Signs You Need More Protein
It can be hard to tell if youre getting enough of this essential nutrient, but there are some signs you can watch for. If your hair, skin, and nails arent what they used to be, you may need more. As estrogen lowers, these signs are sometimes blamed on hormones, but changes in your diet may be indicated.
For my over 50 clients, failure to see changes in muscle even when theyre lifting weights properly is a sign they need more protein. Essential amino acids in this nutrient are the building blocks of muscle.
Another sign? You find yourself snacking or, at least, wanting to snack between meals. Protein improves your satiety so you feel full longer. Low energy can be attributed to many things at midlife but boosting protein intake has led many of my clients to say, I have so much more energy. That might be because many protein sources are rich in iron and low iron levels make you weaker and tired. If youre experiencing any of these issues, it may be time to re-examine what, and when, youre eating.
Protein Preserves Lean Body Mass
In addition, protein has another benefit on weight loss: it helps preserve lean body mass during periods of caloric restriction.
One study compared the effect of low protein intake to high protein intake on lean body mass over a short term caloric deficit. On average, the low protein group lost about 1.6 kilograms of muscle mass while the high protein group only lost 0.3 kg of muscle mass .
Another similar study compared 0.8 g/kg per day against 1.6 g/kg per day and 2.4 g/kg per day and found that the two higher intakes spared more lean body mass than the 0.8 g/kg per day diet. They also found that there was no real benefit to 2.4 g/kg per day over 1.6 g/kg per day .
Currently, most evidence suggests that ~1.6 grams of protein per kilogram, or .73 grams of protein per pound is a recommended daily target for protein intake to spare lean body mass loss during periods of weight loss.
Guidelines For Getting Enough Protein
So, how much do you need?
Shapiro says that research has shown women should increase their protein intake to about 35 percent of their daily calories as they age.
Another way to look at it is in grams. The overall recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight daily , but for women over 65, she recommends at least 1 to 1.2 grams, and for those who are very active , she bumps up that number to 1.5 grams. In fact, in a recent study, adults ages 52 to 75 who increased their protein intake to that 1.5 gram level increased the rate at which they built muscle significantly, compared to participants who consumed 0.8 grams.
Anderson also notes that timing can be important. Many people have toast with jam and coffee at breakfast and salad for lunch and then get all of their protein at dinner, which is not the ideal way to do it, she says, since spreading intake over the entire day will keep you energized and satiated. If you have protein at breakfast, it typically sets you up for a day of successful eating. If you have just carbs for breakfast, youre hungry at 10 oclock and you reach for more carbs.
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Why Is Protein So Important During Pregnancy
Protein is an essential nutrient during pregnancy. The building blocks of protein, called amino acids, play countless roles in the body, from maintaining the structure of our muscles, skin and bones to producing critical hormones for growth.
Eating enough protein during pregnancy also supports your baby’s development, since amino acids are required for normal cell growth and function. Meeting your daily protein needs may also lower the risk of complications like fetal growth restriction and preterm labor.
What About Protein Powders And Supplements
Another way to get protein is through supplements, although whole foods should always be the main source of nutrients in a healthy diet. Supplements are just that, meant to supplement a diet. Your client may benefit from supplements if she struggles to get enough protein for various reasons: limited time to cook, not motivated to cook, or a vegan diet.
Some protein supplements you can recommend include whey or casein powders or pea, hemp, or rice protein powders for vegans. There are also more specialized supplements, like branched-chain amino acids for clients trying to restrict calories or meet very specific training goals.
Protein can be a confusing topic for your clients, especially women because most research and discussion is geared to men. Help your female clients by providing this important information about how, when, what, and how much protein to eat for health, weight maintenance, and strength and fitness.
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Enhances Lean Body Mass
Pretty much everybody wants more lean body mass and less fat mass. Why? Lean body mass burns more calories and gives you a more fit and toned body.
Your lean body mass, also known as fat-free mass, is calculated by subtracting your body fat weight from the total weight of your body. While the weight of your organs and skeletal system remains fairly consistent, the skeletal muscle aspect of your lean body mass can change from month to month or even from week to week.
This makes skeletal muscle a vital aspect of your lean body mass.
