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Friday, 30 May 2014

Increasing Your Basal Metabolic Rate


As we age, most of us become less active and sedentary. We may not have always been that way, but with time increasingly with little opportunity to move about, we’ve become that way. We occasionally work overtime. We skip meals and later overeat, as though we could catch up with what we missed, or we snack on something sweet. We tend to be happy about our condition until we realize we’ve gained a lot of weight and don’t look the way we want to look.

Estimates have put about 60% of the American adult population in the sedentary category. And, in that regard, it’s not too surprising that about 60% of the population is either overweight or obese. Clearly, under-activity is the most important contributor. Exercise of any kind increases the effect of insulin-promoting fat loss and development of a leaner, more muscular appearance. Our metabolic rate, which is accelerated by exercise, is the most important means of preventing fat build up or promoting fat breakdown. We do tend to slow down with age, and our base-line metabolism, sometimes called basal metabolic rate (BMR), decreases at about 5% per decade after our 20th birthday. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Exercise and physical activity every day are contributing factors in BMR, but not the only contributors. Eating and the digestive processes are as well. When we eat our bodies activate our metabolism—quiet cells and tissues become active, and we burn more calories while digestion occurs. The worst eating behavior is skipping meals and subsequently overeating or binging on junk food until we get to the next meal when we can overeat again.  This is a nasty recipe for getting fatter and sending our metabolism into hiding. We can reverse the trend, but it requires increasing your BMR.

The best initial strategy to increase BMR is to increase your activity level. Shun the sedentary style. Use the stairs, not the elevator. Go for a walk.  Don’t slump down into a chair after dinner. Find something else to do. When you add activities, you should aim for 30 min or more of moderate physical activity every day.

Set up an exercise program. Weights are not necessary, but some kind of hard effort is required, e.g., heavy gardening, chopping wood, fast bike riding. Either weights or resistance training and cardio-aerobic activity such as running or fast walking can elevate your BMR for hours afterward. But weights or resistance training can activate BMR for up to a day, whereas your cardio-aerobic efforts will only last one to six hours. Weights or resistance training will build new muscle and increase you metabolism. New muscle will burn an addition 500 cal or more a day at rest. Thus, you get both a short term and long metabolism boost with weights/resistance efforts. Weight training will generally increase muscle tone, trim the physique, and give one a sense of well-being. Frankly, you’ll look better and feel better as well.

Food elevates metabolism. This is a major reason why eating every few hours is preferable to longer intervals between meals. Never give your body the chance to think it is starving. That will slow your BMR immediately and even cause you to overeat later. Vegetables and fruits contain complex carbohydrates that are burned or digested slowly. There is no big glucose release into the blood. This eliminates a need for spike in the insulin concentration. Eat low glycemic index foods and lower the amounts of fatty foods combined with sugar. Add high fiber foods such as beans, nuts, grains, and some cereals.  Cut sugar, fat, refined flour, but increase fiber, especially when combined with fruits and vegetables. Cut carbohydrates, especially the high starchy vegetables (potatoes, rice, or corn). It may be useful to aim for 15-35 % of diet as carbohydrates. Keep carbohydrates but keep them lower than usual as a percentage of the total caloric intake. Increase protein especially if you are doing some weights or resistance work.

Eat 6 times a day if you can: 3 meals plus 3 snacks. But reduce the size of portions especially if you are already overweight. Stop the junk food! No sugar drinks. Minimum alcohol, coffee, tea are advisable. And stay away from all dietary supplements. They are unnecessary and there are no quick fixes. Drink water as much as possible. Stay hydrated. Remember water accounts for 2/3 of body weight. Water assists in building muscle tone, fat removal, removes (flushes out) toxins. Drinking water will help whatever your plan.  About a gallon a day is reasonable place to start. Some recommend more but a gallon is probably far more than most people usually drink.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

5 Simple Tips to Get Lean and Healthy

Ditch the fat and get your body in peak condition for optimal health.

5 Simple Tips to Get Lean and Healthy

Do you have too much stomach fat?
People who gain belly fat or visceral fat are at greater risk of serious health problems than those who accumulate fat in other areas. Your waist size is a good indicator of whether you have too much stomach fat. There are many measurements that compare your body fat distribution such as waist-to-hip ratio and body fat percentage. They are more precise but, your waist size alone can give you a good estimate if you are at risk. For most men, the risk factors for heart disease, cancer and diabetes increase with a waist size greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters).
Even if your waist is less than 40 inches, it would be wise to consider these 5 fat torching tips for greater overall health and fitness.
1. Get Plenty of Fiber

Research suggests that by eating 25-30 grams of fiber per day you can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and other intestinal disorders.  Adding fiber to the diet helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is important in avoiding diabetes. In addition, some people with diabetes can achieve a significant reduction in their blood sugar levels and may find they can reduce their medication.
2. Increase Water Intake

