Mini Mikkipedia - are we getting enough protein?
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Hey everyone, it's Miki here. You're listening to another Mini Micropedia on a Monday. And this week I want to share some thoughts on protein, which of course you know is one of my favorite topics. And this conversation today is more geared towards are we getting enough protein? And the reason why I thought it would be timely for me to sort of chat about this is because
least here in New Zealand, there was a news report, I believe, on maybe 7 sharp. Potentially last week, I had a mate sort of tell me about it and ask my thoughts on it, suggesting that, or saying that it wasn't that Kiwis weren't getting enough protein because we are getting enough protein. It's just that the distribution of that protein is not correct and not ideal
Of course, whenever you hear a voice of authority on the news, as so many of us listen to watch the news and what not, whenever you hear someone say, we get enough protein, yet you hear someone like me saying, uh uh, we do not get enough protein. No wonder people get confused. And my mate Rob, he works at Unitech and he is currently doing a nutrition module with his students. So it was topical for him to sort of let me know, or at least get my thoughts on,
why this might not be the case. So he could then easily relate what my thoughts were back to those students, which is really cool. So what I will say first and foremost is I definitely agree that the way we eat protein is skewed. However, I wholeheartedly disagree that we get enough protein. Not only is this based on my clinical experience working one-on-one with people for the last 20 plus years,
notwithstanding my own focus on protein within that time with clients is realizing that so many people, most people I talk to do not get enough protein. But of course as well is the Working in My Mondays Matter program with a couple of thousand people now, literally almost everyone who I engage with on the Facebook page is like, oh my god, I had no idea I was not getting enough protein.
So why would you have on one hand these trusted authorities tell us that we get enough protein and then on the other hand you have people like me and not just me you know other protein metabolism experts other authorities in the field my mates cliff karen katie lara whole host of people say actually we do not get enough where is that disconnect so a few thoughts first
Protein intakes are often compared against the recommended dietary intake value, which is woefully low. Like it is beyond a joke low. If, and that's actually not coming from me, that was something I just read in Peter Atiyah's Outlive book, woefully low. They are a rate that is set for our survival and not for us to be in optimal health.
that recommended dietary intake is set at 0.8 grams per kg body weight, and that is what we need for minimum survival. That's the threshold. So of course, when you are considering the protein intake of an individual and you're comparing it against that value, then yeah, we are totally getting enough protein. However, is minimum amount for survival really what we should be aiming for?
Notwithstanding that, the super low value with which it's compared against, the way that they've derived that number is based on a method called nitrogen balance studies, and these have been well critiqued over the years and are now thought of by protein metabolism experts by people who live and breathe protein every single day as to be inadequate for assessing protein requirements.
And some, so nitrogen balance is a measure of nitrogen input minus nitrogen output. And nitrogen is a fundamental component of amino acids. And those amino acids are what make up these proteins, or our protein. There are 22 of them, just so you know, 9 of which we need to get from our diet, because our body cannot actually create them. So it is often used as a proxy to estimate the amount of protein in a person's diet.
or the protein requirement of the body, and this is how they've derived that recommended dietary intake value. However, the use of nitrogen balance for assessing protein intake does have its limitations, and this is one of the reasons why it is no longer thought of as appropriate to determine protein requirements. First one is the accuracy of measurement. The accuracy of nitrogen balance studies depends heavily on precise measurements of all
nitrogen inputs and outputs. That's quite challenging as it requires complete collection of all food consumed and all bodily waste excreted from urine, feces, sweat, blood, etc. Any errors in these measurements can result in inaccurate estimates of nitrogen balance. Second, is the individual variation.
Individual metabolic variations can impact nitrogen balance in factors such as age, sex, physical activity level, overall health status, your protein intake actually, and the presence of certain conditions like illness or stress can affect nitrogen metabolism and therefore nitrogen balance. And the studies originally used to determine our requirements are based on healthy young
populations of both men and women, often college aged actually because it's actually an excellent way to get money is to take part in clinical trials as a student, as I have, or as I did. And it's not necessarily reflective of the entire population. And not only that, like think about our population these days, like how we look now as a population compared to how we looked 60 years ago when these were developed, earlier than that maybe.
so different. Like the whole population has shifted in terms of, I mean body weight is the very obvious one with over two thirds of the population being categorized as overweight and obese so carrying excess body fat like
We've got an older population now compared to what it was 60 years ago. You know, in Australia, I actually just heard a statistic that there'll be more people in that over 65 year age bracket compared to those under 18. You know, we are an aging population and that absolutely dictates how much protein is required and it isn't appropriate to be compared against the recommended dietary intake. Anyway.
