These days it’s all about eating protein!
Eat more protein to lose weight, build muscles, and lose fat.
I’m sure you’ve heard of those too.
High protein and low carb diets have gained popularity in the past few years. Thanks to the Paleo and the CrossFit devotees for starting this movement.
People on this diet claim to have “cracked the code” of proper nutrition.
The importance of protein is clear.
But how much protein do you really need, and are you meeting your daily needs?
As surprising as it sounds, it’s actually easier to overeat on protein than it is to under-eat.
And there is certainly no evidence you need to up your protein intake.
To truly understand the protein and our needs for it, we first need to understand what protein is and what role it plays.
What is protein?
By definition, “proteins are actually chains of small molecules called amino acids. Some of these chains are constantly being broken down, and new ones are strung together to take their place (1).”
There are 22 amino acids total. Your body can make 13 of these amino acid building blocks, but it cannot make 9 of them. And those are called essential amino acids (2).
Since your body can’t make them, you have to get them from foods.
Those essential amino acids can be found in foods like milk, eggs, fish, meats, and also variety of plants beans, tofu, and quinoa.
As for bodily functions, protein is what builds and repair tissues. It also makes the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood (3).
Protein serves as a building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
Why is protein important?
Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is one of the 3 “macronutrients”.
It means that your body needs relatively large amounts of it to survive. Without it, the cells in your body can’t function properly. You’d be hungry, sluggish, mentally foggy, and more prone to infections.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there are at “least 10,000 different proteins that make you what you are and keep you that way.”
Protein also makes up about 15 to 20% of the average person body weight, reports Medical News Today. Without a doubt, proteins are the major component of muscle.
Muscles are what flex arms, legs, contract the hearts and create waves in the walls of our intestine to move food along.
All these muscle activities account for most of the energy your body burns. This is why you often hear the more muscles you have, the more calories you burn and more food you need to maintain your body weight.
Protein also performs crucial activities with all the cells of your bodies.
They move molecules from one place to another, build structures, break down toxins and do countless other maintenance jobs that we’re not aware of every single day.
According to dietitian Jessica Crandall, we need protein for the following reasons:
- Energy to fuel our muscles (although fats and carbs are preferred sources)
- Boost metabolism (protein has a high thermic effect. Your body uses more calories to digest it.)
- keep our immune system strong
- Suppress appetite, can cause to eat less and keep you feeling full after a meal.
- Improve moods
- Better cognition
- Transport nutrients
That’s why is important to eat enough protein in our diet.
Now we have a good understand that proteins are the body’s building block and vital to your survival.
Now the real question on your mind is…
How much protein do I need?
There is no single answer to how much protein you need to eat per day.
The “ideal protein” intake is different for everyone and can vary greatly from person to person.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount of protein a person should eat per day depends largely on their age, sex, and level of physical activity (4).
As a standard, the Institute of Medicine recommends adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. This is about 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight (5).
So, if you weigh 140 lbs, 56 grams of protein a day is recommended. That’s about 8oz of chicken, 7.67 oz of beef, or 10oz of salmon.
They also set a wide range for acceptable protein intake—anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories intake per day.
That is, 1500 calories a day diet should include 150 to 525 calories from proteins.
Women, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
For all healthy women 19 or older, 46g of protein a day is recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Since you can get 23g of protein from a 3oz of chicken, eating 2 servings will help meet your daily needs.
If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, your requirement is much higher, 71g a day. That’s about 3 servings of 3 oz chicken.
Again, your needs may be higher or lower depending on your age, activity level, and other needs.
Protein Intake for Men
For men, the recommended protein intake is 56 grams per day. Another suggests 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (6).
For example, a 170-pound man needs at least 61 grams of protein a day. And that is for men with seldom fitness lifestyle.
Have an active lifestyle or want to add mass? You may include more than minimum required.
Protein for Elderly People
While the general recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein still applies to elderlies, studies found they could use more.
Older people need more protein to preserve muscle mass associated with aging.
A study published in a 2008 edition of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating more protein than the RDA can help them improve strength, muscle mass, immune health, and bone health. And it would also help them heal faster (7).
So how much protein should elderlies eat?
The study concluded that ideal protein intake for elderly people is 1.5 grams per kilogram, or about 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Adequate protein can also lead to prevention of osteoporosis and sarcopenia (reduction in muscle mass). They are two common diseases for older people.
Athletes require more protein than non-athletes. And the right amount heavily depends on their size and activity.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that endurance athletes need 0.55 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound. All while strength-trained athletes building muscles mass need 0.64 to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.
If you are an adult trying to lose weight, your ideal protein intake may also be different.
While the RDA may suggest 10 to 35% of total calories to be from protein, adults trying to lose weight may want to stay on the higher end of the scale. At around 35%.
This is high-protein, low-carb diets are proven effective for weight loss and suitable for those considered overweight or obese.
“Effective weight loss diets generally contain 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day. 35 percent of that yields 105 to 140 grams of protein per day, says Erin Coleman a registered and licensed dietitian.”
Those who are recovering from injuries may also need to increase their protein intake (8).
Are You Eating Enough Protein?
These requirements may have you worried, but don’t be.
According to Dr. Van S, most Americans are already getting enough. And I bet you are too.
While the ideal range being 10 to 35%, many have 12 to 18% of their calories coming from protein.
Though this does not include those with special medical needs.
Since protein is such a common component of many foods, if you’re eating a relative varied diet, you can bet you are getting enough protein in your diet.
Protein foods for vegetarians
But if you’re a vegetarian and do not eat meats, it’s a different story.
Vegetarians have to pay attention to the protein in their diets. It’s because most plant-based foods don’t provide all essential amino acids like animal proteins.
And because of that, vegetarians have to get their protein from several different sources to meet all the different amino acids they need, Dr. Hubbard explains.
To top it all, Dr Hubbard adds “If you don’t eat enough of certain amino acids, it doesn’t matter if you have more of others”.
But there is an easy way even for vegetarians to get a full-set of amino acids. And that is to include vegetarian foods that provide complete protein.
Here are a few food sources with all essential amino acids. Click here for a complete protein food list for Vegetarians. quinoa, buckwheat, soy, rice and beans, seitan, and spirulina.
Can eating too much protein be harmful?
As important as protein is to your health, too much of any good things can become bad. And protein is no exception.
Dr. Mercola explains this here. Getting too much protein can leave a negative impact on your health. Eating more protein than your body needs can interfere with your health and fitness goals in a number of ways.
“Weight gain”, “increase in body fat”, “stress on the kidneys”, “dehydration”, and leaching of important bone minerals are just to name a few.
This is because only about 60 percent of protein gets turned into glucose for energy use and used up mostly by your muscles. And excess can be stored as fat just like any other food sources (9).
Put simply, just like the other macros, you can’t simply overeat protein in the name of boosting protein intake. The negative effect of over-consumption still applies to protein too.
Red meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb and goat meat in particular should be consumed in moderation.
Despite its nutritional values such as protein, minerals and vitamins like vitamins B12, research shows high consumption of red meat can increase your health risk. Colorectal cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, just to name a few (10).
And according to the Harvard Public School of Health, the risk of dying of those diseases is higher with excess red meat than other lean proteins such as poultry and fish.
Protein is a very important nutrient and has numerous health benefits that matter to all of us. And it’s not hard to get enough protein into diet. I hope this article was a useful guide in helping you find your ideal protein intake.
What did you think of protein? Do you get enough protein everyday? Leave me a comment below to let me know.