Water has no fat, calories, sugar or carbs, and will curb your thirst and appetite naturally much more effectively than any other beverage. Water helps rid the body of waste by binding to fiber and “cleansing” your intestinal wall. Statistics reveal that individuals who drink more than five to six glasses of water a day are 40% less likely to suffer from a heart related death.
3. Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is a necessary aspect of life and is essential to our health. It is recommended that we get 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep helps the brain to commit new information to memory. Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite. Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do. Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body's killer cells. 
4. Maintain a Physically Active Lifestyle

Physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help: control your weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers, reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your mental health and mood. According to the CDC, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (i.e brisk walking) every week and muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
5. Get Regular Health Exams

Regular health exams and tests can help find problems before they start. They also can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better. By getting the right health services, screenings, and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances for living a longer, healthier life. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

We have got cholesterol completely wrong

by ZoĆ« Harcombe

Here are six things that we need to know about cholesterol:
i)    It is virtually impossible to explain how vital cholesterol is to the human body. If you had no cholesterol in your body you would be dead. No cells, no bone structure, no muscles, no hormones, no sex, no reproductive system, no digestion, no brain function, no memory, no nerve endings, no movement, no human life – nothing without cholesterol. It is utterly vital and we die instantly without it.
ii)    Cholesterol is so vital to the body that our bodies make it. The body cannot risk leaving it to chance that we would get it externally from food or some other external factor – that’s how critical it is.
iii) There is no such thing as good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Cholesterol is cholesterol. The chemical formula for cholesterol is C27H46O. There is no good version or bad version of this formula.HDL is not even cholesterol, let alone good. LDL is not even cholesterol, let alone bad. HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein. (There are three other lipoproteins, by the way, chylomicrons, VLDL and IDL).
Fat and cholesterol are not water soluble so they need to be carried around the body in something to do their vital work. The carriers of such substances are called lipoproteins. We can think of lipoproteins as tiny ‘taxi cabs’ travelling round the blood stream acting as transporters. So, lipoproteins are carriers of cholesterol – oh – and triglyceride and phospholipids and protein. All lipoproteins carry all of these substances – just in different proportions. LDL would more accurately be called the carrier of fresh cholesterol and HDL would more accurately be called the carrier of recycled cholesterol.
iv)    The standard blood cholesterol test does not measure LDL  – it estimates it. The fasting blood cholesterol test can only measure total cholesterol and HDL. There are two other unknowns in a four variable equation – LDL and VLDL. The estimation is refined further using the Friedewald equation (named after William Friedewald, who developed it).
Total cholesterol = LDL + HDL + Triglycerides/5 (Ref 1) (More detail here.)
As any mathematician will tell you, one equation, with four variables, only two of which can be measured, is a fat lot of good. We need at least one more equation or known variable, to avoid circular references. This also means that:
-    All other things being equal, LDL will rise if a) total cholesterol rises and/or b) if HDL falls and/or if c) triglycerides fall.
-    All other things being equal, LDL will fall if a) total cholesterol falls and/or b) if HDL rises and/or if c) triglycerides rise.
No wonder an inverse association is observed between LDL and HDL – it is by definition. More surprising is that a fall in triglycerides, which would be welcomed by doctors, would be accompanied by an automatic increase in LDL, all other things being equal, which would not be welcomed by doctors. And you thought that this was scientific.
v)    Statins stop the body from producing the cholesterol that it is designed to produce. They literally stop one of our fundamental body processes from being able to function. The intelligent view on statins is that in the very limited arena where they appear to have some ‘benefit’ (men over 50 who have already had a heart attack), they ‘work’ by having anti-inflammatory properties and that the fact that they lower cholesterol (by stopping the body from being able to produce this vital substance) is a very unfortunate side effect. (Drug companies should work on developing something that has the anti-inflammatory benefit without this huge and damaging side effect – it’s called aspirin).
One in 500 people have familial hypercholesterolemia and may have a problem clearing cholesterol in their body (rather like type 1 diabetics who can’t return their blood glucose levels to normal). For anyone else to be actively trying to lower their vital and life affirming cholesterol levels is deeply troubling.
vi)    “Cholesterol in food has no impact on cholesterol in the blood and we’ve known that all along.” Ancel Keys.
Ancel Keys, the same man who did the brilliant Minnesota starvation experiment, spent the 1950’s trying to show that cholesterol in food was associated with cholesterol in the blood. He concluded unequivocally that there was not even an association, let alone a causation. He never deviated from this view.
Cholesterol is only found in animal foods (it is a vital substance for every living creature). Hence the only foods that Keys could add to human diets, to test the impact of cholesterol, were animal foods. Given that he concluded that eating animal foods had no impact on blood cholesterol levels, it follows that animal foods per se have no impact on blood cholesterol levels (not that high cholesterol is a problem – quite the contrary – but that’s another story).
There is no need, whatsoever, to avoid liver, red meat, other meat, fish, eggs, dairy products etc for any cholesterol that they may contain, or for any other reason.
The body makes cholesterol. I worry about a number of things, but I don’t worry that my body is trying to kill me.

Ref 1: EH Mangiapane, AM Salter, Diet, Lipoproteins and Coronary Heart Disease: A Biochemical Perspective, Nottingham University Press, (1999). (See reference 159 The Obesity Epidemic)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Which sleep position is healthiest?

