How Much Protein Do You Really Need

How Much Protein Do You Really Need As You Age

How Much Protein Do You Really Need? (Quick Guide)

There are many changes that you can expect as you age. A long life takes a toll on the body, untrained muscles get weaker, bones become more fragile and our ability to absorb nutrients decreases. All of this means that as you age you need to be paying attention to your nutrient intake to make sure you are getting enough to keep you active. In this article, we are going to highlight the importance of getting enough protein as you age and how it can impact your overall strength, independence and health.

What Does Protein Do To Your Body

It plays a vital role in building and repairing tissue again, hence why its a good macro to load up on post-workout.

Similarly, its also important for hormone and enzyme production, plus skin, hair, and bone health.

One thing protein is great for? Satiety and keeping your blood sugar levels regular. For example, if you eat a regular bowl of porridge in the morning sans a protein source, youll likely see your big blood sugar levels jump and subsequently crash around 11am.

Try this: Add a little protein in the form of Greek yoghurt, nuts, seeds, or even a supplement like collagen or powder and your blood sugar levels will not only stay more even, but youll likely skip the 11am munchies, too.

A Case For High Protein Diets

If some protein is good, then more must be better, right?

There is a case for this notion.

A 2014 study from Helms et al found that athletes in an energy deficit required an intake of 2.3 to 3.1 grams per kg of fat-free mass to support muscle retention while dieting . The leaner the athlete and more severe the calorie restriction, the greater the protein need and closer the athlete will be to the 3.1 g/kg end of the spectrum .

Another interesting finding is that high protein diets may be less likely to contribute to fat gain when in a calorie surplus. Antonio et al experimented with what they deemed a normal protein intake of 2.3 g/kg against a supposed high intake of 3.4 g/kg body weight and found that the high protein group had a greater decrease in fat mass and body fat percentage. They noted that this higher intake may have physique benefits and didnt show any detrimental effects .

For those concerned that a high protein diet may be a danger to healthyou neednt be. The research strongly suggests that a high protein intake in healthy, active individuals is in no way a risk factor for kidney or liver damage, osteoporosis, or heart disease.

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Can You Overdose On Protein

Myths persist that consuming too much protein is bad for your kidneys or will weaken your bones. These myths are based on flawed studies done 40+ years ago.

Unless you have some sort of kidney disease, your body cant overdose on protein. Studies have shown that healthy people can consume up to 4.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If youre a 200-pound man, that means you could consume 400 grams of protein in a day and not have any problems.

So, no. You cant overdose on protein.

What Does The Rda Recommend

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

The current RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day

Thats pretty low by any flexible dieters or hard trainers standard. But its important to remember that the recommended daily allowance is set as the minimum amount of protein needed just to function and avoid illness, not the optimal amount needed to build muscle and burn fat. When it comes to maximizing your bodys physical potential, the governments cover-all recommendation simply wont be enough. For the purposes of this article, well just be looking at studies examining athletes and resistance-trained folk.

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Are There Any Sources Of Protein You Should Avoid

Short answer: give them a go, and youll be able to tell which work for you and your body and which dont.

As mentioned, some people prefer to get their protein from plant-based sources and via a vegan diet others have a more flexitarian approach and get theirs from chicken, turkey, fish, milk, and yoghurt.

Protein Needs As You Age

There are two sides to understanding how much protein is required as you age. The first, is that your body is going to get rid of energy-expensive tissues first. It takes a lot to maintain muscles, which is why muscle mass decreases significantly in the older population.

In order to *maintain* muscle mass, you have to be eating adequate protein. The second side of this is, if you continue to do resistance training as you age , you will need more protein to fuel the recovery process after your workouts.

So how much do you need?

In a small study , researchers found that the decrease in nitrogen excretion in urine and the decrease in mid-thigh size could possibly mean that the 0.8g/kg of body weight may not be enough.

In a slightly larger study , researchers testing the adequacy of protein and the efficacy of lower body vs. full-body resistance training also found that there was a decrease in weight and mid-thigh size. They also concluded that the protein recommendations may not be enough for the ageing population.

So how much has been observed to be enough?

In a study with almost 800 participants, researchers found that older adults who consumed slightly more than the recommended amount saw improvements in their muscle health. More specifically they saw that older adults who were eating 1.0 1.3g/kg of body weight had a greater resistance to developing weaknesses and physical disability.

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Percent Of Daily Calories

Current U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines suggest that adults should consume between 10% and 35% of their total calories from protein. To get your number and track your intake, you’ll need to know how many calories you consume each day.

