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Are you Fueling Your Internal Fire with Protein?

Figure 1. Is your protein going up in flames? Image source1

"Protein, Protein, Protein… and if in doubt, just add a little more protein to your diet!" This popular mantra, practiced by many hard core resistance training enthusiast, makes sense at "face level." Muscle fibers are composed of protein strands. Therefore, if gains in strength and muscle are of high priority, increasing protein intake beyond that of the RDA value 0.36g/lb (0.8g/kg) definitely makes sense and plenty of research supports this notion. According to the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine 0.5 to 0.8 g Pro/lb (1.2 to 1.7 g/kg) is needed to maximize strength and recovery in athletic populations.2 Likewise, as discussed in the CasePerformance article Preserving Lean Muscle During Weight Loss, intakes above the RDA value appear quite beneficial when looking to lean out for beach season!

Yet, despite the benefits associated with higher protein intakes, some individuals take this to an extreme level. It doesn't take more than a quick tour on the blogosphere to find those recommending protein intakes >1.5-2g/lb (3.3-4.4g/kg) for hard training individuals, especially if they're prepping for bodybuilding shows. Now, I'm fully aware that the body uses protein for purposes other than muscle building. Thus, I'm not going to turn this into a "The body can only utilize so much protein for muscle building, so the rest of it is being wasted " discussion as it's well known that it can be used as a source of energy. However, in using it for this latter purpose (ie – energy production) and "teaching" our body to burn protein for energy, are we setting ourselves up for failure with respect to reaching out long term goals? And, if we are protein burners, are we doomed to lose out on muscle mass when coming off a high protein diet?

Do I have your attention yet? Good, I thought so! Although I'm sure you're ready for me to unleash details on this topic, I am going to graciously turn it over to Dr. Lonnie Lowery … Recently Dr. Lonnie Lowery of Iron Radio shared with me his new article, Are You a Protein Burner? Needless to say, his many years of living the "Iron Life", along with his academic background make him pretty dang intelligent on the subject. Thus, I encourage you to check out his article which is currently "featured" in the Iron Radio Library (at very top of it):

Are You A Protein Burner

In this article, Dr. Lowery presents multiple examples where chronically high protein doses actually were detrimental to changes in body composition goals (and the physiology behind the occurrence)! Additionally, he provides a basic step by step plan on how to come off a high protein diet. But enough of me rambling about it, check it out below:

*Are You A Protein Burner*


1 Frettie. Grilled steaks turned by grill tongs in Czech Republic. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Image accessed on June 5, 2013 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grilled_steaks_turned_by_grill_tongs_in_Czech_Republic.jpg

2 Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Mar;109(3):509-27.

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Written on June 05, 2013 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: June 08, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.