How Much Protein Should You Eat?
Let’s talk about protein for a second.
Or, I should say, let me talk about protein for a second since you’re just going to be reading this.
Protein is a wonderful nutrient, one that I think I may have been a bit too harsh on a few years ago.
In an article I wrote about protein and its risk for causing cancer, I showed how protein has an impact on something called mTOR and how that could possibly lead to cancer.
Now, I never said excessive protein intake would inevitably lead to cancer, that would be poor form. Instead I talked around the subject since there was evidence to show that protein could switch on the mTOR pathway which posed a risk of future cancer growth.
Further research into the subject has led me to believe that this probably isn’t the case. At least not in all cases.
Which basically means I think you can safely eat more protein than I originally thought provided you’re sticking to eating healthy fats and other whole foods. I’ll explain why this is true below.
Why You NEED mTOR and How High Protein Can Be Healthy
The truth of the matter is protein is essential for human health. Our body breaks protein down and converts it into basic amino acids which it uses to build and rebuild all kinds of things in the body.
When we talk about rebuilding, repairing, restructuring that’s the role of mTOR.
mTOR is an abbreviation for Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and it plays a significant role in regulating cell proliferation, autophagy, and apoptosis by participating in multiple signaling pathways in the body.
The way you turn on mTOR is through being fed, and the principal nutrient that causes mTOR to turn on is protein. Many people believe that mTOR activation and continuing to be “on” is a bad thing (i.e. it could lead to cancer).
And they’re not necessarily wrong.
The fact is your body doesn’t need, nor is it ideal for it to be, in a “fed” state.
By that I mean you don’t always need to be eating, and as I’ve written about extensively, fasting for periods longer than 12 hours is actually quite beneficial for us.
As an example of why being over fed isn’t beneficial let’s talk about socks. If you really liked socks (and some of you do) and you kept buying socks and never getting rid of the old ones, there would soon be a time where you couldn’t fit anymore socks into your sock drawer and they’d spill over onto the ground.
And as a parent I can say, that is not where socks go.
Not only would that be bad for your sock collection, but you’d have a tough time finding your favorite pairs too.
While this is a crude example, it serves to demonstrate why you shouldn’t be in a constant state of being fed, and you should down-regulate mTOR by fasting.
When you fast it provides your body the opportunity to activate an essential process called autophagy. You can think of autophagy as “cell clean up mode.” By fasting and switching on this clean up mode your body begins to find damaged and dead cells and turn them off, disassemble them, and then assimilate useful components back into healthier cells.
You need to experience periods of this breakdown so your body can tear itself down and then you need to go back to eating (protein especially) so you can get back into growth/rebuild mode.
Neither state is beneficial all the time, but superior health is found when you are able to switch between the two. And that brings me to the point of whether or not protein is bad for you, and if you should avoid high protein intake.
In short, no, but with a caveat.
According to Dr. Chris Masterjohn, who holds a phD in Nutritional Science, a review on most of the scientific literature linking mTOR signaling and high protein to cancer only occurs after test subjects have been exposed to a concentrated dose of a carcinogen or already have cancer.
According to him there are 3 potentials of how protein would interact with a carcinogen and the resulting effects.
- If a test subject was fed a high amount of animal protein before it was fed a carcinogen, it was a powerful protector against cancer.
- If a test subject was fed a high amount of animal protein during exposure to the carcinogen, it was also a powerful protector against cancer.
- But, if a test subject was fed a high amount of animal protein after it was dosed with a carcinogen, it promoted cancer growth.
The basis of these studies has been largely ignored, while most people tend to cherry pick the studies that show how protein accelerates growth of cancer in those who already have it.
I’m sure you read this and wonder about how that affects people like us, who are exposed to carcinogens all the time.
Dr. Masterjohn said in an interview that for many of us, the exposure levels we’re accustomed to are low enough that protein wouldn’t likely lead to cancer growth, but he did point out that if you’re eating high amounts of protein there is a protective effect against carcinogens.
He did warn though if you have cancer then protein is certainly something you should avoid as in that instance mTOR will fuel the growth of cancer.
In addition to that he also pointed out that high protein intake has several other benefits.
- Increases Antioxidant activity: Antioxidant activity is a function of being fed, which is an mTOR activator.
- Increases lean muscles and reduces risk of type 2 diabetes: Our muscles use glucose to work and the more muscle you have the more glucose you use which helps reduce diabetes risk.
- May help prevent sarcopenia and osteoporosis: Sarcopenia and osteoporosis are common diseases that result from muscle-wasting. The older you get, the higher your protein intake should be to offset muscle wasting.
Protein Is Not the Devil
Like anything, protein has the potential to be misunderstood.
Even doctors can misunderstand it.
So let me be on the record saying whether or not you want to eat a lot, or very little protein, it’s entirely up to you and your goals.
The most important thing you should do for your health is implement some sort of fasting into your diet (provided you physician approves) in order to never be “growing too much” and never to be “tearing down” too much, either.