I was very lucky to grab a few minutes with Nancy Rodriguez. She is an authority on protein and human nutrition. Check out what she had to say about protein minsinformation and the latest research.
Rebecca: When you’re teaching your students about protein, what do you think is critical they understand about the importance of protein in the diet and how the body uses protein.
Nancy: Absolutely. I make sure the students understand how protein differs from carbohydrate and fat, and that using it for energy is ‘last resort’ so to speak.
Rebecca: What are the most interesting outcomes you found in your research on the relationships between exercise, protein intake, and protein utilization in athletes and physically active adults?
Nancy: One of the most significant findings is the critical role that adequate energy plays. Over the years that particular principle has been overlooked. To use protein for its specific purpose in the body, energy needs must be met. Many athletes function in either an acute or chronic state of negative energy balance that may not substantially affect body weight in the short term but can impact how the muscle and body uses protein.
Another important observation is that routine exercise – endurance exercise for our work – appears to improve the efficiency of use of protein by the body and by the muscle.
Rebecca: What do you think “the average American” does not understand about protein that could impact their health?
Nancy: Including adequate amounts of protein in the diet – that is amounts that span the DRI recommendations and are likely in excess of the RDA – can improve health and well-being both physically and mentally. For example, amino acids from protein can affect neurotransmitter production by the brain to influence appetite or improve mood and/or prevent fatigue.
Rebecca: In my experience working with athletes and people trying to lose weight, those who take protein supplements think they can’t meet their protein needs through food or that “engineered” protein powder is superior in some way. What are your thoughts?
Nancy: I think your observation is probably a reality and that it is unfortunate because this is not the case. It takes time but athletes and others have to be educated as to the important, as well as positive, role protein from whole foods has with regards to health and human performance.
Rebecca: What do you think people don’t understand about protein, foods, and health and why do you think there is so much misinformation?
Nancy: I don’t think that individuals understand that protein is not a nutrient that 1) when consumed increases muscle mass 2) when consumed in excess and in combination with excessive calories will result in weight gain , and 3) will cause kidney damage and promote renal disease.
One source of misinformation is the supplement industry and the popularity of protein in that particular market. Another is the consumer’s need for a quick fix. Finally, misinformation also results from the misinterpretation and application of good science.
Nancy Rodriguez, a faculty member at the University of Connecticut, Storrs since 1991, is a Professor of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) with joint appointments in Departments of Kinesiology and Allied Health. She directs the Sports Nutrition programs at the University and for the Department of Sports Medicine in the Division of Athletics. Dr. Rodriguez served as Chair of University of Connecticut Institutional Review Board for the Use of Human Subjects (IRB) from 2004–2008.
Dr. Rodriguez has an active research program that has been extramurally funded by agencies including USDA, NIH, the American Heart Association, the National Dairy Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the Egg Nutrition Center. Her research focuses on relationships between exercise, protein intake, and protein utilization in athletes, physically active adults, and healthy obese and non-obese children. Her work has been published in the American Journal of Physiology, Metabolism, Journal of Nutrition, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, and the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Dr. Rodriguez is currently on the editorial board for Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, and the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, and the Journal of Nutrition.
Dr. Rodriguez currently teaches sports nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and the protein component of the graduate course, Macronutrients. She also participates in the department faculty rotation for graduate seminar in nutrition.
Dr. Rodriguez received her B.S. in Human Nutrition and Foods at Virginia Tech. She earned her MS in nutrition and a PhD in biochemistry at West Virginia University. She spent two years at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as an NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Endocrinology and Metabolism. Dr. Rodriguez is an active member of the American Society of Nutrition, the American Dietetic Association and its Dietetic Practice Group – Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Physiological Society.