My wife and I don’t have many couple’s traditions worth mentioning, but one of them is our weekly, post-church-service, early-Sunday-afternoon meal of FlapJacked protein pancakes. Each serving of the buttermilk, whey-protein-endowed oat pancakes contains 210 calories and 20 grams of protein. My wife knew she could sneak the establishment of a weekly pancake tradition right under my nose as long as that meal could manage to masquerade as a bingefest of beneficial macronutrients.
Is this meal healthy, though?
Certainly not the way we serve it up. I’m sure between the chocolate chips, maple syrup and multiple servings, our ritualized gluttony causes our caloric intake during those 10 sloppy minutes to swell into the 900-calorie range. But is it made healthier because of the 50 grams of protein it delivers to my muscles?
The answer to that question is a little more complex, and it’s best addressed when tackling the query of what exactly whey protein is doing in my pancakes to begin with.
Yeah! Why is protein seemingly in everything nowadays?
For lots of reasons, some of which make all the sense in the world, and some of which make no sense at all.
Part of the reason for the proliferation of protein has undoubtedly been driven by the spread of vegetarianism and veganism, complemented by research that’s suggested that followers of these dietary practices may not get adequate amounts of protein — and certain other nutrients — in their diets without supplementation, or at least without very careful attention paid to the quantities and ratios in which they consume those nutrients in their meals. As a result, we get pancakes, cereals and even straight-up candy bars delivering hitherto inconceivable quantities of protein to their consumers.
Another part of the impetus behind the modern predominance of protein has been driven by the fitness industry, which has been peddling designer protein varieties since their emergence in 1939, while insisting that everyone is required to consume protein in massive quantities that are somehow unattainable through everyday eating. This consumption of protein is encouraged despite the fact that human beings have been able to persist and propagate for many thousands of years without the assistance of protein supplements to perpetuate our progression.
Finally, an assortment of conflicting reports and studies have left the general public completely confused and befuddled regarding the roles and functions of carbohydrates and fats. Both macronutrients are cast as the culprits behind a wide range of diseases and other health-related maladies, even though the data can be relatively easy to parse if you give it some thought and weed out certain agendas. Regardless, with two of the three macronutrients constantly viewed under a cloud of suspicion, protein gets a relatively free pass, no matter that overindulgence in protein has been known to cause its own share of problems.
The primary thing people know about protein is that it’s used to build and maintain muscle — which is something many are desirous of — and the most chaotic debates raging around it seem to be limited in their scope to rather innocuous theories surrounding what the proper daily quantity of protein is, and whether or not the herbivores among us consume enough of it.
How much protein do I honestly need?
I’ve listened to protein recommendations ranging all the way up to two grams for every pound of a person’s body weight. In my case, that would mean anywhere from 390 to 410 grams of protein every single day, which is more protein than contained within three gallons of milk, 12 breasts of chicken, five cartons of eggs or five 11-ounce Outback sirloin steaks. I’d imagine that’s a downright exhausting amount of eating for anyone to maintain, and it would be inadvisable for the overwhelming majority of people to go around pounding down calories on the level of an NFL offensive lineman.
I want to call special attention to the eggs, because it should alarm you to think that an average man would be required to eat more than the equivalent to two dozen eggs daily — the protein quality standard by which all other proteins are measured — in order to maintain an ideal, healthy body weight. That’s because this supposed rule of thumb isn’t absolutely essential for ordinary people to follow in order for them to grow or maintain muscle mass. It also shouldn’t surprise you that the original provider of this supposed best practice for gaining rapid muscle mass — a fellow personal trainer at the club I worked for — was admittedly using steroids.
Is there an objective protein intake standard I can follow?
The medical standard still in use to this day states that an average adult should be able to sustain a healthy body weight by consuming 25 to 30 or 25 to 35 calories per kilogram of the ideal body weight they intend to achieve, with an accompanying protein content of 0.8 grams per kilogram.
Now, it has been argued that this formula is generally intended for sedentary individuals and people who aren’t actively burning calories. Realistically speaking, if you’re eating the equivalent of three balanced, healthy meals over the course of a day, each containing its own clearly identifiable source of protein, you’re probably already consuming more than enough protein to both sustain you and help you to gain muscle mass if you’ve just started strength training and your body is short on it.
So how will I know if I’m truly getting enough protein?
Frankly, most people’s bodies have a terrific mechanism for letting them know when they need more nutrients — it’s called hunger. Listen to your body! After you exercise strenuously, if you feel like you’re starving, please eat something, and preferably something with protein in it. This will allow your body to get to work repairing your muscles and rebuilding them into a stronger form capable of enduring the havoc you just wreaked upon it. Just remember, as long as you’re consciously eating protein during your day, then you’re probably getting sufficient doses of it.
Now you can get back to eating pancakes and Snickers as the dessert items they were always intended to be, without the false belief that nothing inside of your food can hurt you as long as the label says “protein” on the front.