There is a lot of false and misleading information out there about just how much protein you should be eating. Bodybuilders constantly rave about their 99% protein diet- chowing down on protein bars and sipping whey protein all day long. On the other end of the spectrum, you have distance athletes hyping their excessive carb diet and thriving on glucose gel packs.
It is true that the recommended intake of protein does depend on the style and frequency of exercise you engage in, but let me straighten out any outlandish protein claims to help you discover the right amount of protein for you.
Protein is an essential macronutrient. People who do not consume enough protein in their diet are likely to experience many negative side effects. Our hair, skin, nails, hormones, and connective tissues contain proteins. Our body depends on protein for regulation and growth. Enzymes, hormones, and even our DNA is affected by protein. It is also true that protein is necessary to have strong muscles and to build lean muscle mass. Simply stated, protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body and thus we cannot live without it.
Proteins are made up of joined peptide bonds containing amino acids. Think of amino acids as the individual pieces of a lego set with the final lego tower being the protein. Amino acids bond together to create the final “product” that make things happen in our body. There are nine amino acids that our body cannot synthesize on its own and thus it is required that we obtain them through our diet.
Maybe you’re wondering what foods contain these essential amino acids.
Meat, eggs, and dairy products typically have the highest ratios of amino acids. Protein can also be found in smaller quantities in some plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Some of my personal favorite LEAN PROTEIN sources include:
Chicken breast, fish (salmon, tilapia, tuna, etc.), flank steak, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat milk, eggs, beans, lentils, pork loin, 95% lean ground beef, and turkey.
* I always have whey protein at the end of my workout and if you haven't tried these new Kirkland Protein Bars (quality AND inexpensive at costco) I highly recommend them.
Now that we know which foods contain protein, let me address the question of how much protein you should have.
According to the Institute of Medicine, you should have between 10-35% of you total calorie intake coming from protein. So no, a diet that is 99% protein is NOT healthy. There is such thing as too much protein. Over-doing the protein intake can wreak havoc on our kidneys and excess protein equates to excess calories so yes, too much protein CAN cause weight gain.
Counting calories is hard enough as is, so counting calories coming from protein?! That can be more sophisticated than we want it to be so here is what I recommend for your protein intake to keep things simple:
The Food and Nutrition Board suggest .4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. However, if you have goals to reduce body fat percentage and build lean muscle mass this quantity is likely too low. I recommend upping your protein intake to as much as .8 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For those of you who are quite active in the gym (training several days a week) I would recommend an even higher quantity of protein for muscle recovery and repair. You could consume as much as 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Weighing in at 160 pounds, I personally consume anywhere between 140-170 grams of protein each day.
Experiment by adding more lean protein to your diet. If you see positive improvements, stick with the new added amount. Take confidence in the fact that having adequate amounts of protein in your diet will help you retain the muscle mass you currently have, build even more, and most importantly, promote fat loss!
Enjoy these last couple weeks of summer and put a little extra protein on that grill.