The third reason is that bioavailability of nitrogen. So this is another reason why these nitrogen balance studies aren't ideal, is that not all nitrogen consumed in the diet is available for absorption and utilization. And the bioavailability of nitrogen can vary depending on the source of the protein, animal versus plant-based, the individual's gut health, and other dietary factors, such as fiber content, for example. And this can skew the nitrogen balance.
Now that protein type is a super important one to just double click on. I say double click because I've been listening to Tim Ferriss and he says that all of the time. Now animal protein contains all of these essential amino acids that I mentioned earlier, of which we have nine that we need from our diet. Plant protein is limited, is firstly limited in one or more of these proteins, so it's not a complete protein source. The way that
animal protein is. Second, the fibers with which the protein is sort of held in, in plant-based sources, that prevents us from being able to fully absorb that amino acid. Therefore, we need to eat more of the plant protein in order to meet our protein requirements. And I've seen some estimates being based around maybe 30% more of that protein. However, I
been able to double down on a specific reference that can really be definitive about that. However, that's what the number sort of put out there in terms of practical recommendations. So you need about 30% more of protein from those plant protein sources if you're not eating protein from animal protein. And that is just fact. Like that is science and that is not an opinion. The bioavailability piece.
To just put a blanket number of 0.8 grams per kg body weight, and this is what we need for nitrogen balance, is no longer seen as an adequate marker based on that bioavailability of nitrogen. And of course, the other two things which I've mentioned. And then also the endogenous nitrogen losses, the things that we can't see. So there are losses of nitrogen from the body that are not related to protein intake, such as through skin and hair loss,
losses in the feces and urine that are unrelated to dietary protein. And they're difficult to measure accurately and can affect the accuracy of these nitrogen balance studies. So for these reasons, protein experts no longer believe that nitrogen balance is an adequate way to assess requirements. So therefore, the RDI of 0.8 grams per kg body weight does not hold the same weight
Now, this hasn't changed public health recommendations, but it really should change the opinion of those of us working in the field who are aware of this problem, first and foremost. So this is one of the reasons why using the 0.8 grams per kg body weight as a marker to compare an individual's protein intake is woefully inadequate. So overall then with nitrogen balance as a way to measure protein,
accurate and other methods of measuring protein needs such as the indicator amino acid oxidation method might actually provide more accurate results in this instance but that's not something that has been addressed by public health guidelines in any country actually. And the second point I want to note is, you know, what does enough mean? So when we're looking at studies to support muscle hypertrophy for example, there are
RDIs, so 1.6 grams per kg body weight, are recommended. And that is what you require in a day to max out that muscle protein synthesis response, so the ability to build and retain muscle. Now, within a meal, that amount will equate to trying to get about 30 grams of good quality protein at each meal, or at least twice a day, breakfast and dinner, so you need about four to five hours
to really maximize that muscle synthetic response, which is what we need to be doing, because remember, one of the things that is a big driver of early mortality is lack of muscle mass and psychopenia. So the more that we can build muscle when we're young and hold onto it as we age, the healthier we are going to be. And that requires that 30 grams of protein within two meals at least a day. However,
Muscle protein synthesis is just one role of protein in the body. Protein does so many more things than that. It regulates water balance. It helps with blood sugar regulation. It forms the basis of enzymes to act as messengers in the body. It acts as a storage protein to deliver nutrients like iron. It helps produce hormones. It does so many things. Yet people will go back to muscle protein synthesis and if you have enough to support that, then that's all you need.
you can see that that's actually in my opinion, and not just my opinion, and plenty of people's opinion who are authorities in the field, that is just not enough. So if you rely on the RDI, of course we are like totally just like halving what I've just described in terms of your protein requirements. And that is not, certainly the 0.8 grams per kg body weight is not enough to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
not even thinking about all those other roles that I just mentioned with protein. Now if I go back to the per meal basis I mentioned that 30 grams of protein and if you are older and there's not some sort of cut off here but if you are say over than 55 you actually need about 40 grams of protein in a meal.
