Protein, Building Blocks for a Better Life

Building Blocks, by Joshua Burkhart (And yes that weird circle thing is supposed to be a cell ;-)

Building Blocks, by Joshua Burkhart (And yes that weird circle thing is supposed to be a cell ;-)

Proteins are important.

When it comes to the body and how we can transform our lives, it’s best to start with the basics: the body’s building blocks, proteins.

Chances are, you’re not getting enough.

That is if you’re like the hundreds of clients I have seen for anything from weight loss to overcoming alcoholism.

The problem with this is that proteins are important for nearly everything the body does. The amount we take in affects not only our muscle growth and weight loss, but our moods, mental stability, and a host of other health and behavioral factors.

Most of my clients scoffed at me when I first told them they weren’t getting enough protein. I myself was skeptical when I first calculated my protein intake and discovered it was far too low.

It turns out you have to eat a surprising amount of food to get a healthy amount of protein.

But trust me, protein does a lot for you, and it has helped my clients with nearly everything they’ve set their minds to do.

I used to joke with clients at the center I worked for that I could leave a note on the door saying “go home and eat some protein,” and it would save everyone the cost of their first session.

The truth is, out of the 800 or so clients I saw in a year, maybe two dozen came into the center getting all the protein they needed. Everyone else tended to eat a high protein meal at dinner, maybe at lunch, and rarely ate any for breakfast and none in the spaces between.

In nearly every case, whether we were dealing with anxiety, depression or trying to drop 150 pounds, protein greatly benefitted clients in reaching their goals once they started concentrating on getting more into their diets.

How much more are we talking?

Nutritionists are still debating the exact amount a person needs for the healthiest lifestyle because that’s what scientists do.

There is a consistent thought that ranges between .75 grams of protein per lean body pound to 1 gram of protein per pound.

Now this is where things get a little tricky. Lean body mass is everything in your body excluding your fat. It's hard to calculate even at the best of times with the most advanced technology, but it's pretty easy to estimate.

Take your ideal weight, the weight you feel most comfortable at. If you still have some curves there knock of 25% of your pounds, if you're fit and lean, knock off 15-20%.

What this is taking into account is a range of 15-25 percent body fat.

Want to make it even easier? Just take your ideal goal weight and drop it by 10-20 pounds for every 100 pounds.

Once again that is:

.75 gram of protein for 1 pound of lean mass body weight

1 gram of protein for 1 pound of lean mass body weight

So for someone like me who is 198 pounds, I can take that 198 and subtract 40 to get 158. I should be eating somewhere between 120-160 grams of protein, and even more so if I want to add muscle.

And let me tell you, it’s not that easy to eat that much protein, but it can be done, and there are some corners that you can cut depending on what you want protein to do for you.

Real quick, why don’t you do the calculations.

Goal weight times .8  pounds, time .75 pounds. (Goal x .8 x .75)

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How much protein were my clients getting?

(Before we talked.)

If you take a pretty average diet of two eggs in the morning, 2-3 ounces of deli meat on a sandwich or chicken breast on a salad at lunch, and an 8 ounce steak or a half pound cheeseburger at dinner, at best clients were getting somewhere near 56 grams of protein a day. Often a lot, lot less.

I challenge you to take a look at what you’re eating and figure out how much protein you’re really getting. It’s something I do with every client I work with.

I’ve found just increasing protein intake to 90 grams a day often shows dramatic results in weight loss, mood stability, energy levels and general well-being.

But Why?

Because proteins are incredibly important; they make up most of the body.

Often when we think of proteins we think of muscle mass. I know I used to. However, this completely disregarded everything I learned in biology.

The reality is that proteins are involved in nearly every area of cellular activity.

From enzymes responsible for chemical processes in the body, to DNA replication, messenger stimuli, or structural formation, proteins are used all throughout the body, every day, every second.

Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins are the precursors for most neurotransmitters and are being put to use by medical researchers for everything ranging from anti-depression treatment to cancer treatment and prevention.

