Are you chugging back your protein shake just about 30 minutes after your workout? Are you forcing down a pound of unseasoned chicken breast each day? What about protein bars?
I’m here to tell you, that you might not need as much protein as you think!
So, what is protein? What does it do?
Protein is one of the three major macro-nutrients and is made up of substances called amino acids. These amino acids help repair tissue and are precursors to enzymes, hormones, immune response, cellular repair, and other molecules necessary for human life. As such proteins are vital in healing and repairing muscles after exercise, repairing skin, hair, nails, and so much more.
Amino acids? What does that mean?
There are hundreds of known amino acids in existence, however, there are about 20 amino acids which we utilize and consume in the foods we eat. Of these 20 amino acids 8 are considered essential to human life. When a food item includes all of the essential amino acids in the proper ratio it is called a “complete protein”.
Almost all complete proteins come from animal sources.
Complete Proteins? Does this mean meat is necessary?
No! There are actually a few naturally occurring complete protein sources not provided by animals. These include:
- Mycoprotein (also called quorn, made from a fungus)
In addition to the naturally occurring complete proteins, foods may be combined together to create a complete protein or complete amino acid profile. We do need to consume enough overall amino acids, specifically essential amino acids. Some common food combinations which provide a complete amino acid profile:
- Hummus and Pita Bread
- Peanut Butter and Bread
- Beans and Rice
So, how much protein do we need to get enough amino acids?
For sedentary individuals the minimum recommended intake is 1g of protein per kg of total body weight.
(In US Imperial measurements, this is 1 gram of protein for 45% of your total body weight)
- For example someone who weighs 60kg needs about 60g of protein per day.
- Someone who weighs 132lbs needs about 60g of protein per day.
What about athletes?
Because athletes require higher levels of muscular tissue repair it is recommended that they consume a minimum of .8-1.2 grams of protein per US Imperial pound of “lean body mass”. This is the amount of weight in your body without body fat.
(In metric, this is about 2.2 times your lean body mass in kg)
There are multiple methods of calculating your body fat percentage so stay tuned for another post on this topic in the future.
- For example, someone who weighs 60kg with 20% body fat has 12kg of body fat. Their lean body mass is 48kg. They need about 105.6g of protein per day.
- Someone who weighs 132 pounds with 20% body fat has 26.45lbs of body fat. Their lean body mass is 105.6 pounds. They need about 105.6g of protein per day.
What about Vegetarians or Vegans?
While there is no current recommended minimum specific for vegetarians and vegans, it may be beneficial to consume more overall protein due to the low amount of specific essential amino acids in a non-meat diet. In general as vegans and vegetarians consume less overall complete protein sources, they require more overall grams of protein to reach the same amino acid levels as their meat eating counterparts.
Do I need a protein supplement?
You shouldn’t need to take any supplements unless you are consistently failing to meet your overall protein goal. Often we are convinced the more protein we eat the better, however, this is not the case. Consuming more protein than the recommended amount does not result in better adaptation or recovery, especially if this is causing you to overeat your total caloric intake for the day. An excess of protein will be stored as energy for later use (fat) and a very high protein diet may raise levels of urea which can cause some health issues like gout.
Many times we are consuming adequate protein in our diets from the meats, eggs, fish, or vegetables we consume. If necessary, you can supplement protein with powders, bars, shakes, or an amino acid supplement. These are generally inexpensive and easy to consume.
We hope this helped you learn the right amount of protein you need in your diet. For additional information we suggest you check out our Beginner’s Guide to Nutrition which provides you all the information you’ll need to see success.
For additional sources, please check out:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- A scientific statement from American Heart Association Nutrition Committee