How Much Protein Do You Really Need
Every cell in your body contains protein. But what is protein, which foods contain it, how much do you need each day and why?
Dr Lindy AlexanderFebruary 2018
If youve gone down the health food section of your supermarket lately, you may have noticed the large range of protein products and powders on offer. Claiming to promote everything from more energy to weight loss and bigger muscles, protein seems to be the must-have for health. But is the hype justified?
What is protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient in our diet. It plays an important role in muscle growth and repair as well contributing to enzyme and hormone production.
The building blocks of proteins are called amino acids, and theyre chemically linked to each other to form various combinations of proteins, says Tim McMaster, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
There are 20 different types of amino acids and theyre broken up into 2 main categories those that can be made by the human body and those that must be provided through the diet .
Why do we need protein?
Every cell in the human body contains protein and it makes up about half of our dry body weight. The protein we eat is broken down and helps to maintain muscle mass and metabolism.
A severe lack of protein can affect almost every part of the bodys function and lead to muscle wastage and a poor immune system.
How much protein do you really need?
The best sources of protein
Protein Needs For Adults
The bare minimum amount of protein you need per day is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. So, for a 140-pound person, that’s about 50 grams. But that’s just the lowest amount you should aim for to avoid getting sick explains Harvard Health Publishing.
A Protein Summit organized in 2015 included 40 nutrition scientists and was detailed in the Harvard Health Publishing article. It concluded that about 15 to 25 percent of total daily calories can come from protein. This is a safe and reasonable amount of protein to aim for. So, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, 75 to 125 grams of protein is appropriate.
Your exact needs, however, also depend on your age, sex and activity level. Athletes and avid exercisers might need a bit more. Protein is important for athletes because it helps repair and strengthen muscle tissue. Also important, however, is a greater amount of other macronutrients, including carbohydrates for energy and fat for weight maintenance.
Read more: How Much Protein is Right for You?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends athletes consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, depending on the type of training they’re involved in. Endurance athletes, such as runners, need less protein per day than power athletes, such as weightlifters.
This means that if you’re a 150-pound athlete, you need 81 to 136 grams of protein per day. This protein intake should be spread out among multiple meals and workouts.
What Is The Thermogenic Effect Of Protein
It takes energy to digest your food – commonly referred to as the thermic effect of food . And as it turns out, each macro requires a different amount of energy to digest.
Protein is thought to be the most thermogenic of all the macros – causing a small spike in metabolism to digest protein foods compared to fat and carbs . And it is commonly believed that eating more protein overall may lead to tiny increases in your daily metabolism and overall energy expenditure.
TEF only accounts for 10% of your total energy expenditure, but because dieting is associated with decreases in metabolism over time – due to prolonged caloric restriction and decreases in mass, this minor effect on metabolism may be worth considering .
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What Qualifies As High Stress
Everyone deals with a busy week from time to time. Does that mean you need to eat more protein during those weeks? Not necessarily. High-stress states can include stress from disease, like cancer, diabetes, or obesity, Geiger explains. Someone who is obese is in an inflammatory state, which puts the body in a state of constant stress.
For most people, extra protein doesnt equal extra benefits. And some people should avoid overconsumption. People with kidney disease or kidney stones, in particular, need to limit their amount of protein.
This Is How Much Protein You Need To Build Muscle
Everyone knows we need protein to build muscle, but how much is enough?
Let’s face it, protein and muscle-building go hand-in-hand. The macronutrient is vital for muscle tissue repair and is full of amino acids: the building blocks of strength. But, with sources, calculations and advice varying wildly, few men actually know how much protein they need to maintain muscle and to keep building bulk.
And without that knowledge the caricature of the gym bro guzzling a protein shake that’s surgically attached to him is allowed to live on. Well, no more. We’re here to tell you exactly how much protein you need in your diet to build muscle, as well as explain how you can calculate a protein intake that’s personalised to you and the foods you can add to your diet to up your protein numbers, if that’s necessary.
According to the NHS, the daily reference intake of protein is 50g, but that doesn’t take into account the differences between people, so it doesn’t change whether you’re 6 ft 9 or 4 ft 4, nor does it allow for the difference in need between someone who weighs 80 kilos compared with someone who weighs 200 kilos. But there are ways to work out how much protein you need. And all you have to do is keep reading to find out how.
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So How Much Protein Do You Need
For any guy who’s cut his teeth on the gym floor and with several years of training behind them could theoretically get away with less daily protein. That’s because, the closer you are to your genetic limit in terms of muscle growth, the slower the gains will come. And the slower your rate of growth, the less protein you need to support that growth. Understood?