Protein also takes longer to metabolize, helps you feel fuller longer, increases the metabolism of the body, and even helps balance blood sugars.

I have a lot of clients who come to me for weight loss or health purposes, and once they start getting the protein they need, their energy levels go up, they feel happier, cravings vanish, snacking goes away, and often their blood sugars level out.

Many of my clients have been able to get off of insulin and other blood sugar medications simply by increasing their protein intake. (Please, always consult with a doctor before you try to change any prescription. If the answer doesn’t resonate with you, consult another doctor.)

This dramatic shift applies to behavioral and mental change as well.

Dopamine and Serotonin both have amino acid constituents, which means your ability to become motivated, recognize risks, desire your goals or even enjoy yourself are based on amino acids, and thus the proteins you take in.

The ability of proteins to stabilize blood sugars and give you a consistent source of energy also helps with other behavioral problems.

Protein is a Piece of the Puzzle.

Clients come to me when they just can't stop. Eating, smoking, drinking, worrying, you name it.

Quite a few have talked about that last glass of wine before dinner, and how that one glass turns into two, three or four.

They know it is getting in the way of their goals, but they haven’t been able to break the habit for years.

Some have even described how they worry about it all day long as every morning they wake up, say they will finally stop and never seem able to. These clients, many of whom are incredibly successful men and women, were suffering in a gray space of self-loathing.

While their drinking behavior wasn’t costing them enough to be considered a full-blown addiction, they had found a behavior in their life that they seemed to have no control over no matter how hard they tried.

When you are able to see many successes in your life created by your efforts, but witness a behavior you seem to have no power over no matter how hard you try, the emotional and mental consequences can be quite devastating.

These clients had tried everything they could think of, from throwing away their wine collections to creating self-imposed disciplines, no sugar, no fun or vacations. Finally, they came to me for life coaching and hypnosis.

Protein and rest ended up being the answer for each and every one of them, and this is where having a life coach comes in handy. I was able to look at a part of the picture few had thought about.

When had they eaten their last meal of the day before getting home? What was that food made up of?

When we’re trying to work on a particular problem, we often focus too hard on the behavior itself. This causes us to miss important connections between the behavior and our environment that can really help us change once and for all.

As most of my clients are successful professionals, they struggle to eat timely, healthy meals. Before working with me, they simply felt too busy. Many were skipping lunch or breakfast, and when they did eat it was whatever was quickest. For the health conscious, this often meant salad.

By the time they got home they were stressed, tired, and their bodies were starving even if they couldn’t feel it. (When your metabolism shuts down you can be hungry and simply not know.)

No one makes the best decisions when stressed, tired or starving, and when the three are combined, it’s a perfect storm for the behaviors we’d rather not keep around anymore.

It isn’t a character flaw. It’s not because we are weak-willed. It’s because of the way our brains work.

It's Neurologically Driven.

Each of these conditions -- low blood sugar (starving), exhaustion, and stress -- contribute to overwhelming or undernourishing the frontal lobe.

After a while, it simply stops functioning.

This isn’t good, because the frontal lobe is where we make rational decisions based on consequences.

When a person’s blood sugar is so low it can’t keep these more complex processes going. Stress also overwhelms the frontal lobe, and if the brain is already too tired to function, the frontal lobe takes a break and the hippocampus and amygdala take over.

These two parts of the brain love repetition and are easily conditioned. They tell the rest of the brain “don’t worry, I know exactly what to do! It’s what we always do.”

They go straight to the wine cabinet, open up a bottle and pour a drink because they have learned that the body relaxes under the effect of alcohol, and the sugars in the wine spike the blood sugar so that the rest of the brain can come back online.

When it does, the frontal lobe looks at the actions of the person in horror as it realizes it just zombie-walked its way to drinking another glass of the wine, which it had sworn off forever.

The truth is that the person who woke up that morning promising to give up her evening glass is not the same person who poured it.

While it’s the same body, the same brain and the same set of consequences, different parts of that brain were in control of the two different experiences.

This cycle of good intentions and zombied behaviors creates a loop that breaks the best of us down into self-loathing reoffenders.

