How Much protein is burned/needed? : Forum Answer

by Dr. Graham

Published: Fri, 22 May 2015


Question from our forum

“I know that the body always burns some fat and even some protein for fuel at all times even when there is sufficient dietary carbohydrate intake, do you have any numbers on that? Like how many calories for example…

Does it vary in relationship to other factors like bodyfat/type of exercise/carbohydrate intake etc?”

Doug Graham:

Remember we always use the order of: carb/pro/fat. Roughly, when eating sufficient quantities of carbs to meet those needs, the numbers burned in terms of percent of calories are 50/statistical zero/50.

When insufficient carbs are consumed, numbers range:
such as in fasting: 0/.5/99.5
or in a ketogenic diet where 15% of calories come from carbs: 15/0.25/84.75
During the (roughly 8 hour) transition period from a carb-sufficient diet to no food at all, the body will choose protein first, because it takes time to ramp up to the full-blown gluco-neogenesis required to utilize fats: 10/2/88.

These numbers are of course all approximates, but I have worked out the math on this question several times over the past 30 years, and it's always come out the same.
Essentially, in fasting, when using 1000 calories per day, as much as roughly 1 gram of labile protein (as opposed to structurally integrated, hence stabile protein) is used daily.
On a ketogenic, low-carb diet, using 2000 calories per day, roughly 1 gram of labile protein is used daily. During the 8 hours of transition phase, when roughly 500 calories are used, as much as 1 gram of protein could be used.

structurally integrated protein is never used for fuel except in the case of extreme starvation
For folks not totally savvy with metric conversions, there are 28.3 grams in an ounce, meaning that even when on a total fast for a full month, a person isn't likely to use much more than one ounce of protein.

What does all this mean, really?

It means that although the body builders are correct when they say that protein is required to fuel the body, they are incorrect in their assessment of how much protein is required. They have been lied to by marketeers, and have repeated the lie until it has become as if it were an established fact that we need masses of protein or else the body will lose all it's muscles for fuel. Completely a myth. In fact, structurally integrated protein is never used for fuel except in the case of extreme starvation. But if body builders wanted to reduce the body's use of protein as fuel, that goal could easily be achieved by the consumption of more carbohydrates, as taught in Prevention and Care of Athletic Injuries, and in The 80/10/10 Diet.

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