Once you know how many calories you consume, multiply that number by 10% and 35% to get your range. As an example, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day would need to consume 200 to 700 calories each day from protein.

Studies On The Optimal Protein Intake

How Much Protein Do You REALLY need?

All values in the bullet point list below are expressed as grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. All of these studies controlled for energy intake, either based on individual requirements or by setting energy intake to be equal in all experimental conditions, so that only the proportion of protein in the diet varied between groups. If the studies were based on unreliable methods such as nitrogen balance, a marker of lean body mass changes, I only included them if they controlled for sweating and dietary adaptation periods.

Over 20 other studies have consistently failed to find any benefits of more than 1.6g/kg/d of protein. See e.g. here and here. The Bayesian Research team has also performed its own scientific study in collaboration with the University of Cambridge to research if higher protein intakes benefit recovery in the days after a hard workout. It didnt.

To check if maybe there still isnt a slight benefit of going higher in protein that all these studies couldnt find, I co-authored a meta-analysis with some of the worlds leading fitness researchers. We again found a cut-off point at exactly 1.6g/kg/d beyond which no further benefits for muscle growth or strength development are seen: see the results below.

Our meta-analysis found that the benefits of protein topped off at 1.6g/kg/d of total bodyweight for increases in fat-free mass .

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How Much Protein Should You Have A Day For Weight Loss

Protein is the one macronutrient that never gets a bad rep when it comes to losing weight. Thats because eating enough protein is shown to help weight loss.

Foods that are high in protein have a thermic effect, meaning they can boost your metabolism and increase use of energy. So increasing the percentage of protein in your diet can wind up increasing energy expenditure.

Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient, leaving you feeling full and satisfied after a meal. A small 2014 study on healthy women found that eating a high protein snack after lunch led to less afternoon hunger. And 100 fewer calories were consumed at dinner compared to those noshing on high fat and high carb snacks.Aiming to consume more than 1.2 g/kg per day has also been shown to boost fullness compared to the normal range .

So Where Can We Get All This Protein From

Protein is everywhere. The days of eating raw eggs to get your protein hits are over . So too is the mind-set that you can only access quality protein from protein supplements. While they are helpful to pack in high-yield, convenient protein in a short amount of time, the quality and cost can vary wildly.

But theres a new emerging protein market beyond these. We are now beginning to see if a shift towards natural and artificial proteins that have been stealthily infused into our everyday foods. Just look at breakfast cereals, for example Weetabix Protein, now offering you 7.6g of protein in a 40g cereal serving or Special K Protein bars offering 4.9g per 35g bar. In the old days you just bought Rice Krispies so you could hear snap, crackle and pop. Now breakfast is part of your pre-workout. If you too thought that your cherished Cadbury, Nestlé or Mars, Incorporated chocolate would be safe, think again. Just one example of many is Cadburys Boost bar that has now evolved to meet your every protein and fitness needs with the release of the Boost+ Protein bar . WTF?

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Promote Muscle Gain By Increased Protein Intake

If you are an athlete, looking to increase your muscle mass, simply eating high-protein foods wont help. Dietary protein, after deamination, provides energy or recycles components of non-muscle molecules, or is converted to stored fat in fat depos. First of all, one needs adequate caloric intake corresponding to their exercise level. If the intake is insufficient during intense training even augmented protein intake may not be enough to maintain the proper balance of nitrogen since a disproportionate percentage of dietary protein will be catabolized to account for the energy deficit. So, you will burn your proteins before they can participate in muscle development.

However, there is some support that the now common practice of eating and drinking predigested protein in the form of shakes, powders, pills or bars might assist in muscle growth, especially whey protein. A 2019 meta analysis supports the efficacy and safety of whey protein supplements as an ergogenic aid on athletes sports performance and recovery.


Katch V.L., McArdle W.D., Katch F.I Essentials of Exercise Physiology, fourth edition

Jager, R. et. al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exercise, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14, DOI: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

WHO Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition, WHO Technical Report Series 935

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The Amount Of Protein You Should Consume At Meals

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You should include a source of fat, protein, and carbs with every meal. Many recommendations suggest to consume extra protein within 30 minutes following your workouts. However, it has been shown that unless you are a top elite athlete this window is less strict. Its important that you achieve your protein percentage as part of your macro split over a period of 24 hours.

Pro tip: Protein shakes with grass-fed whey protein powder around the time of your workouts can be a very convenient way to hit your daily protein goals. Protein powder is easily transportable, and can easily be tossed in a gym bag or otherwise consumed on-the-go.

