and insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome is the canary in the coal mine. It is the precursor to the major health problems of the western hemisphere (the Western Diseases) affecting as many as half of all adults and children.
There are four major metabolic syndrome conditions that we know for sure and see most often:
- Type 2 diabetes,
- High blood pressure and hypertension,
- Heart disease & cardiovascular disease,
- Dyslipidemia (which is low HDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, and high small-dense LDL cholesterol).
All of this can be turned around in a hurry with a diet based around protein along with fat and vegetables. With the high fiber, high protein, omega 3 fat content the blood numbers would rapidly normalize and insulin levels would become reduced and stabilized.
A diet high in protein is very good for your heart. Last I check, we need that organ to work. Considering heart disease is the top reason we die…yep definitely need to protect that organ. Protein lowers blood levels of homocysteine. I know you all were thinking this morning “How could I lower homocysteine.”
Well this is a toxic substance in blood that damages arteries and predisposes a person to atherosclerosis or arteries getting clogged with plaque and cholesterol making it hard for the heart and blood to do their jobs.
Dr. Bernard Wolfe at University of Western Ontario in Canada along with a bunch of others like Cordain and Wolf, show that high protein diets with fruits, vegetables, and fats have proven to lower total and small, dense LDL cholesterol (bad kind) and triglycerides (which is a fancy word for fat). More importantly protein helps to raise good HDL cholesterol which is a bigger factor in getting cardiovascular disease than LDL levels.
Protein and Digestive Diseases
As many of you know fiber is a must-have. We can get that through fruits and vegetables. Try eating a bag of dried fruits and proving me wrong. Unfortunately most common digestive diseases are introduced with our normal American diet loaded with refined grains, sugars, and dairy that cause gut irritation issues.
This means constipation, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, IBS, Crohn’s disease (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract), gallstones, appendicitis and much more. This can become so excruciatingly painful that it could impact your job performance, your ability to exercise, and activities with your family.
Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, talks about how famous Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson and one of his explorers went through controlled tests to see how their bodies would act on an all-meat diet (fatty meats). They previously lived under a similar diet while exploring the Arctic before going through this test. Their digestion was fine while other explorers in this study suffered from constipation and other issues by eating mostly grains. This study was done by some of the most respected scientists and physicians of their day. After doing thorough examinations for a year, both Stefansson and his friend continued to show signs of normal bowel functions.
Crohn’s Disease, as we mentioned is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Translation: stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and painful poos. So you can jump on a elemental liquid diet and get cured, but a liquid diet is probably not a long term plan for you or anyone else. By sticking to a diet of protein, fats, veggies, and fruits it can help relieve this draining disease. One of the most powerful therapies to calm down inflammation of the colon is fish oil capsules with Omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats, which is found in fish, and other animal protein are powerful weapons in other wars as well because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
We talked about how protein helps with skin cells. One of the nice things about protein is it not only helps to grow muscles, but it can be a player in slowing down acne. If you are a teenager, protein is great stuff. You grow stronger, learner, faster, and less “acne-er”. Well that probably seems appealing even if you aren’t in high school.
As we will get further into grains, dairy, and legumes in other articles you will see other diseases, like autoimmune diseases, that pop up when we eat these foods. One of the big advantages of protein is not only what it does, but also what it doesn’t do. It fills the body while not causing havoc to cells, hormones, and major organs.
Bottom line: animal protein fills you, doesn’t kill you.
Protein Helps to Lose Weight
Hey! You’re Full!
As I mentioned protein fills you. Well it also does a nice job of letting your brain get the memo too.
As experts Mark Sisson, Dr. Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, and Dr. Arne Astrup mention, protein is extremely satiating. And for those that are a bit simple like myself, the word “satiating” means being full. And as we will talk about in other posts, a lack of protein in the diet can cause overeating as those protein calories are often replaced by large amounts of grains.
Our body reacts favorably to protein. Other foods like grains, sugar and dairy spike levels of the hormone insulin. When insulin gets involved it is like me trying to over sing Bette Midler. Fruitless.
All other hormonal activity is overridden by insulin. One of these hormones is leptin. Leptin is like the rational guy at the bar that tells your brain “hey buddy…you’ve had enough.” Protein releases a relatively large amount of leptin and another hormone called PYY or Peptide YY. PYY is a gut hormone that reduces hunger and helps to promote leptin’s cause. So it is like the second guy coming up to back up the first guy saying “step away from the food”. Protein releases more PYY than either fat or carbs.