By Mindy Berry Walker

( -- Your preferred p.m. pose could be giving you back and neck pain, tummy troubles, even premature wrinkles. Here are the best positions for your body -- plus the one you may want to avoid.

The Best: Back position

Good for: Preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, minimizing wrinkles, maintaining perky breasts.

Bad for: Snoring

The scoop: Sleeping on your back makes it easy for your head, neck, and spine to maintain a neutral position. You're not forcing any extra curves into your back, says Steven Diamant, a chiropractor in New York City. It's also ideal for fighting acid reflux, says Eric Olson, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota: "If the head is elevated, your stomach will be below your esophagus so acid or food can't come back up."

Back-sleeping also helps prevent wrinkles, because nothing is pushing against your face, notes Dee Anna Glaser, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University. And the weight of your breasts is fully supported, reducing sagginess.

Consider this: "Snoring is usually most frequent and severe when sleeping on the back," Olson says.

Perfect pillow: One puffy one. The goal is to keep your head and neck supported without propping your head up too much.

Next Best: Side position

Good for: Preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, snoring less, sleeping during pregnancy

Bad for: Your skin and your breasts

The scoop: Side-sleeping is great for overall health -- it reduces snoring and keeps your spine elongated. If you suffer from acid reflux, this is the next best thing to sleeping on your back.

Now for the downside: "Sleeping on your side can cause you to get wrinkles," Glaser says. Blame all that smushing of one side of your face into the pillow. This pose also contributes to breast sag, since your girls are dangling downward, stretching the ligaments, says Health magazine's Medical Editor Roshini Rajapaksa, M.D.

Consider this: If you're pregnant, sleep on your left side. It's ideal for blood flow.

Perfect pillow: A thick one. "You need to fill the space above your shoulder so your head and neck are supported in a neutral position," says Ken Shannon, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Not Ideal: Fetal position

Good for: Snoring less, sleeping during pregnancy

Bad for: Preventing neck and back pain, minimizing wrinkles, maintaining perky breasts

The scoop: Outside of your mother's uterus, resting in a tight fetal pose isn't a great idea. When you snooze with your knees pulled up high and chin tucked into your chest, you may feel it in the morning, especially if you have an arthritic back or joints, Olson says.

"This curved position also restricts diaphragmatic breathing," adds Dody Chang, a licensed acupuncturist with the Center for Integrative Medicine at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. And if you make this your nightly pose, you may bring on premature facial wrinkles and breast sag.

Consider this: Just straighten out a bit -- try not to tuck your body into an extreme curl.

Perfect pillow: One plump pillow -- the same as side position, to give your head and neck support.

The Worst: Stomach position
Good for: Easing snoring

Bad for: Avoiding neck and back pain, minimizing wrinkles, maintaining perky breasts

The scoop: "Stomach-sleeping makes it difficult to maintain a neutral position with your spine," Shannon explains. What's more, the pose puts pressure on joints and muscles, which can irritate nerves and lead to pain, numbness, and tingling.

"Think about the soreness you'd feel if you kept your neck turned to one side for 15 minutes during the day," Diamant explains. In this position you have your head to one side for hours at a time. You won't necessarily feel it the next day, but you may soon start to ache.

Consider this: Do you snore? "Stomach-sleeping may even be good for you," Olson says. Facedown keeps your upper airways more open. So if you snore and aren't suffering from neck or back pain, it's fine to try sleeping on your belly.

Perfect pillow: Just one (and make it a thin one) or none at all.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The shocking truth about protein

by Adina Steiman

If you are what you eat, what does that make a vegan? A string-bean, milquetoast kind of a guy? Of course not- and US-based strength coach Robert dos Remedios, a vegan, is strong evidence to the contrary. Really strong.

But most men eat animal products. And we really do become what we eat. Our skin, bones, hair and nails are composed mostly of protein. Plus, animal products fuel the muscle-growing process called protein synthesis. That's why Rocky Balboa chugged eggs before his runs. Since those days, nutrition scientists have done plenty of research. So, read up before you chow down.

Truth No. 1: You need more

Think big. Ideal recommendations for adults are .8g to 1g per ideal body weight, which comes to around 60 to 70g of protein per day, says Ritika Samaddar, HOD, dietetics, Max Healthcare. "The benefit goes beyond muscles: Protein dulls hunger and can help prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

How much do you need? Step on a scale and be honest with yourself about your workout regimen. According to Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, who studies exercise and nutrition at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, US, highly trained athletes thrive on 0.77g of daily protein per 450g of body weight. That's 139g for a 80kg man.

Men who work out five or more days a week for an hour or longer need 0.55g per 450g. And men who work out 3 to 5 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour need 0.45g per 450g.

Truth No. 2: It's not all the same

Many foods, including nuts and beans, can provide a good dose of protein. But the best sources are dairy products, eggs, meat and fish, says Samaddar.