And for what it's worth, when I'm talking to people, like women over the age of, say, 40, and men as well, I'm actually recommending that. Not only because, of course, I'm thinking about muscle protein synthesis, but I am thinking about those other roles. And if we think about a woman that is headed into perimenopause, higher anxiety, poor blood sugar regulation,
inability to sleep which pushes up insulin levels and cortisol levels which impacts on blood sugar regulation like all of these things impact on how a woman feels. Protein is the stabilizer for that. That's the nutrient that you want to double down on in order to even out and smooth out that transition and help with that day to day being in balance. The protein requirements that are set are not going to be able to not going to help you do that.
And so I am a fan of getting in more of that protein at each meal. So I mentioned breakfast and dinner and what determines what you do at lunch. It actually comes down to the amount of protein you need across a day. And that is where that 1.6 grams per kg body weight comes to. But actually, if you were someone who is on a fat loss diet, that requirement actually goes well up. It goes up to about 2.2 grams per kg body weight. And you can even
go higher than that. There is nothing detrimental about having a higher protein intake. And particularly if you're someone who feels hungry, protein is incredibly satisfying. Therefore, aiming for those amounts at each three meals, so 30 to 40 grams, breakfast, lunch and dinner, is going to go a long way to supporting your body composition needs and helping regulate your appetite as well. Because the more we can dial in on our appetite and really help
support that, the less likely it is that you are going to go and grab something to eat outside of a meal time because you're starving, because your blood sugar level has dropped, because you're stressed, all of those things that create this environment where we overeat. So having that protein at each three meals I think is really important. And don't forget, if you are active then
Adding in another meal, another snack, where you're getting 25 to 30 grams of protein. And of course, I'm not talking at all about carbs in this segment, but I will say, of course, if you're very highly active, you'll need some carbs in there as well in that sort of protein recovery meal. But getting in enough protein at that fourth meal, be it, and I say meal, but it could be protein smoothie, could be a couple of hard boiled eggs or three hard boiled eggs or something like that. This isn't necessarily about
a window of opportunity to meet your protein requirements. But it's literally just, if you've been super active, you've been breaking down that muscle, be it through strength training or endurance training, you do need more of the substrate to help that repair and recovery. And that is what you're wanting to do. Now, I mentioned the muscle protein synthetic response. What Don Layman, who I've had on the podcast before, he is like an absolute authority in protein. What he suggests is that we,
aim for if you want to dial into the weeds and go into those amino acids, you want to aim for three grams of leucine in a meal and you want to aim for another gram of methionine and about three to four grams of lysine. And these are three of these amino acids that we require because our body cannot produce. So
If you really want to get clinical and get a bit sort of data driven on this, these are the amino acids that you want to be maximizing and optimizing in your breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, of which you should be able to get when you're getting that 30 to 40 grams of protein at those sort of meal times. Don't forget though, if you were
relying solely on plant-based protein, you will need to increase that protein amount because that is not sufficient. And I'm talking about sources from, like Tofu is your best source of protein as Tempeh, but a plant-based powder such as Clean Lean Protein, you know I love Clean Lean Protein, Go Good is another brand which I love and they've got a plant-based protein. And you get discounts actually, when you use my name for both of those brands.
We will pop that in the show notes. With those plant-based protein powders, they've been stripped of a lot of the fibers that might impact on our ability to digest and utilize those amino acids. So that digestibility piece is actually way better when you're using a plant-based protein powder. Another thing to mention, just because I know a lot of people ask about this, is what about kids? What do they need? And studies show that...