If you are aiming for between 102-115.6 grams of protein per day, you should try to consume a minimum amount of 20 grams of protein at each meal. Hopefully, over the course of three meals and two pre- and post-workout snacks, you will hit your recommended dietary allowance.

Your goal should be to consume high-quality protein sources, from both plant- and animal-based foods. Below, you’ll find several high-protein foods to consume for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Plant proteins:

Animal proteins:

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I Lift Weights Or Do Resistance Training To Build And Maintain Muscle

Protein requirements are going to be highest for anyone trying to build muscle, and even someone who is aiming to maintain muscle mass needs to eat enough protein to prevent muscle breakdown . Hoffman recommends between 1.6 and 2.0 grams per kilogram bodyweight. Closer to 1.6 would be likely sufficient for the recreational lifter, he says, but no harm is done if you consume more.

That means if you weigh 80 kilograms , you need about 126 grams of protein daily. If youre getting your protein from whole foods, as opposed to protein powder or other drinks, you can pretty easily attain that intake as long as you plan youre eating a bit. But its also why powerlifters like to use protein powderits a super convenient way to up your intake without too much thinking. That being said, its inadvisable to get most of your protein that way. Natural protein sources pack in lots of other nutrients, and since your body has to break down the food first, you get the dosage of protein over a longer period of time instead of one big dump. That helps your system push the protein to where you need it, instead of filtering it out into your pee.

Haggerty also notes that its important to get a variety of protein sourcesdont just focus on meat. Incorporate fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and beans as well.

If You’re Trying To Lose Weight It’s More Important To Have A High

But while protein itself isnt harmful, many protein supplements are high in carbohydrates called Fodmaps that trigger digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and stomach pain. Stevenson advises reading labels carefully on supplements, bars and balls. Often, theyre very high in calories and contain huge amounts of carbs, often in form of sugar. You shouldnt necessarily think that because it says its high protein that its healthy, she says.

Weight loss

Protein has long been linked to weight loss, with low-carb, high-protein diets such as Paleo and Atkins promising to prolong the feeling of fullness. People fail to lose weight often because they feel hungry, and MRI studies have shown that a high-protein breakfast can help stop cravings later in the day.

There is sufficient evidence that protein is satiating, says Alex Johnstone of the University of Aberdeen. If youre trying to lose weight, its therefore more important to have a high-protein breakfast, such as beans on toast or a dairy smoothie, rather than to have supplements.

But she doesnt advocate Atkins-type diets and has found that cutting out carbohydrates has adverse affects on gut health .

Protein balls are often high in calories and can contain huge amounts of carbs

Instead, Johnstone recommends that overweight people eat a high-protein and moderate-carb diet, consisting of 30% protein, 40% carbs and 30% fat compared to the average diet of around 15% protein, 55% carbs and 30% fat.

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Can You Build Muscle Without Protein Supplements

As long as youre getting enough high-quality protein each day, you can build muscle without protein supplements. Supplements are a quick and easy way to boost your protein intake if youre not getting enough. But there is an upper limit, over and above which additional protein isnt going to help much.

This study, for example, shows that increasing protein intake from 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound of bodyweight had no effect on muscle growth in a group of untrained men.

The men trained three days a week on alternate days, using the squat, bench press, deadlift, and bent-over-row. They varied their sets and reps, doing 4 sets of 10 reps on day one , 6 sets of 4 reps on day two , and 5 sets of 6 reps on day three .

After 12 weeks, subjects using whey or soy to bump up their protein intake to around 160 grams per day had gained no more muscle than subjects eating an average of 106 grams of protein per day.

Its worth mentioning that the placebo group did eat more carbs than subjects taking protein supplements, which could have affected the results via changes in glycogen/water levels.

Whats more, the combination of whey protein and resistance training did lead to an increase in satellite cell number, an effect that wasnt seen in the other groups.

Why does that matter?

Satellite cells surround your muscle fibers, and play a key role in the synthesis of new muscle tissue. Over a longer period, those additional satellite cells may well have led to bigger, stronger muscles.

The Average Amount Of Protein Most People Need

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day should be eating about 50 grams of protein a day.

2000 calories a day = 50 grams of protein

This number is a very rough average the USDA states that women need a little less and men need a little more . Your level of activity, age, weight, and a number of other factors, like pregnancy or illness, can also shift that number up or down, but 50 grams is a good rough average for most people to shoot for.

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