"Animal protein are best as it contains all the nine essential amino acids." But she also adds that it's possible to build complete protein from plant-based foods by combining legumes, nuts and grains at one meal or over the course of a day. But you'll need to consume 20 to 25 per cent more plant-based protein to reap the benefits that animal-derived sources provide. And beans and legumes have carbs that make it harder to lose weight.

Scale down your fat and carbohydrate intake to make room for lean protein: Eggs, low-fat milk, yoghurt, lean meat and fish. But remember, if you're struggling with your weight, carbs are the likely problem. Fat will help keep you full, while carbs can put you on a bloodsugar roller coaster leaving you hungry later.

Truth No. 3: Timing is everything

"At any given moment, even at rest, your body is breaking down and building protein," says Samaddar. Every time you eat at least 30g of protein, Samaddar says, you trigger a burst of protein synthesis that lasts about three hours.

But think about it: When do you eat most of your protein? At dinner, right? That means you could be fuelling muscle growth for only a few hours a day, and breaking down muscle the rest of the time. Instead, you should spread out your protein intake throughout the day.

Your body can process only so much protein in a single sitting. A recent study from the University of Texas found that consuming 90g of protein at one meal provides the same benefit as eating 30g. It's like a gas tank, says study author Douglas Paddon-Jones, PhD. "There's only so much you can put in to maximise performance; the rest is spillover."

Truth No. 4: Workouts require fuel

Every guy knows he should consume some protein after a workout. But how much, and when? "When you work out, your muscles are primed to respond to protein," says Samaddar, "and you have a window of opportunity to promote muscle growth".

It is recommended that you split your dose of protein, eating half 30 minutes before the workout and the other half 30 minutes after. A total of 10 to 20g of protein is ideal. And wrap a piece of bread around that chicken, because carbs can raise insulin; this slows protein breakdown, which speeds muscle growth. Moreover, you won't use your stored protein for energy; you'll rely instead on the carbs.

One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, pinpointed 20g as the best amount of post-workout protein to maximise muscle growth. You're doing this because resistance exercise breaks down muscle and it needs protein to rebuild. This requires a fresh infusion of amino acids to repair and build it. If you're lifting weights and you don't consume protein, it's almost counterproductive.

Truth No. 5: Powders are for everyone

Everyone-not just muscleheads- can benefit from the quick hit of amino acids provided by a protein supplement, bar or shake. Your best bet is a fast-absorbing, high-quality kind like whey protein powder: "It appears in your bloodstream 15 minutes after you consume it," says Samaddar.

Whey protein is also the best source of leucine, an amino acid that behaves more like a hormone in your body: "It's more than a building block of protein- it actually activates protein synthesis," she adds. Whey contains 10 per cent leucine while other animal-based proteins have as little as five per cent.
 Gym-friendly protein all-stars

The muscle-building ideal is 20g, half before and half after your workout.

1. Chicken, turkey, or tuna (85g): 14-22g protein, 66-100 calories. Wrap one of these standbys in a piece of bread. Four slices of chicken or turkey provide 14g of protein, while half a can of tuna has nearly 22g.

2. Eggs (3): 19g protein, 232 calories. They're still incredible after all these years. Hard-boiled eggs are most convenient, but it's also easy to scramble a few in the am and scoop them into a microwavable container. Don't sweat the fat: It's healthy and filling.

3. Chocolate milk (450g): About 17g protein, 333 calories. Refresh and rebuild at the same time. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows that chocolate milk may be the ideal post-workout beverage for building muscle.

4. Whey powder (30g scoop): 24g protein, 110 calories. This milk-derived product continues to rule the gym. Mix it with milk instead of water if you want a bit more protein. Try Nitrean; it has whey isolate for quick absorption, and casein, which is digested slowly.

5. Yoghurt (150g container): 15g protein, 80 calories. Greek-style yoghurt is a lifter's dream: It's easy to carry and packed with protein. Skip yoghurts with fruit and sugar; to add flavour, drop in a few berries or nuts.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sleep Like a Baby

Follow these tips to help ensure that your time between the sheets leaves you feeling refreshed and renewed:
Make breakfast your heaviest meal of the day.Digesting food takes energy, so if you eat a heavy meal late in the day, your body will have to work hard to digest it while you're trying to go to sleep. Many people sleep better if they have protein at breakfast and lunch, and a light dinner with some carbohydrates.
Cut back on the sleep robbers. Cut out caffeine after 2:00 p.m., and refrain from drinking alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime. You may become drowsy after a couple of glasses of wine, but too much alcohol will make you wake up frequently during the night. In addition, although coffee is the most obvious source of caffeine, don't forget that there's also caffeine in colas, chocolate, tea, and some medications.
Go toward the light. Get outside when it's sunny, or at least turn on the lights at home in the morning. This will help you reset your awake-sleep cycle.
Drink like a fish. Even mild dehydration—losing as little as ½ cup of body water—could turn into low-grade chronic fatigue. Drink eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water a day, and add four to six more glasses when you exercise. To prevent unnecessary trips to the bathroom at night, empty your bladder before going to sleep, and don't drink more than 4 ounces within an hour of going to bed.
Exercise earlier in the day. Regular exercise first energizes, then relaxes you. So if you start doing calisthenics or aerobics right before bed, nerve-stimulating hormones will be released and will raise your body's core temperature, preventing you from falling asleep. Exercise—but do it earlier in the day.
Walk into sleep. You don't have to walk far to get sleep-enhancing benefits. People who walked at least six blocks a day at a normal pace were one-third less likely to have trouble sleeping, according to one study of more than 700 men and women. Those who picked up the pace had even better sleeping habits. You get the same benefits with walking that you'd get by taking sleep medication—but without the medication's side effects, such as grogginess, increased snoring, risk of sleep apnea, and possible addiction.
Take a nap. It's okay to nap, especially if you didn't sleep well last night. Research has found that people who nap for 15 minutes feel more alert and less sleepy, even after a bad night's sleep.