In short, if youre trying to gain muscle, or even if you just want to hold on to the muscle you have while you drop fat, 2.2g of protein per kg of lean body mass is plenty.
You can eat more if you like. However, bear in mind that its not going to make much difference to the speed at which you gain muscle and will make a difference not only to your bank balance, but potentially your waistline too.
High Protein High Diary Diets
In one study of overweight and obese women, researchers evaluated dieters who consumed a high protein , high dairy diet to a lower protein , lower dairy diet. The high protein group lost more body fat and gained more lean muscle mass than the women who consumed the low protein diet. The low protein group lost weight, but they also lost more lean muscle mass.
Study authors suggest that this loss of lean muscle may contribute to the long-term weight gain and frustrating weight loss plateaus that plague so many dieters.
Lean muscle mass burns more calories than fat, even when the body is at rest.
When the low protein group lost lean muscle mass, they may have lost the ability to burn more calories throughout the day. On the other hand, the improved body composition of the high protein group may help them burn more calories in the short and long term.
Remember that if you eat too many calories, no matter what kind of calories they are, you will gain weight. Even though some studies suggest that weight gain from lean protein is better than weight gain from fat and carbohydrates, if weight loss is your goal, eating the right number of calories is still the key to success.
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Optimal Daily Protein Intake For Older Adults
Sarcopenia is a muscle disorder. It is defined as an impairment of physical function combined with a loss of muscle mass. It is the primary age-related cause of frailty.
Frailty is associated with a higher risk of disabilities that affect your ability to perform daily activities, a higher risk of having to go to a nursing home, and a higher risk of experiencing falls, fractures, and hospitalizations.
The link between sarcopenia, frailty, and associated morbidities may explain why sarcopenia is associated with a greater risk of premature death and reduced quality of life. This isnt a rare issue, either: in the US, over 40% of men and nearly 60% of women over the age of 50 have sarcopenia, and more than 10% of people in their 20s.
Reference: Janssen et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2002.
Fortunately, sarcopenia is neither inevitable nor irreversible some seniors have built more muscle in their old age than they ever had in their youth. The older you get, though, the greater your muscles anabolic resistance , and so the greater the protein intake and exercise volume youll need to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Notably, doubling protein intake from 0.8 to 1.6 g/kg has been shown to significantly increase lean body mass in elderly men. Similar observations have been made in elderly women who increase their protein intake from 0.9 to 1.4 g/kg. Even a small increase in protein intake from 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg has minor benefits towards lean mass and overall body composition.
Are You Getting Too Much Protein
Judging by all the protein bars, shakes and powders out there, you get the impression you need more protein. There are claims it curbs appetite, helps with weight loss and builds muscle. But whats the real story?
Contrary to all the hype that everyone needs more protein, most Americans get twice as much as they need. This is especially true for males 14-70 years of age, who the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise to decrease meat, poultry and egg consumption. Even athletes are often getting more protein than they need, without supplements, because their calorie requirements are higher, and with more food, comes more protein.
True or False: Big steak = bigger muscles
False. Although adequate protein throughout the day is necessary, extra strength training is what leads to muscle growth, not extra protein intake. You cant build muscle without the exercise to go with it.
The body cant store protein, so once needs are met, any extra is used for energy or stored as fat. Excess calories from any source will be stored as fat in the body.
Extra protein intake can also lead to elevated blood lipids and heart disease, because many high-protein foods you eat are high in total fat and saturated fat. Extra protein intake, which can be taxing on the kidneys, poses an additional risk to individuals pre-disposed to kidney disease.
How much protein do I need?
Excessive protein intake would be more than 2 g per kg of body weight each day.
Where does protein come from?
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High Protein Intake For Fat Loss
If you noticed Dr. Nelsons comment about being hypocaloric , you may be wondering if theres evidence that protein needs might change based on if youre trying to lose fat or gain muscle.
To be clear: the majority of research and the most prominent sports nutrition bodies agree that theres probably no need to exceed the daily 0.7 grams per pound, even if youre trying to lose weight.
That said, there are a couple of studies that have suggested more protein might be useful if you have a good amount of muscle mass and are trying to lose fat quickly. One, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, , found that athletes in a big calorie deficit maintained more muscle and lost more fat eating 1.1 grams of protein per pound than a group taking 0.54 grams, the absolute minimum recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Another study published in 2014 that looked specifically at bodybuilders found that they would respond best to consuming 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein. This is among folks with under 10 percent body fat, so they were eating an upper level of about 1.3 grams per pound of bodyweight.
