How much protein do you really need?

I get asked all the time… “How much protein do I need?” and  “I workout, so should I be taking a protein supplement?” 

There is ALOT of mis-information out there, especially in the fitness and body building world, recommending high protein diets… as much as 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, which is excessive! That would be 175 grams of protein for someone who weighs 175 pounds.  And alongside these high protein diet trends, we also see a push for protein supplements. But do you really need this much protein, or a supplement?

The answer is NO! 

To set the story straight… The daily minimum protein requirement in an average healthy adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. That’s 64 grams of protein for someone weighing 175 pounds.  For endurance athletes, the general rule of thumb is 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg of body weight, and for strength and power athletes, it’s 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg of body weight.  While protein is essential for building and repairing our muscles and other tissues, a high protein diet is not indicated! Any excess of protein that the body doesn’t need may contribute to excess caloric intake (if not burned off) and will store as fat (leading to weight gain).  But the bigger concern is that a high protein diet can impair kidney function. Because the the kidneys have to filter out the waste products of protein,  an excessively high protein diet can cause the kidneys to have to work harder, which can lead to kidney damage.

To supplement or not to supplement? That is the question…

A person should be able to achieve adequate protein intake from normal foods and beverages. One may not consider all of the many foods/beverages that contain protein… so many of us are tricked into thinking that we need a protein supplement to meet our needs, which may just lead to unnecessary and excessive protein consumption.

While for most of us a supplement is not necessary, there are some circumstances in which a protein shake/supplement may be appropriate. Here they are:

  • You would otherwise skip a meal… for example, let’s say you’ve always skipped breakfast and don’t have much of an appetite for solid food in the morning (or for another meal of the day).  A supplement will at least provide you with the fuel that a skipped meal will not!
  • It’s a timing thing…. maybe you lack time or are away from home during a meal or snack time and need something quick and on the go.  Again, a supplement is better than nothing, and likely better than resorting to fast food!
  • It’s a digestive thing… Because muscles are most sensitive to nutrient intake after exercise, protein consumed post workout will boost muscle protein synthesis and recovery.  Therefore, it’s recommended to consume protein (and carbohydrate) within an hour post-workout. However, many people have a suppressed appetite and/or just can’t “stomach” solid food after exercise. In this case, a liquid supplement (containing both carbohydrate and protein) may be appropriate after exercise.   BUT… if it’s available, you could just drink chocolate milk! 🙂

So while my philosophy is “food first,”  a supplement can be used as a back-up if/when needed. In other words, I’d rather you have a supplement than nothing at all!!

To help you meet your requirements using the FOOD FIRST philosophy, here are protein sources and their values:

 REAL FOODS & BEVERAGES 🙂 GRAMS OF PROTEIN 
 Meat (beef, pork, fish, poultry, game)  3 oz (size of deck of cards)= 21 grams
 1 oz cheese  7 grams
8 oz dairy milk  8 grams
 6 oz yogurt  6-8 grams
 6 oz Greek yogurt  12-14 grams
 1/4 cup cottage cheese  7 grams
 1 egg  7 grams
 1 oz (1/4 cup) nuts  7 grams
 2 Tbsp. nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.)  7 grams
 1 cup soy milk  7 grams
 1/2 cup beans  7 grams
 3 oz tofu  7 grams
 1/2 cup edamame/soybeans  12 grams
 veggie/bean burger  10-14 grams
 Other foods/beverages such as vegetarian choices, already prepared meals, and protein “fortified” foods (such as some cereals, granola, etc.) Read the label for protein values!

TAKE ACTION!… 

  1. Using the protein recommendations above, calculate your daily  protein requirements. 
  2. Using the table above, create and follow a meal plan for 1 day that provides your daily protein needs from regular food/beverages. 
  3. Please share!! Tell us how easy (or hard) it was to follow the plan. How are you are able to achieve adequate protein intake? 

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