Go to bed only when you're sleepy. If you can't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and leave your bedroom. Go into the living room and read until you're tired again. Or sit in a chair and think pleasant thoughts: a dream vacation, standing by a waterfall. This should help calm you so that you can return to bed and sleep.
Move the television out of your bedroom. Your bed and bedroom are for sleep and sex. That's it. No reading. No talking on the telephone. No worrying.
Create a sleep schedule and stick to it. You put together a de-stressing schedule. Now, go for your sleep schedule. You may not be able to go to bed at the same time every night, but you can establish a regular wake-up time. Get up at the same time every morning, even on weekends.
Watch your nighttime posture. For a restful night, try these strategies:
• Relieve lower-back pressure by putting a pillow under your knees. The pillow comfortably flexes your lower spine.
• Try a pillow made with down instead of a foam pillow. You want a pillow that is low enough to support your head without flexing your neck, to avoid neck and shoulder aches. Orthopedic pillows with a scooped-out hollow for your head help support the neck and can also be helpful, especially if you have chronic neck problems.
• Put enough blankets on your bed to stay warm. You may otherwise unconsciously curl up to keep warm, which can leave you with a sore back.
• Allow yourself enough room to be able to move your arms and legs and roll over during the night. This is a natural way to prevent your joints from getting stiff.
Take special measures when you're on the night shift. You weren't designed to work the night shift, or rotating shifts, but you may have no choice. So, here are some tips for when you must work while everyone else is asleep:
• Use bright lights to mimic daylight, to keep you awake.
• Try to stay on the same shift, but if you must rotate, do it by the clock: from days to afternoons to nights.
• If you can't sleep when you get home in the morning, don't force it. Wait till early afternoon when you have an energy dip.
Try an herbal soother. Instead of sleeping pills, you might want to try valerian, an herb that can improve your quality of sleep without leaving you feeling groggy the next morning. You need to allow about 2 weeks for valerian to build up in your system. Try taking between 150 and 300 milligrams at bedtime as needed, but give yourself a break now and then to allow your sleep patterns to develop without help. You don't have to buy the more expensive valerian supplements that have other ingredients or herbs.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?

by Kris Gunnars

“Protein is King” – Dr. Spencer Nadolsky
Protein is incredibly important.
If we don’t get enough from the diet, our health and body composition suffers.
However, there are vastly different opinions on how much protein we actually need.
Most official nutrition organizations recommend a fairly modest protein intake.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound (1).
This amounts to (23):
  • 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
  • 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
Although this meager amount may be enough to prevent downright deficiency, studies show that it is far from sufficient to ensure optimal health and body composition.
It turns out that the “right” amount of protein for any one individual depends on many factors… including activity levels, age, muscle mass, physique goals and current state of health.
So… what amount of protein is optimal and how do lifestyle factors like weight loss, muscle building and activity levels factor in?
Let’s find out…

Protein – What is it and Why do we Care?

Proteins are the main building blocks of the body.
They’re used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin.
Proteins are also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve important functions.
Without protein, life as we know it would not be possible.
Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. The linked amino acids form long protein chains, which are then folded into complex shapes.
Some of these amino acids can be produced by the body, while we must get others from the diet. The ones we can not produce and must get from our foods are called the “essential” amino acids.
Protein is not just about quantity. It’s also about quality.
Generally speaking, animal protein provides all the essential amino acids in the right ratio for us to make full use of them (only makes sense, since animal tissues are similar to our own tissues).
If you’re eating animal products (like meat, fish, eggs, or dairy) every day, then you’re probably already doing pretty well, protein-wise.
If you don’t eat animal foods, then it is a bit more challenging to get all the protein and essential amino acids that your body needs (good article on this here).
Most people don’t really need protein supplements, but they can be useful for athletes and bodybuilders.
Bottom Line: Protein is a structural molecule assembled out of amino acids, many of which the body can’t produce on its own. Animal foods are usually high in protein, with all the essential amino acids that we need.