So When It Comes To Protein How Much Is Too Much
It’s hard to provide a specific answer since so much is still uncertain and the experts themselves don’t agree. However, for the average person it’s probably best to aim for no more than 2 gm/kg that would be about 125 grams/day for a 140-pound person. New information could change our thinking about the maximum safe amount, but until we know more about the safety, risks and benefits of high protein diets, this seems like a reasonable recommendation.
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Foods High In Protein
There are many different combinations of food that a person can eat to meet their protein intake requirements. For many people, a large portion of protein intake comes from meat and dairy, though it is possible to get enough protein while meeting certain dietary restrictions you might have. Generally, it is easier to meet your RDA of protein by consuming meat and dairy, but an excess of either can have a negative health impact. There are plenty of plant-based protein options, but they generally contain less protein in a given serving. Ideally, a person should consume a mixture of meat, dairy, and plant-based foods in order to meet their RDA and have a balanced diet replete with nutrients.
If possible, consuming a variety of complete proteins is recommended. A complete protein is a protein that contains a good amount of each of the nine essential amino acids required in the human diet. Examples of complete protein foods or meals include:
- Hemp and chia seeds
How Can I Get Enough
Especially when women are dieting, getting enough protein is a common struggle, Geiger says. Many women tend to gravitate towards carbohydrates and fats, such as salads, cheese, nuts, or avocados. Geiger advises incorporating more vegetable sources of protein. Some examples include dried beans, edamame, hummus, nut butters, soy/almond milk, or Greek yogurt. When trying to increase protein, its easy to also accidentally increase your fat intake. Look for leaner cuts of meat like fish, chicken, ground sirloin, egg whites, and reduced-fat dairy products.
Most people can meet their micronutrient needs by eating a range of healthy foods. Still, Geiger advises taking a daily multivitamin. Most people can get what they need in a well-balanced 1,500-calorie diet. However, always have your primary care provider check your labs if nutrient deficiencies are suspected.
Our nutritionist offer their best so patients can enjoy their best health.
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Is It Safe To Eat A Lot Of Protein
Everyone has different nutritional needs. You need to find out how much protein you need in order to keep your muscles in good shape. People eat too much protein because of a lack of education on health topics, because of poor diet choices, or even because of bad advice.
Even if you are eating an increased amount of protein to bulk up, consuming too much over an extended period of time can put severe stress on your kidneys.
It is difficult to overconsume protein, however. High concentrations of protein are usually found in meat and legumes, and you would need to drink several protein shakes a day in conjunction with a high protein diet in order to consume too much.
If you have serious concerns about the amount of protein that you are eating each day, you need to go to your doctor.
Higher Acute Anabolic Ceiling Than Previously Thought
More recently, Macnaughton et al. employed a randomized, double-blind, within-subject design whereby resistance-trained men participated in two trials separated by ~2 weeks. During one trial subjects received 20 g of whey protein immediately after performing a total body resistance training bout during the other trial the same protocol was instituted but subjects received a 40-g whey bolus following training. Results showed that the myofibrillar fractional synthetic rate was ~20% higher from consumption of the 40 g compared to the 20 g condition. The researchers speculated that the large amount of muscle mass activated from the total body RT bout necessitated a greater demand for AA that was met by a higher exogenous protein consumption. It should be noted that findings by McNaughton et al. are somewhat in contrast to previous work by Moore et al. showing no statistically significant differences in MPS between provision of a 20 g and 40 g dose of whey in young men following a leg extension bout, although the higher dose produced an 11% greater absolute increase . Whether differences between intakes higher than ~20 g per feeding are practically meaningful remain speculative, and likely depend on the goals of the individual.
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Why You Shouldn’t Calculate How Much Protein You Need Based On Total Calories Or Weight
On a simple level, protein guidelines generally fall into one of two camps: a proportion either of how much you eat or how much you weigh. However, both are flawed if youre looking to build muscle fast.
Take only eating a specific percentage of protein. The problem is that the numbers are going to be affected in a big way by your total calorie intake. For example, 30 per cent protein on a 2000-calorie diet is very different from 30 per cent protein on a 4000-calorie diet despite the fact that the percentages are exactly the same: 150g a day compared to 300g a day.
So, calculating your protein intake relative to your weight could be better, as it stays consistent regardless of how many calories you’re packing in.
For example, if you were to eat two grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight, you’ll be fuelling yourself with the same amount of protein regardless of your total daily calorie count whether that’s 1500 or 4000. However, this system is also not without its flaws.