If you want to increase your metabolism, building more skeletal is one of the most well-researched ways to boost your calorie burning
Why Protein Is Especially Important For Older Women
As we get older, muscle mass starts to go. Regular strength training will help, but only if you provide your muscles with the necessary fuel. Research shows that as women age, they should increase their protein intake. This is to help support their bones and to help support and maintain muscle mass, which starts to decline after the age of 30, explains Amy Shapiro, RD, founder of Real Nutrition NYC. If we dont get enough protein, we cant rebuild, maintain, or grow our muscles.
The other thing that happens is that your metabolism slows down in your 40s and 50s. Maintaining your weight or losing weight often moves to front and center, Anderson says, and protein is a key tool for both, since it can keep you full to prevent overeating, and more muscle mass helps you burn more fat.
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Protein For Building Muscle
The more protein in your muscles, the bigger and stronger your muscles can get.
Bodybuilders have long known that there is an anabolic window after a workout during which muscles are especially greedy for amino acids.
So, if youd like to build muscle, make sure you eat a protein-rich meal within a few hours after training. Some advanced folks also like to add branched-chain amino acids or essential amino acids as a during-workout or after-workout supplement.
Here, it seems that a fast-digesting animal protein supplement is better at getting your body to make more muscle compared to plant-based protein . Of course, you can also just eat real food after working out.
Daily Protein Needs For Seniors Still Unsettled
ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
My mom is a little feather of an 84-year-old, quite thin and less than five feet tall. So I wasnt surprised when her doctor told us recently to make sure she ate more protein, preferably at every meal or snack. Protein is good for building and maintaining muscle and bone. Its also important for strength and function. A new study aimed to extend the benefits even further, to stroke prevention.
Researchers in China analyzed seven studies that included more than 250,000 participants who ranged in age from their mid-30s to their 80s. They were followed for an average of 14 years. People with the most protein in their diets were 20% less likely to have had a stroke during the study period than those with the lowest amount of protein in their diets. Even more impressive, the risk of stroke went down 26% for every increase of 20 grams of protein in the daily diet. The results were published online today in the journal Neurology.
According to the researchers, if everyone started eating more protein wed see nearly 1,500,000 fewer stroke deaths per year globally.
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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 Much Protein Do You Need A Day To Build Muscle
If you want to build muscle, you’ll want to adjust your protein intake based on how much protein you were eating before and how much strength training you’re doing now, says Cesar Sauza, a registered dietitian with AltaMed Health Services.
To gain muscle, you will also need to be in a caloric surplus, meaning you consume more calories than you burn. However, this should not all come from protein.
“Increased protein is associated with increased muscle strength and mass however this is not the full story because our bodies also require carbohydrates and fats to help contribute to muscle mass,” Sauza says.
To make sure you meet your goals, consult a registered dietitian to help you draw up a meal plan with the proper balance of protein, fat, and carbs.
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Protein Helps You Feel Full Longer
One of the biggest things that impedes weight loss is hunger.
People are far less likely to stick with a nutrition or diet plan if they experience high levels of hunger.
Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients .
Several different lines of research have all pointed to the same thing: higher protein intakes tend to provide more satiety and less hunger.
For example, in one study, high protein snacks allowed people to go longer between eating and also caused them to eat less at subsequent meals .
Another study showed that including protein into a glass of water decreased hunger compared to water alone .
Depending on the source of protein, there does appear to be minor differences in the exact amount of satiety that protein provides, however these differences are minor and dont really make a meaningful impact for most people .
Currently, there is no consensus on the optimal level of daily protein intake in ones diet with regard to stay full. However, roughly 1.8 – 2.9 grams of protein per kilogram daily appears to provide substantial benefit on satiety .
How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day
As with most things in nutrition, theres no simple answer. Your ideal intake of calories and protein depends on your health, body composition, main goal, and the type, intensity, duration, and frequency of your physical activity. And even taking all this into account, youll end up with a starting number, which youll need to adjust through self-experimentation.
Tip: Calculating your caloric needs
Your height, weight, age, and level of physical activity all contribute to your caloric needs. There are many calorie calculators out there, but the NIH Body Weight Planner stands out. It has been tested and validated against real-world data and can estimate the number of calories you need to reach then maintain a specific weight.
Calorie-wise, there are only three types of diets:
Daily protein requirements are expressed in grams, either per kilogram of body weight or per pound of body weight . Ranges in the table below reflect known individual variances.