Protein Can Help You Lose Weight (and Prevent You From Gaining it in The First Place)

Protein is incredibly important when it comes to losing weight.
As we know… in order to lose weight, we need to take in fewer calories than we burn.
Eating protein can help with that, by boosting your metabolic rate (calories out) and reducing your appetite (calories in). This is well supported by science (4).
Protein at around 25-30% of calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80 to 100 calories per day, compared to lower protein diets (567).
But probably the most important contribution of protein to weight loss, is its ability to reduce appetite and cause a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake. Protein is much more satiating than both fat and carbs (89),
In a study in obese men, protein at 25% of calories increased feelings of fullness, reduced the desire for late-night snacking by half and reduced obsessive thoughts about food by 60% (10).
In another study, women who increased protein intake to 30% of calories ended up eating 441 fewer calories per day. They also lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks, just byadding more protein to their diet (11).
But protein doesn’t just help you lose… it can also help prevent you from gaining weight in the first place.
In one study, just a modest increase in protein from 15% of calories to 18% of calories reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50% (12).
A high protein intake also helps to build and preserve muscle mass (see below), which burns a small amount of calories around the clock.
By eating more protein, you will make it much easier to stick to whichever weight loss diet (be it high-carb, low-carb or something in between) you choose to follow.
According to these studies, a protein intake around 30% of calories may be optimal for weight loss. This amounts to 150 grams per day for someone on a 2000 calorie diet. You can calculate it by multiplying your calorie intake by 0.075.
Bottom Line: A protein intake at around 30% of calories seems to be optimal for weight loss. It boosts the metabolic rate and causes a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake.

More Protein Can Help You Gain Muscle and Strength

Muscles are made largely of protein.
As with most tissues in the body, muscles are dynamic and are constantly being broken down and rebuilt.
To gain muscle, the body must be synthesizing more muscle protein than it is breaking down.
In other words, there needs to be a net positive protein balance (often called nitrogen balance, because protein is high in nitrogen) in the body.
For this reason, people who want a lot of muscle will need to eat a greater amount of protein (and lift heavy things, of course). It is well documented that a higher protein intake helps build muscle and strength (13).
Also, people who want to hold on to muscle that they’ve already built may need to increase their protein intake when losing body fat, because a high protein intake can help prevent the muscle loss that usually occurs when dieting (1415).
When it comes to muscle mass, the studies are usually not looking at percentage of calories, but daily grams of protein per unit of body weight (kilograms or pounds).
A common recommendation for gaining muscle is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, or 2.2 grams of protein per kg.
Numerous studies have tried to determine the optimal amount of protein for muscle gain and many of them have reached different conclusions.
Some studies show that over 0.8 grams per pound has no benefit (16), while others show that intakes slightly higher than 1 gram of protein per pound is best (17).
Although it’s hard to give exact figures because of conflicting results in studies, 0.7-1 grams (give or take) per pound of body weight seems to be a reasonable estimate.
If you’re carrying a lot of body fat, then it is a good idea to use either your lean mass or your goal weight, instead of total body weight, because it’s mostly your lean mass that determines the amount of protein you need.
Bottom Line: It is important to eat enough protein if you want to gain and/or maintain muscle. Most studies suggest that 0.7 – 1 grams per pound of lean mass (1.5 – 2.2 grams per kg) is sufficient.

Other Circumstances That Can Increase Protein Needs

Disregarding muscle mass and physique goals, people who are physically active do need more protein than people who are sedentary.
If you have a physically demanding job, you walk a lot, run, swim or do any sort of exercise, then you need more protein. Endurance athletes also need quite a bit of protein, about 0.5 – 0.65 grams per pound, or 1.2 – 1.4 grams per kg (1819).
Elderly people also need significantly more protein, up to 50% higher than the DRI, or about 0.45 to 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight (2021).
This can help prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia (reduction in muscle mass), both significant problems in the elderly.
People who are recovering from injuries may also need more protein (22).
Bottom Line: Protein requirements are significantly increased in people who are physically active, as well as in elderly individuals and people who are recovering from injuries.

Does Protein Have any Negative Health Effects?

Protein has been unfairly blamed for a number of health problems.
It has been said that a high protein diet can cause kidney damage and osteoporosis.
However, none of this is supported by science.
Although protein restriction is helpful for people with pre-existing kidney problems, protein has never been shown to cause kidney damage in healthy people (2324).
In fact, a higher protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure and help fight diabetes, which are two of the main risk factors for kidney disease (2526).
If protein really does have some detrimental effect on kidney function (which has never been proven), it is outweighed by the positive effects on these risk factors.
Protein has also been blamed for osteoporosis, which is strange because the studies actually show that protein can help prevent osteoporosis (2728).
Overall, there is no evidence that a reasonably high protein intake has any adverse effects in healthy people trying to stay healthy.
Bottom Line: Protein does not have any negative effects on kidney function in healthy people and studies show that it leads to improved bone health.

How to Get Enough Protein in Your Diet

The best sources of protein are meats, fish, eggs and dairy products. They have all the essential amino acids that your body needs.
There are also some plants that are fairly high in protein, like quinoa, legumes and nuts.
All of this being said, I don’t think there is any need for most people to actually tracktheir protein intake.
If you’re just a healthy person trying to stay healthy, then simply eating quality protein with most of your meals (along with nutritious plant foods) should bring your intake into an optimal range.