The good news is, all of these conditions were rather easy to fix in this scenario. I asked my clients to eat more protein for breakfast and lunch, making sure they prepped lunches once or twice a week so that they’d always have access to them.

It could be as simple as adding some Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. I asked them to eat a protein snack, some nuts or a hard boiled egg, right before they drove home, and I asked them to meditate for five to ten minutes or take a nap for ten to fifteen minutes when they got home before starting dinner.

Simple solutions often work wonders. Proteins keep the blood sugar balanced, while meditation and sleep allow the body to rest and reset.

Every one of the clients who came to me with this problem of drinking too much wine at night dropped it in the first week of making these small changes.

It has been my experience that many of the behaviors that truly feel like they have taken over our lives and are impossible to overcome really are this easy to change.

It simply requires a look at the big picture, all the bits that compose it and all the little ways to shift it to something else.

It truly is amazing how many clients I have seen who are prescribed a host of medications and by the simple change of their diet find that they don’t need those meds anymore.

Personally, I wish one of the first questions a doctor would ask any patient is “what do you eat?” Rather than taking notes on symptoms and filling another prescription.

Most people don’t seem to know that proteins are so very important, especially for diabetics or persons undergoing mental health challenges.

Once we talk about the importance of protein and they start incorporating it into their diet, their blood sugars balance, they are more satiated after meals, and their energy reserves go up. When the doctors see their test results, they start taking them off of their meds.

Other clients who come to me with concerns of mood swings, anxiety, depression, or fits of anger find that when they eat protein regularly throughout the day, their moods stay level.

This is because their blood sugars are staying level and because the proteins are being converted into useful neurotransmitters, giving them the chemicals they need.

The trick is to make sure that you have enough protein around.

This way you always have a good source, regardless of what your meal might be.

Great sources of proteins are meats, fish, nuts and cheese. Certain grains such as quinoa or legumes such as black beans or kidney beans are also well-rounded sources. (Most other legumes have to be paired with other food staples for full amino acids.)

Eggs are another amazing source with all the necessary amino acids, and Greek yogurt and cottage cheese make for easy protein backups.

I tend to keep a bag of mixed nuts with me everywhere I go. Friends of mine and clients bring mozzarella string cheese. Greek yogurt can be added to nearly anything or cottage cheese eaten on the side with a meal. Hard boiling some eggs at the beginning of the week can also ensure that you have an emergency source of protein at hand.

Remember, .75 grams per pound is a healthy amount; 1 gram for people trying to build muscle.

If these numbers seem too high for you, shoot for 90 grams (30 grams of protein per meal) and see how you feel.

Keep in mind that these are grams of protein, not grams of food. A large egg is typically two ounces, but only contains six grams of protein.

It’s best to keep these servings spread out, dividing them evenly between breakfast lunch and dinner. Consider having protein snacks between meals.

You can also try protein and amino supplements such as Tyrosine or Tryptophan if you are interested in particular benefits such as mental health.

Protein generally doesn’t have side effects if you have too much, unless you have weakened kidneys. Furthermore, because it is so difficult for the body to break down protein, the body tends to flush it if it has too much.

With all the health benefits, please, eat up!



Protein is incredibly important for you. It effects every nearly every aspect of your health, both physically and mentally because it is used so much in the construction of your body, both in your cells and the transmitters and hormones your body uses to regulate itself.

It’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough. The formula to know for sure is .75 grams of protein per lean body mass pound, and even more if you are trying to build muscle mass.

Call to Action:

Make yourself more aware of how much protein your getting.

1st. Do the calculations so you know how much you need.

2nd. Over the next week keep a food journal recording just protein. Tally it up each night and see where you’re at.

If you believe I can support you with your own journey of nutrition and self-care please schedule a Life Coaching Consultation.

And if you would like to get in on the discussion or share your thoughts and experiences, feel free to comment below!

I’d especially love to hear back from anyone who tries increasing their protein intake or has done so in the past. Let us know what it has done to change your life!