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Counting Macros and Measuring Food Portions

Counting Macros and Measuring Food Portions

Vitalere Chief Science Officer says your protein may be coming up short

Robert Pastore, Ph.D., is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and scientist in the fields of nutrition, biochemistry, nutrigenomics, bioinformatics and nanomedicine. He is a member of the American Society for Nutrition and the American College of Nutrition.

In his private practice Dr. Pastore counseled many pro athletes from MLB, the NFL, NHL, and the world of endurance sports, including cyclists, Ironman competitors and marathon runners. He also worked with CEOs and other top executives of Fortune 500 and Forbes List companies.

After retiring from his practice in late 2013, Dr. Pastore partnered with Acasta Capital to start Vitalere, where as Chief Science Officer he leads R&D and product development. He is a proven health-product inventor, having commercialized several products and co-founded several companies.

Modus Nutrition: From a metabolic standpoint, why is it so important that we get protein throughout the day?

Dr. Robert Pastore: The human body is in a constant state of protein turnover, meaning protein synthesis and breakdown. The amino acids contained in proteins provide the building blocks for muscles, as well as playing an important role in providing the body energy.

Without enough dietary protein, injury, lethargy and muscle breakdown can result. Getting the right amount of protein throughout the day helps the body maintain its nitrogen balance, where total nitrogen intake is in equilibrium with total nitrogen loss. A negative nitrogen balance (due inadequate protein intake) indicates that muscle is being broken down, consumed and used for energy—which compromises health and performance.

In your work with athletes you discovered that many weren’t getting enough protein on a daily basis. Generally speaking, what are your recommendations?

Though protein needs are dependent on weight and activity level or sport, we’re all biochemically unique, and guidelines should be tailored to the individual. But generally speaking, here’s what I recommend:

For strength athletes, approximately 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, for a 180-pound athlete that would be a minimum of roughly 163 grams per day.

Endurance athletes should consider 1.5 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Ultra-endurance athletes like distance runners and triathletes need 1.5 to 2.0 grams per kilogram.

Weekend warriors or active adults can calculate a little lower—1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight.

Protein should be a component of every meal and all snacks. Ideally, you’ll calculate your protein content at breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to reach your goals.

Endurance athletes typically haven’t paid much attention to protein—they’ve focused mostly on carb loading for muscle energy storage.

While weight lifters and other strength trainers have long known about the importance of protein, endurance athletes have labored under the misconception that carbohydrates are the only fuel they need. In truth, these athletes also need ample protein, although their bodies use it for slightly different purposes. Strength trainers need protein to increase muscle mass; endurance athletes to repair the muscle breakdown that occurs during their training—more of a maintenance issue.

What should be our primary protein source?

Ideally, high-quality protein foods with a high essential amino acid content and total amino acid content (i.e., lean meats, eggs, poultry, fish, dairy if tolerated, whole grains, legumes, plants, seeds, nuts). However, many athletes have food intolerances, allergies and preferences that must be taken into account when choosing their protein sources. That’s where a protein supplement comes into play.

What do you look for in a quality protein supplement?

There are several [ways] to measure protein quality, with one internationally accepted method put forth by the World Health Organization has been the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score, or PDCAAS for short. It’s well accepted in the clinical literature that the nutritional value of proteins may differ depending on their essential amino acid composition and digestibility.

Using the WHO scale, generally speaking, protein from legumes (PDCAAS score of .60) is considered lesser quality than the protein from nuts (PDCAAS score of .70). And both legumes and nuts score lower than the protein in an egg (PDCAAS score of 1). This doesn’t mean the protein in legumes is poor; it can still be a part of a healthy diet as it provides important macronutrients like carbohydrates and fiber, and contributes to protein requirements.

But in choosing a supplement you also have to consider digestive issues. For example, whey protein, which has all essential amino acids, is considered king of the mountain, yet many people experience severe gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming it. If it causes diarrhea, that will lead to a loss of nutrients, including amino acids. So for someone with dairy sensitivities, whey would be a terrible protein choice, regardless of its high biological value or high PDCAAS.

Currently there is a movement in protein nutrition to replace PDCAAS with the digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS) as it is believed to be a more accurate method for protein quality scoring. One of the key points for the desired shift is the understanding that digestibility can not be estimated from feces, which is a component in PDCAAS calculations. Additionally, dietary amino acids should be treated as individual nutrients and not simply as protein. For me, protein quality considers the amounts and types of amino acids in the protein and their ability to support growth, maintenance, repair and development.  

So as you can see, there’s a lot to consider. The solution is a widely varied diet of high-quality protein foods, along with quality protein supplementation, all based on the unique needs of the individual athlete.

Any suggestions for tailoring protein intake?

I recommend consuming a mix of fast and slowly absorbed protein throughout the day. This is because slowly absorbed proteins reduce skeletal muscle catabolism (breakdown) and fast absorbing proteins support muscle anabolism (synthesis).

Can you get too much of a good thing?

Yes—but you can also consume too much water! If you have kidney disease you can take in too much protein, so always discuss your diet with a nutrition professional such as a Certified Nutrition Specialist or Registered Dietitian.

There’s a misconception that a high protein diet, or high protein intake, causes kidney disease, and that is completely false.

Another myth I’ve heard is that if you simply take in enough calories you’ll get enough protein, so there’s no need for calculation and planning. This is also false. Plenty of healthy foods are high in calories, but low in protein, such as avocados. So an athlete polishing off a giant bowl of guacamole and chips will be getting plenty of calories, but at the expense of adequate protein intake.