What “Grams of Protein” Really Means

This is a very common misunderstanding…
When I say “grams of protein” – I mean grams of the macronutrient protein, not grams of a protein containing food like meat or eggs.
An 8 ounce serving of beef weighs 226 grams, but it only contains 61 grams of actual protein. A large egg weighs 46 grams, but it only contains 6 grams of protein.

What About The Average Person?

If you’re at a healthy weight, you don’t lift weights and you don’t exercise much, then aiming for 0.36 to 0.6 grams per pound (or 0.8 to 1.3 gram per kg) is a reasonable estimate.
This amounts to:
  • 56-91 grams per day for the average male.
  • 46-75 grams per day for the average female.
But given that there is no evidence of harm and significant evidence of benefit, I think it is better for most people to err on the side of more protein rather than less.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Most Accurate Way to Measure Your Metabolism

By: Nicole NicholsSparkPeople Blogger

If you're like most people who are struggling to lose weight, you've started watching what you eat and counting (and cutting back) on your calories. We all know that weight loss is the result of a simple equation:burning more calories than you take in each day. But how do you know how many calories you REALLY burn—or how many calories you should be eating for optimal weight loss?
We all have our own unique metabolic rates—the amount of calories our bodies use just to stay alive; this is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Even at total rest—and without moving—your body is using ("burning") calories just to breathe, circulate blood, digest food, think, blink and more. This actually takes more calories than you might think—hundreds or even thousands. On top of your RMR, even if you don't work out, you burn additional calories by performing basic activities of daily living: brushing your teeth, typing on your computer, and driving your car.
When you visit most nutritionists, sign up for a free weight-loss plan at, or even follow a diet plan you read about in a book or magazine—you're getting some good estimates of your calorie needs, usually based on your weight, gender and possibly your age and height. But these widely used formulas are just that—estimates. They are reasonably accurate for a lot of people, but they are not always accurate for everyone. "Calorie Plan A" may be too few calories for you but be perfect for your sister to lose weight. "Calorie Plan B" might not cut calories enough, yet be too many calories for your friend who weighs the same amount you do. Since we are all unique, estimates don't always work. And when they don't, it can stall your weight loss or bring it do a grinding halt despite your efforts of tracking, counting, measuring and eating within a specific calorie range.

"There are a few people who really struggle in determining their accurate weight-loss calorie range," says SparkPeople's head dietitian, Becky Hand, RD, LD.  "They just don't seem to 'fit' the standard formulas, and 'experimenting' with their calorie intake brings about more and more frustration."
So what's a person to do? You can tweak your plan, adding or cutting back on calories to see how your body responds. This is what a lot of people do throughout their journeys until they find the magic number that starts peeling away the pounds. It takes guessing, checking—and time. And it can work.
But there is another option: You can take a simple test to find out exactly how many calories you're burning each day. This eye-opening RMR test is non-invasive, takes a few minutes of time, and is pretty widely available for a fee. I recently tried it myself along with two SparkPeople employees, Jeff and Jaime, both of whom have been struggling to lose weight. 
The test uses a device called the MedGem (similar RMR tests go by other names, such as "New Leaf").  According to Becky, "These hand-held indirect calorimetry devices can help provide another vital piece to solving their weight loss puzzle." You'll find these tests available in many health and fitness clubs, doctor offices, training facilities and weight-loss clinics. While some might offer tests as part of a weight-loss or training package, others offer the test on its own for a fee, which can range from as little as $50 to $100 or more.

Dawn Weatherwax, RD, CSSD, LD, ATC, CSCS, is a registered dietitian, athletic trainer and certified personal trainer who specializes in nutrition and fitness plans for both competitive and recreational athletes. She recently invited SparkPeople to check out her Sports Nutrition 2 Go facility in Liberty Township (just outside Cincinnati) to try the MedGem test, which normally costs $65 per person at her facility.
So How Does a MedGem Metabolism Test Work?
The MedGem is an easy-to-use, handheld device that accurately measures oxygen consumption (VO2) to determine resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the number of calories your body burns at rest. Knowing your RMR helps you understand your unique metabolism so you can develop a personalized plan to reach your goals.
The MedGem itself is basically a mouthpiece that you breathe into through your mouth while your nose is plugged. It takes about 10 minutes. It's neither uncomfortable nor difficult to do—you just sit still and breathe. The machine is hooked up to a computer that measures how much oxygen you use, which its software uses to determine your metabolic rate.

How to Get Accurate Metabolism Testing Results
When you prepare for an appointment, you have to follow this protocol for the most accurate reading:
  • Do not consume any food for 4 hours prior to your appointment.  
  • Do not consume any caffeinated beverages (i.e. coffee, soda, energy drinks, etc.) for 4 hours prior to your appointment.  Sipping on water is OK.
  • Do not perform any strenuous physical exercise (i.e., vigorous running, strength training, etc.) for 4-hours prior to your appointment.
  • Abstain from all tobacco products for 1 hour prior to your appointment.
  • Continue taking all prescribed medications as indicated.

We chose an early morning appointment to make it easiest to stick to these guidelines.