Protein not only tells you when you have had enough, but it helps to satiate your hunger for a longer period of time. It doesn’t leave you reaching for more like sugar or a Michael Bay movie. This is why you want protein (eggs, chicken, bacon, etc.) to be a major part of your breakfast with some fat. This helps to not only make it to lunch, but avoid those mid-day crashes so you have a better day at work.
Have you noticed it is really hard to overeat animal protein? For some of you it is because you don’t like it, but in general eating a lot of lean meat is a big task compared to throwing down a box of donuts. Not only do you get full, but your body’s metabolic system won’t allow much protein to be stored as fat. It is either stored in muscle tissue or used for energy. As Cordain mentions in The Paleo Diet, “In fact, you couldn’t gain weight just on lean, low-fat protein if your life depended on it.” The liver will say no to excess dietary nitrogen created by protein. Without a proper amount of dietary fat to go with protein, you can get sick, but we will talk about how to avoid that.
One of the nice effects of protein is that as it travels through your body it has twice the thermic effect of fats or carbohydrates on the body. Tom Venuto mentions that lean protein will burn 30% of the calories you eat as you digest it, whether fat, protein or carbs causing your body to spend energy.
The body spends some of its own energy to break down the food. Of course I am sure most of you know this metabolic reaction called ‘dietary-induced thermogenesis’ (DIT). (crickets….)
Protein’s ability to generate DIT is 2 to 3 times that of carbs and dietary fat. Whereas the heat carbs and fat generate is comparable to the heat caused of a 90 year old man doing a calendar pin-up. So instead of that, you may want to see how much heat your body has to exert in order to counter the digestion and chemical breakdown of protein.
Weight Loss Potential
Dr. Cordain in The Paleo Diet, feels that over six months, with absolutely no increase in exercise or decrease in caloric intake, a high-protein diet could cause you to lose 10 to 15 pounds. Over those same six months, with increased exercise and a somewhat decreased caloric intake mostly in grains and sugar – a high-protein diet could cause you to lose 30 to 75 pounds. And if you have seen The Biggest Loser, that is pretty conservative if you include a great deal of exercise.
That is one man’s opinion. Obviously each individual is genetically very different, but no matter how fast or how much you lose, it will have you going in the right direction.
Not only can protein help with fat loss, but also chiseling the guns and ironing laundry off of your washboard abs. And for ladies yes you need lean mass too. Your body fat percentage is composed of either fat or lean mass. It doesn’t mean you have to be a meathead. Think words like “trim” or “toned” that in turn help you look and feel great. Low protein diets can lead to muscle shrinking, low energy, and fat gain. Higher protein preserves lean mass, while limiting fat gain as we mentioned.
Amino Acids, those Lincoln Logs that make up protein, move through your bloodstream every three hours. So it is important to constantly feed your body with lean protein. Your muscles are not static organs, but living dynamic tissue. It is either growing or shrinking. It has to do with what you put in your body and how you exercise those muscles.
As we have mentioned lean protein is vital for building muscle tissue, especially after your muscle tissue is broken down when you work out. Your muscle growth happens after you work out. So the more complete protein you can consistently feed your muscles around workouts at the right amounts, the larger your muscle tissue will grow and more importantly your fat tissue will decrease.
Again the best source for this is animal protein. You will get the best results by eating natural occurring grass-fed proteins compared to liquids, powder, or bars. The thermic effect and level of nutrients is higher in natural foods compared to these other forms. Often these bars and liquids are filled with large amounts of sugar which spike your insulin causing you to gain muscle and fat. If that is your goal, then that is fine to mix those both in conservatively (yes I am being a bit sarcastic). Otherwise if you want to build lean mass while maintaining or losing fat, then I would stick to animal protein.
As we get further into this series you will see why animal protein is more significant than any other food source. Again the main thing here is that you have more energy and to win the fight against aging. It makes all the difference with how you interact with kids, how confident you are when you are social trying to find that special someone, and to someday be an old grandma and grandpa that can see their kids get married.
Glen is an Ex-personal trainer with a passion for health and Fitness. He has trained a variety of clients with goals ranging from weight loss and improved overall fitness to improved speed, strength, and sport performance.
In his spare time, Glen enjoys traveling, reading, golf, softball, poker, and rooting for the Atlanta Braves and Jacksonville Jaguars.