Children need about 10 to 15 grams of these good quality amino acids at each meal to help maximize that muscle protein synthetic response. So you know, obviously kids need a ton more calories than we do as adults because they're growing and they're active and all of the good things. So as a parent, putting in protein powder, making sure they're getting eggs, getting meat, getting cottage cheese. You know, if they're
vegetarian, then they're getting tofu or tempeh, things like that, that's really gonna help support their protein requirements, but they don't need as much as what you might need if you were in your 40s, 50s, and beyond. One last thing that I do wanna mention around the protein and whether or not we're getting enough, and this is something which I've learnt recently from our mate, Marty Kendall, over at Optimizing Nutrition. I've had Marty on the show before, I really wanna get him back on actually, his brain is like,
It's full of amazing information. Like he is just a complete guru. And he talks about the amount of protein we need to be satisfied in a meal. And what is the cutoff where we actually, is there this number where if you get a set amount of protein in the diet, you're just going to continue to overeat. And he has thousands and thousands of data points of people's individual intakes that show that at a certain percentage of protein, they're actually overeating calories.
to the point where they're gaining excess body fat. Like what is the percentage protein in the diet that makes someone overeat calories? That number is 12% actually. And that pretty much is also the average protein intake of most people on a standard Western diet. So this whole food environment, the types of foods that we have available, the way that we're told to eat is all geared towards this 12% of our dietary energy coming from protein.
which is the amount which makes us overeat. So no wonder we have this epidemic of excess body fat that is related to poor metabolic health that is impacting on our overall sort of longevity and health span. If the diet is set up to be providing an amount of protein that just makes us wanna eat more. So that is another reason why we can't really say that, yes, well, 12% of the protein
might equal the recommended dietary intake, but that's not enough protein. We as a nation are not, in my opinion, getting enough protein to help support our overall health requirements. And it isn't just about how that protein is distributed across the day. It is about the overall total amount of protein. And that is absolutely something we need to dial in on. And it is something that is not focused on in any of the public health recommendations out there. It doesn't matter what country. And New Zealand always takes its lead.
always takes its lead from the US actually, which currently they're actually revising or at least they are re-looking at those dietary guidelines because that's what they do in the US. At least there's money put towards revising the dietary guidelines for better or worse. And often actually they do make adjustments that are for the better. Not here in New Zealand though, they never do that. They don't put money towards it. And in fact…
To say that we know that we know anything about what kiwis eat is actually mind blowing to me as well because we know nothing. The last time there was a public, a national nutrition survey was in 2008 and 2009. That was like 14 and 15 years ago. So we know nothing about what kiwis are eating. And if you think about the food environment, if you think about the narrative of a plant based approach, eat less meat. You know?
Our protein amounts certainly haven't increased. And of course, at the individual basis, you're engaging in this podcast, your mates are probably engaging in the similar material, you guys as a group are probably on point with your protein requirements. But we are a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny drop in the ocean of people compared to the millions of people in New Zealand that are not getting protein. And look, it's a societal thing. You know,
Things are cheap. You know, people go to Costco because they can feed their family for $1.50 on a hot dog. And I'm not kidding. Like you can get a hot dog and hot chips for like four bucks 50 at Costco. That is dinner. You cannot go to the supermarket and do the same thing anymore. You used to be able to maybe five, 10 years ago, and now it is just so much more difficult. So that's a real challenge too. And so this is why I wanted to do a mini-Micipedia on it because if we don't focus on the things that really matter,
with our nutrition, then there's no way out of the health-related issues that, as a nation, that we are facing, really. You know, I can't see how this is going to get better. And I can't see how the public health narrative will ever shift in a way that actually helps improve the health outcomes of Kiwis. I can't imagine a government that will ever decide that health is important enough to put more money behind it in a way that actually also addresses nutrition.
that looks at the cost of groceries, that subsidizes the things that really matter in our diet. Meat, actually. We don't need someone telling us that we need to eat more fruit and veggies. We've got it, we know it. People don't do it, but we know it. We need more people telling us that we need more good quality food like animal protein in the diet to help with our macronutrient needs. So anyway, there's some thoughts on protein for you. Anyway, you guys have a great week.
I will pop the links to those discounts in the show notes. So if you use my name, Mickey with New Zest, anywhere in the world, you're gonna get 20% off. And here in New Zealand, if you use the code, Mickey2020, you're gonna get 20% off GoGood. And GoGood has a range of different protein powders, including an excellent whey protein isolate. All right, team, I hope your week has started well. You can catch me over on Twitter at Mickey Willardin.
Instagram at Mickey Willard in Facebook at Mickey Willard in nutrition and Head to my website. You can book a one-on-one call with me or sign up to one of my meal plans See you later