What is protein, and why do you need it?

How Much Protein Do You Need

Revised – originally published on August 28, 2018

“How much protein do I need?”

This is one of the most common questions I get asked. Unfortunately, there is not one simple answer to this question because it is different for each individual. Factors include: Age; Weight; Body Composition; Exercise

Timing and quality of protein are important to consider, beyond just amount of protein.

What is protein, and why do you need it?

Protein is one the three macronutrients [carbohydrates, protein, and fat] that your body requires in large quantities to survive. Protein is a part of every cell within the body. It helps to carry out multiple important functions on a daily basis. The first thing that comes to mind when people think about the role of protein is building and repairing muscle. It is true that protein is necessary for building and repairing the body’s tissues- hair skin, eyes, organs, and of course muscle. It also helps to carry out many other body functions.

How much is enough?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day. This recommendation is the minimum amount you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements, not necessarily the amount you should consume every day to promote optimal health. Studies show that active individuals, children and older adults require more high-quality protein than inactive adults. Physical activity increases protein needs, and also increases efficiency with which muscles use the dietary protein.

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Recreational athletes should aim for somewhere between the range of 1.1-1.4g protein/kg body weight/day. Aging individuals should aim to consume at least 1-1.2g protein/kg of body weight a day to maintain muscle mass and function. Studies suggest that the combination of increased protein intake and exercise may help prevent and treat muscle loss that occurs with ageing.

You shouldn’t focus on protein alone, but the ratio of carbohydrate to protein. Protein is needed to help repair and build muscle, and carbohydrates are needed to provide fuel.

Adequate intakes of calories and carbohydrates reduce the need for amino acid oxidation (breakdown of protein) for energy, and spares dietary protein and muscle tissue.

Does timing really matter?

Experts believe that equally distributing protein intake throughout the day is important for maximizing utilization. Consuming adequate amounts of protein throughout the day has been shown to provide improvements in appetite and weight management, as well as help to prevent the natural loss of muscle mass due to exercise or aging. Most people do not eat much protein at breakfast or lunch, and consume the majority of their protein at dinner. Our bodies do not store protein as protein, so it is important to spread intakes throughout the day.

A study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that muscle protein synthesis (building) was 25% higher when evenly distributed across all meals. Protein intake after exercise can help aid in recovery because the muscles are most sensitive to nutrient intake due to increased blood flow to them. Aim for 15-30g within an hour post workout to optimize repair and recovery.

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Protein is protein, right?

The type of the protein should be considered. Beef, poultry, pork, eggs, and dairy certainly provide high-quality protein. Many plant foods including whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables also provide quality protein. Choosing quality protein sources means looking beyond the amount of protein, and taking into consideration the entire nutrient profile. Some high-protein foods are healthier than others because of what comes along with it.

6oz porterhouse steak 6oz wild salmon 1 cup lentils
40g protein 35g protein 18g protein
12g saturated fat* 1.7g saturated fat >1g saturated fat
*60% of recommended daily
intake for 2000 calorie diet
*excellent source of
omega-3’s
*15g fiber

 

The point is, focus on the overall nutrient profile and not just the amount of protein to have a well-balanced diet.

Are you meeting your protein needs?

The answer is different for each individual. Most American’s are meeting the RDA of 0.8g protein/kg of body weight a day, but that is just the minimum required. The National Academy of Medicine established an acceptable macronutrient range for protein as 10-35% of calories for adults. Most active individuals should aim to be somewhere in this range to optimize overall health and physical performance.

Many people ask if they need to take a protein supplement to meet their needs. You don’t NEED to take a supplement; you can meet your protein needs through food intakes. That being said, they can be a convenient source of protein, especially if you struggle to consume enough protein.

Is there such a thing as to much protein?

The main concern of consuming too much protein is about renal function. Excessive protein intakes promote urea formation and can increase GFR and kidney nitrogen load. If an individual does have impaired renal function, they should aim for the lower end of the range for protein intakes. Excessive protein intakes can also exceed the liver’s ability to convert excess nitrogen to urea, which leads to nausea, diarrhea, and possibly even death. Most healthy individuals do not need to worry about over consuming protein, but you can avoid these concerns by consuming amounts within the acceptable range of protein set by the National Academy of Medicine.

Key take-away messages:

  • Develop a plan that provides adequate calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat
  • Distribute protein equally throughout the day
  • Focus on the full nutrient profile of the protein source, not just the amount of protein
  • Consume 10-35% of your calories from protein to optimize health

My favorite protein foods:

  • Greek Yogurt (Chobani Hint of, YQ by Yoplait)
  • Peanut butter (Nutty Sisters or Hy-Vee fresh ground)
  • Eggs (especially an egg sandwich or omelet)
  • Chicken breast
  • Salmon
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Hummus (Oasis or Sabra)

 

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About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

Tom P

Since joining Performance, I have made huge gains. The process of recovering from knee surgery has been much easier because of the expertise of the Performance staff in helping me get back to full strength. I would recommend this gym to anyone.*

About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

Kim C

Performance Fitness Member

“I joined Performance and it has changed my life. Gone are the days when I dreaded trying on clothes at the store, Thanks to Performance, I feel like a super fit mom.”*

About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

Seth D

Performance Fitness Member

Under the guidance of trainers, I have been able to decrease my 5K time from 28 minutes to under 20 minutes in just 2 years.  I have also lost 30 pounds while increasing strength, endurance and power.*

About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

Connie R

Training over the last few years at Performance has been the best health decision I have ever made.  Leslie, my current trainer, keeps me on track to stay fit and strong, makes our sessions interesting and challenging, and is always positive, even when I have setbacks.*

About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

Barry C Testimonial
Barry C

Performance Fitness Member

“I am a competitive cyclist and have been in personal training at Performance for 6 years. The best part about the trainers is that they know our medical histories very well.  Leslie is great at modifying a training session specifically to each individual person’s limitations so as to avoid injury.”*

About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

Pat S

Performance Fitness Member

“I’m retired and enjoy a full, active life. This is due, in no small part, to the time I spend at Performance. The group classes provide a great workout and lots of variety. Plus, a fun way to meet new friends!”*

About Ashley Pearson, Registered Dietitian

Ashley Pearson, Registered DietitianAshley has been passionate about nutrition and physical activity since high school, where she developed her love for running and nutrition. Ashley has completed multiple marathons, and other road races, and understands how to properly fuel the body before, during, and after a workout, race, or game to maximize performance.

Ashley has had a variety of experiences from the food industry, to sports nutrition, to inpatient care. Prior to joining the Performance team, she spent 5 years in the Chicago area specializing in weight management, and medical nutrition therapy for chronic diseases.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters, as well as running, cooking, and traveling.

*Results may vary