A brilliant entrepreneur/ body builder came to our clinic from South Carolina for a longevity evaluation. A walking oxymoron, this man was truly an outlier in both mind and body. He was not only a genius, but perhaps the only human to have literally been banned from Gold’s Gym for pushing their equipment beyond its capabilities. He claimed that he achieved the incredible strength not from steroid use or working out more than the average body builder but because he consumed enough protein to ensure that the body didn’t need to break down muscle. I was shocked when he said his daily protein intake was 120-130g.(see chart below) Since it takes about 45-55 calories to produce one calorie of animal protein in our current society, much of this coming from the burning fossil fuels, I’ve always aired on the minimalist side of protein intake. During nutrition consults I calculate about 11% of basal metabolic rate for a mean high and low intake between 45-65 grams per day. People do quite well on this but considering that 75% of the patients I see still fail to meet this requirement, I couldn’t conceive of how it was possible to consume 120 grams per day. From Traditional Chinese Medicine, our clinic’s philosophy is “Everything in moderation including moderation”. To me 120 grams of protein seemed a little beyond the realm of moderation. Considering how much food must be consumed to achieve this, it seemed quite daunting. However, this man was one of the healthiest humans I’ve ever encountered. His lab tests from phase angle of cell membranes, inflammatory markers, and kidney function to cholesterol and arterial calcium were at the gold standard.
Here is the breakdown of protein equivalents:
• 1 cups beans -15 grams *Lentils – 18 grams
• 4 oz meat, poultry or fish – 20-25g
• 1 cup milk – 10g
• 1 egg or handful of nuts – 5 grams
Not getting enough protein renders a body into a constant sub-state of catabolism (breakdown). In mild cases we lose just a little muscle or intestinal lining. In more severe or chronic cases our bodies must break down tissue from organs, marrow and bone. This process is driven by various chemicals that increase inflammation. As with starvation, in an effort to conserve, the thyroid function lowers a bit and slows the body’s metabolic processes. Even our blood-cleaning liver detoxification mechanisms slow down.
Being just down the road from Boulder, CO, I cannot count the number of people who have come to see me as patients with “chronic fatigue” who were simply suffering from long-term protein deficiency. This all-too-common pattern I have dubbed “Boulder Syndrome” results from abusive exercise combined with well-intentioned but poorly administered, vegetarian or vegan diets. This way of eating is perhaps sustainable for the planet but not for active human bodies. These people tend to push through the fatigue until they reach a point at which they can no longer engage in even a ten-minute trail run or mountain bike ride, let alone their beloved three hours. Most of these people would look great on a magazine cover but for many their bodies are so depleted that it takes a year of extensive rebuilding before they can even begin to function normally again.
In light of the amount of protein a human body needs to thrive, let alone survive, and protein sources available, I was haunted for years pondering the inefficiency of this ecological model. Our current society has worked it out but with significant environmental impacts. Humans from the pre-hunter-gatherer times were smaller and therefore their requirements were less. However, for practicality, these ancestors would have had to have evolved with protein sources lower on the food chain.
Comments? Discussion to follow next posting.by