Just like that, the New Year has taken off, and the gyms are fuller than ever! You might be starting a new workout routine and searching for a new diet plan to help shed pounds and tone up. The media would have you believe that there is a magical diet to help you get fast results, whether it's low carb/high fat, carb loading/carb restricted days, or the always popular, high protein diets.
Diets high in protein are nothing new. You might even picture Rocky taking down raw eggs to bulk up! Powders, shakes, and bars are readily available to add extra protein to our diets. Protein is an essential nutrient that our bodies need to function, just like carbohydrates and fat. While the latter two sometimes get a bad reputation, protein has always been adored by gym-goers and athletes to boost their muscle mass. Over the last few years, you may have noticed that many foods now contain added protein. You can now find yogurt, cookies, cereal, and even bread with extra protein. Some eagerly gulp down multiple protein supplements a day to build muscles. The question is, do we need all of it? Is loading up on protein a way to bulk up or lose fat?
Protein 101: The chemical makeup of protein is a bit different than the composition of fats and carbohydrates. Carbs and fats are both composed of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Protein is a little different in that fact that it has all of those components, but it’s also contains nitrogen. Our bodies are designed to use carbs or fat for energy, but when our diets are not balanced and too high in protein, the extra protein is used for energy instead. This does not allow the body to use the nitrogen contained in the protein. Protein is the hardest to break down for energy because our bodies have to strip away the nitrogen. For that reason, excessively high protein diets don’t necessarily bulk you up, but they do put stress on the kidneys to get the nitrogen out of your bodies.
It is true that a meal with quality protein sources helps repair muscle after a workout. However, protein alone is not the reason that you bulk up in the gym. Loading your diet full of protein distorts the balance between the other nutrients. When protein is overly available in the body rather than carbohydrates and fat, the body uses protein for energy rather than maintaining muscle mass as it’s supposed to.
The Bottom Line is Balance: The best way to help aid your new workout regimen is to eat balanced snacks or meals before and after your workouts. This way your body can use what it needs for energy, and protein can do its intended job of repairing muscle after workouts.