Maintenance: eucaloric diet | Muscle gain: eucaloric diet or hypercaloric diet | Fat loss: hypocaloric diet | * Grams per kilogram of body weight
Also, note that
Protein intake should be based on body weight, not on caloric intake.
Most studies have looked at dosages up to 1.5 g/kg only a few have looked at dosages as high as 2.23.3 g/kg. However, in healthy people, even those higher dosages dont seem to have negative effects.
Tip: Calculating your protein needs
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When You Eat Is As Important As How Much
Another consideration is how often you eat protein during the day. Younger adults have the ability to store small amounts of amino acids from one meal to the next, but that changes around the age of 70, according to Greenwood.
“For people 70 and older, the window of time between protein meals must be shorter than in younger people. You shouldn’t count on having a steak for dinner, and then no protein until tomorrow night’s dinner. Every meal should have some healthy source of protein in it.”
Aim to eat about a third of your daily protein allotment at each meal .
Is Protein Powder Safe During Pregnancy
If youre looking for easy ways to bump up your protein intake during pregnancy, supplements like protein powders might sound like a simple fix. But if youre adding these supplements to your diet on top of a variety of protein-rich foods as well as your prenatal, you may actually get too much.
Protein powders and other supplements often contain a whopping amount of protein in a concentrated form, and since research shows that excessive protein intake during pregnancy can be detrimental, its all about finding a happy medium.
And remember: Supplements arent regulated by the Food & Drug Administration , so its difficult to know exactly whats inside that protein powder, and even the ingredients that are listed on the label may not be 100 percent safe during pregnancy. Unlike whole food sources of protein like fresh chicken or eggs, protein powders can contain trace amounts of heavy metals, caffeine or herbs like gingko that may render the supplement unsafe for expecting moms.
That can be true of all forms of protein powder as well as protein bars, energy bars and shakes .
Bottom line? It’s better to get your protein fix through real foods, and as with all vitamins and supplements in pregnancy, you should never take anything without first discussing it with your practitioner.
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Don’t Just Watch The Scale
You’ve probably heard “Don’t worry about what the scale says” hundreds of times, and now you have good reason to heed that advice! If we had only measured body weight in our recent study, the women in the higher-protein group would have seen that they actually gained just over 2 pounds. I don’t need to tell you how devastating this can feel.
Like good scientists, however, we evaluated body composition, not just body weight, and we found that the higher-protein group gained more muscle and lost more fat than the lower-protein groupâresults they wouldn’t know just by stepping on the scale.
Rather than focusing on one number, keep track of the changes in your body-fat loss and muscle gain. If you notice your weight going up and your body-fat percentage going down, you know you’re doing something right!
I also recommend taking progress pictures, paying attention to how your clothes fit, and monitoring your energy levels in the gym. Positive changes in all of these aspects can suggest your diet and training program are working!
Women And Protein Counting Grams
One way to make sure you are getting enough protein is to count the grams in everything you eat. Different sources have different recommendations, but generally 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the minimum. For women who are active or trying to lose weight, more is better.
A good general guideline is 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
For a woman who weighs 150 pounds this means eating between 80 and 136 grams of protein per day. The high end of this range is pretty extreme and only really necessary for any client doing a lot of strength training, preparing for fitness competitions, or who is a serious athlete. Experts recommend you dont stay in that upper level indefinitely.
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Optimal Daily Protein Intake For Lactating Women
As with pregnancy, there is little research investigating how lactation and breastfeeding affect protein requirements. Women produce a wide range of breast milk volumes, regardless of their energy status . The infants demands appear to be the primary regulator of milk production.
Based simply on adult protein requirements plus the protein output in breast milk, the RDA for lactating women was set at 1.3 g/kg. However, one study reported that half of the lactating women consuming 1.5 g/kg were in negative nitrogen balance, while another study suggested that 1.01.5 g/kg leads to a rapid downregulation of protein turnover suggestive of an adaptive response to insufficient intake.
Considering the lack of data on the effects of a protein intake greater than 1.5 g/kg in lactating women and that consuming 1.5 g/kg or less leads to adaptations suggestive of insufficient intake, lactating women should aim to consume at least 1.5 g/kg of protein daily.