Our Results
Here's a chart of our results. I'm sharing our heights, weights (as taken that day), and ages as well so you can see how each of our metabolisms compare given those differences.
NameAgeHeightWeightRMR Result
Jaime (F)355'5"1822,190 calories
Jeff (M)425'6"2472,230 calories
Nicole (F)295'8"1452,410 calories

I was particularly fascinated in how we all have very different body sizes yet our RMRs were within just a couple hundred calories of one another. I would have assumed that people who had more fat mass would have much slower metabolisms, and that would be one of the big reasons that they struggle with their weight. But at least as far as the three of us are concerned, we're all pretty close to one another, assuming we all got accurate results. 

What I can say for sure is that all of us were pretty close in actual "lean" (non-fat) body mass, based on other tests we did that day. So regardless of how much fat each of us carries, Jaime and I, for example, were within 1 pound of each other in our lean mass, and Jeff had about 30 pounds more of lean mass than each of us. These results seem to make sense to me considering those other facts--but I'm no expert in this field of testing either.

So How Accurate Are These Results?
According to Becky, "Recent studies indicate that for 'healthy' adults, these hand-held, easy to use,  indirect calorimetry devices provide similar results when compared to the more expensive, and more cumbersome large cart equipment that also requires careful calibration and isn't widely available." Current studies are now investigating their accuracy with specialty populations such as older adults, children, hospital patients on vents, and the malnourished, she explains.

Of course, a person's activity level adds another level of calorie burning on top of this.  The more active you are throughout the day (taking the stairs, walking around, etc.) and the more you exercise—the higher your body's calorie needs will be.
So What Does This Mean for Weight Loss? How Do You Use This Information?
Having witnessed the results of more than 3,000 metabolic tests, Dawn has noticed quite a few trends. Her first step is comparing the result of test with the amount of calories a person actually eats. If a person is eating more than they burn, then the issue is clear: They are simply eating too much and need to cut back.
But more often than not, individuals who have been eating far less than their RMR but still aren't losing weight can mean one of two things, according to Dawn:
  1. They are actually eating far too little. She's seen it more times than she can count, both in overweight individuals and in people who only have another 5-10 pounds to lose. When a person consistenly eats too little, your metabolism can lower, mainly because you can't "give your all" to your daily life or your workouts. In these cases, she advises people to slowly increase their calorie intake by a hundred calories a week until they find that "sweet spot" where they have more energy, feel better, and allow their bodies to let go of some of its body fat.

    My co-worker Jaime thinks this may explain why she has struggled to lose weight even though she exercises five days a week and maintains a calorie-controlled diet. "I now understand why my body has not been losing fat as quickly as I had hoped despite all my efforts," she said after the test. "I essentially was not fueling my body enough (eating around 1,200 calories a day) for it to feel comfortable with letting go of fat! I’m now working on increasing my daily calories to 1,600 on non-workout days and just over 1,800 calories on the days I do exercise."
  2. There are underlying medical or hormonal issues interfering with their weight loss. Hormonal imbalances, such as low testosterone or thyroid issues, can affect your weight as well, says Dawn. "If a person is eating within an appropriate range for weight loss but is gaining weight or not losing weight, hormones may be to blame," she says. When the numbers simply don't add up, she advises that people get a full hormone profile at their doctor to see if anything is out of whack. Often, getting those hormones back into their healthy, normal ranges (via medical intervention) can be just the ticket to speed up weight loss. "Low testosterone is more common than you might think—in both men and women. So is a low-functioning thyroid," she explains.

    Jeff has been eating within a reasonable calorie range for weight loss without getting results—but he does have thyroid problems and realized he may need to check-in with his doctor and see about increasing his medication. "Since I have hypothyroidism, this will prove invaluable information to have while undergoing my other routine medical testing," says Jeff. "I think this is a great baseline for trying to kick-start my weight loss quest again. Knowing how many calories my body burns each day, and being able to use SparkPeople's free Fitness Tracker and Nutrition Tracker to calculate calories in and out should give me a great idea of how well I’m doing at burning calories and losing fat."

For the cost of the test, I think this is a worthwhile investment, especially if you've been on a long-term plateau or are truly doing "everything right" but not seeing progress. Most of these tests are administered by dietitians, fitness professionals, doctors and other wellness providers who are trained and capable at interpreting the results and offering valuable advice on how to use the results to reach your goals, although working directly with a licensed and/or registered dietitian would be ideal. To find a location near you that offers MedGem metabolism testing, click here.
"The whole experience was extremely valuable in helping me understand my caloric needs with the current condition of my body, but more importantly helped me 'reset' in my mind what I need to focus on moving forward," says Jaime. 

Jeff had a great experience as well, both as a jump-start to get him focused on the right things to lose weight and to better understand how his body uses calories. "I was surprised to learn how many calories his body uses just standing still and not doing anything," he commented.
Thanks again to Dawn Weatherwax and Sports Nutrition 2 Go for letting us try the MedGem metabolism test! Stay tuned for a follow-up blog about another fun and interesting test we tried during our visit.
What do you think about the MedGem test? Would you try it? Have you ever had your metabolism tested?