Ten years ago, I ate a high protein diet. I regularly ate and recommended a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. That meant I was putting down 160, 170 grams of protein a day myself.
Later, I moderated my protein intake and focused more on my fat intake, thinking that I’d be better off in the long term eating less protein and using my muscle mass, physical and mental performance, and overall vitality as a “signal” for when protein was too low. Researchers were looking at high protein intakes, noticing they could raise IGF-1 and trigger mTOR, which in some animal models have been linked to cancer and reduced longevity, and positing that lower protein intakes were healthier. I was never “low-protein,” but I certainly ate less than before. I will say that throughout all this time a major determinant of my protein intake was my instinctual hunger for it. When I ate a lot of protein, I did so because I desired it on a base, Primal level. When I ate less, I did so partly because of the research but also because I wasn’t as hungry for it (and my performance never indicated I was lacking).
But in recent years, I’ve been eating more protein again. In fact, I eat by most accounts a high-protein diet. Why? What changed?
I took a fresh look at the research.
You may think of protein supplements as a concern for muscle heads, but they’re for everyone – provided that you choose the right one for you. You need dietary protein for your body’s day-to-day upkeep and to age well. Up to a third of older adults don’t get enough protein for various reasons, like reduced appetite and changing tastes. There are lots of ways to get protein, and here, I’ll go through one of the most convenient and beneficial forms: whey protein.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey is a protein-packed byproduct of cheese production. It’s that pseudo-clear liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. Cheese makers used to toss it aside as waste material, until food scientists started to understand its value.
Today, we know that whey protein isn’t just a single protein. Instead, it houses an impressive array of proteins: beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and serum albumin. These are complete proteins, comprised of the essential amino acids central to protein synthesis and increased muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Our bodies can produce non-essential amino acids from lesser amino acids, but we cannot produce the essentials ourselves; we must eat quality protein sources. Whey is a naturally occurring, essential protein that satisfies the body’s protein requirements – hence its popularity.
The liver is incredible. Most people think of it as a filter, but filters are physical barriers that accumulate junk and have to be cleaned. The liver isn’t a filter. It’s a chemical processing plant. Rather than sit there, passively receiving, filtering out, and storing undesirable compounds, the liver encounters toxic chemicals and attempts to metabolize them into less-toxic metabolites that we can handle.
It oxidizes the toxins, preparing them for further modification
It converts the toxins to a less-toxic, water-soluble version that’s easier to excrete
It excretes the toxins through feces or urine
Bam. It’s an elegant process, provided everything is working well back there. And it’s not the only process it controls.
Protein is an incredible essential macronutrient. Fat is plentiful, even when you’re lean, and there are only two absolutely essential fatty acids; the rest we can manufacture from other precursors if required. Carbs we can produce from protein, if we really must, or we can just switch over to ketones and fats for the bulk of the energy that would otherwise come from carbs. Protein cannot be made with the raw material available in our bodies. We have to eat foods containing the range of amino acids that we need.
In other words, protein is incredibly important—which is why today I’m writing a definitive guide on the subject. After today’s post, you’ll have a good handle on the role protein plays in the body, how much protein you need to be eating, which foods are highest in protein, and much more.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a pair of questions from readers. The first one comes from the comment section of the excerpt from Paul Saladino’s new book: Can a seafood-only carnivore diet work? Will it miss anything? Is there anything to watch out for, add, or consider? The second one comes from the recent post about exercising during a fast. If someone’s trying to gain muscle, should they prioritize eating protein after a fast-breaking training session, or should they keep the fast going?
Three years ago, my pal Gabi Lewis—founder of Exo, who make the best cricket protein bars on the planet—made a compelling case for eating more insects. Today, I’ll build on these arguments and, based on new evidence, offer even more reasons you should consider incorporating edible insects into your diet.
Though few people reading this consider insects anything but a novelty, for many human cultures they were (and are) staple foods. Humans have been eating insects for millions of years, starting with our distant ancestors and continuing through the present day.