The Big Bad Protein Myth

“What happens if I go over on my protein”. Sit down friends. This is a long one.

This is a question we get asked a lot. In this (and some others) group, our point of difference is a slightly higher (i dislike the term “high protein” because “high and low” are relative terms that lack context to a person’s requirement) protein macro and a higher focus on lean body mass. We tend to over stress it at times, much like the nagging parent thats says dont play with fire, because I know personally, the dangers of losing lean body mass for long term sustainable weight management. If you’re in it for body recomposition, protein is key.

So, Michael. What happens if I go over on my protein macro?

Short Answer: Nothing.

The only downside is the calorie balance – you may just simply need to adjust your calorie intake (by dropping fat slightly) to accommodate the extra calories (1g protein = 4 Cals therefore if you eat 10g extra protein, subtract 4g fat.) If you’re a diabetic, or have protein digestion issues (such as kidney issues), you may need to watch the level of protein you eat at any one time, however you probably have tools already in place to deal with this. TLDR, raise your forks to chicken boob!

Long answer:

Many of you have come from groups that shy away from protein and focus more on dietary fat. Some to the degree where protein is actively avoided, one of the primary reasons why is gluconeogenesis. Unfortunately, when false information is spread so widely its very hard to turn the tide.

Protein is made up of a number of amino acids, some of them are glucogenic, some of them are ketogenic. This means that some of them can be converted to glucose and some of them can be converted to ketones.

Gluconeogenesis (GNG) it sounds like a scary word. But its nothing to be feared. When you ingest Carbohydrates, the body converts them to glucose, the brain uses glucose as fuel. Following a keto diet, we limit our carbohydrates so the amount of glucose our brain consumes via carbohydrates is naturally limited. However, this does not mean we end our brain’s complete reliance on glucose as energy.

Luckily, the human body is a remarkable thing, it doesnt want to see us fall over on the ground like a fish out of water. When there are no carbohydrates to convert, the body looks for another source of fuel. Amino Acids are one of those fuels and there are a couple of strings of Aminos that are glucogenic. This process of conversion is always ongoing. It happens whether you are starving or fully fed, on 0g protein or 300g protein. The trigger is the brains requirement for glucose.

So lets revisit the original question, what happens if I go over on my protein? Nothing that wouldn’t be happening anyway. Guess what else can be converted into Glucose? Triglycerides! Yes, dietary fat. So by logic, if you’re afraid that too much protein will turn into glucose, why arent you afraid the too much fat will – Gee, funny how that’s never mentioned!
Ok, so protein CAN be converted and we accept that GNG exists. However, just because amino acids CAN be converted to glucose, does not mean they WILL be converted to glucose. Protein is also used to regulate hormones, skeletal muscle development, bone structure, hair and skin health as well as immune system strength. This is why meeting your bodies protein demand (.8g per pound of LBM as outlined by doctors Volek & Phinney) is so crucial. Your body needs the amino acids from protein to perform other basic bodily functions as well as potential glucose conversion and we dont want to deprive it and risk things like hair loss, hormonal imbalance or muscle wastage.

Another reason some people give for limiting protein is the rise in insulin as well as its relationship with blood glucose.

How does it work? The liver stores glucose. When you eat food, your pancreas releases insulin based upon incoming energy. Insulin tells the liver to store glucose. Glucagon releases glucose. When we have external sources of glucose – ie we’ve just eaten a donut – the pancreas says stop. There’s enough excess fuel, store existing glucose and use the incoming first. When that fuel has been used, glucagon opens the liver gates. Insulin and Glucagon are “Ying and Yang”. In people suffering from diabetes, this ying and yang is out of alignment and the behaviour of these two hormones is damaged.

Keto, through carb restriction, especially the limitation of simple carbs does a good job of keeping insulin and blood glucose at a steady rate, it is true that protein does have a higher insulin reaction to fat, however, that insulin reaction is far, far less, than that of the processed carbohydrates we eat, as such the “Go / Stop” pedal of Insulin and Glucagon is more fluid and steady because protein is a gradual release (also why protein is the most satiating macro). The insulin reaction in someone that doesnt have diabetes is perfectly reasonable and should not be feared. I urge people to read this article by Marty Kendall https://optimisingnutrition.com/…/why-do-my-blood-sugars-r…/ as it has some fantastic graphics that really illustrates the fluidity and relationship between the two hormones as well as giving real world examples of protein and the bodies response.

Further Reading:

http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2015/09/its-the-insulin-1.html – 8 Part series on Insulin and myths, facts. Particularly good for those without diabetes who think insulin is something to be feared.

http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2017/07/gluconeogenesis.html… – same author, good indepth reading on all things protein.

https://optimisingnutrition.com/20…/…/30/food_insulin_index/ – Marty Kendal, some fantastic graphs on insulin response based on food.

https://ketogains.com/…/05/protein-over-consumption-ketosis/ aaaand of course, ketogains. The voice of reason in the ketoevangelical world.