Protein is the most important of the macronutrients.
Luck of sufficient protein will hit our health and body composition harder than any other nutrient.
And yet, no one seems to know the answer to how much protein we need to eat in a day.
Some of the recommended protein intakes out there are quite modest.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) recommends that you consume 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.
This translates into 100 grams of protein per day for an 80-kilogram person.
In general, this DRI recommendation amounts to about 56 grams of protein a day for the average man and 46 grams a day for the average woman.
The DRI recommendations will prevent protein deficiency in people. However, it is not enough to maintain an optimal health and body composition.
How many grams of protein you should eat per day depends on numerous factors, such as age, activity level, current body weight, sex, your current health and your body composition goals.
So how much protein do you need a day? And how does body composition, health, weight loss and activity levels affect this figure?
We’ll bring you all the answers in this article.
What is Protein and Why is it Important?
Protein functions as the primary building blocks of our body.
It is used to build muscles, organs, tendons and skin cells.
Protein is also the main constituent of enzymes, neurotransmitters, hormones and important molecules in the body.
There will be no life as we know it without protein.
The main constituents of protein are tiny molecules called amino acids. Strands of amino acids are joined together to form protein. It is a lot more complex than that, but we are not here for a lecture in protein.
The body produces some of the amino acids, but we must get the rest from food sources. We call the ones the body can’t make essential amino acids.
When it comes to the question of protein intake, it’s not just a matter of quantity but also the quality of protein.
The highest quality proteins come from animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. This source of protein contains all the bioavailable essential amino acids our body needs.
So, if you eat a lot of these sources of protein, then you’ve covered your protein needs pretty well (at least in terms of quality).
For those who do not eat animal products, it becomes a bit more complicated. It becomes a real challenge to get all the amino acids your body needs without eating animal products. We have written an excellent article about how to meet your protein needs as a vegetarian.
Protein supplements are an excellent source of quality proteins. However, most of us do not need them, but athletes, but it is very beneficial for athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness models.
Conclusion: Protein is made up of one or more long chain amino acids. It is the basic building block of life as we know it. The best source of high-quality proteins is animal products like meat, eggs, fish, and dairy.
Protein Helps With Weight Loss and Weight Management
You need to include plenty of protein in your diet if you want to lose weight.
The basic way we lose weight is to expend more calories than we consume. Protein can help you do just that.
This is one of the reasons why you need to add more protein to your meals if you want to lose weight.
Another good reason to increase your protein intake is its effect on appetite.
Research shows that protein makes you feel more satisfied than carbs and fats. This will instantly reduce the number of calories you consume because it curbs your desire to eat food between meals (e, f).
A study, involving a group of obese men, found that you can curb your desire for late-night snacks and reduce your food cravings by up to 60% if 25% of your calorie-intake comes from protein (g).
In a different study, involving women and spanning 3 months, researchers found that those who got 30% of their calories from protein, ate 441 fewer calories, and lost about 11 pounds of weight during that period (h).
Another benefit of protein for weight loss is that it also helps you maintain your weight. You don’t want the weight to come back after you lose it.
One study found that people regained 50% less fat by simply increasing their protein intake from 15% of calories to 18% (i).
This is a very modest increase so imagine what a bigger increase will do to weight management.
Protein also helps you build body mass and help you get that fit body you’ve always desired (see the next section below).
So how much protein should you eat a day to lose weight?
The various studies above show that you can lose and maintain weight if you get 30% of your calories from protein. In terms of grams, this translates to about 150 grams of protein per day if you are on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.
Just multiply your total calorie intake by 0.075 to get your optimal amount of protein for weight loss.
Conclusion: It is very important to increase your protein intake if you want to lose weight. Protein boosts metabolism, suppresses appetite and lowers food cravings.
Protein Helps You Build Lean Muscle and Strength
As we learned earlier, protein is the basic building block of muscles.
When you exercise (especially during weightlifting), your muscles experience microscopic tears. The process of repairing these tiny tears lead to the creation of more muscle tissues, increasing your muscle mass.
Protein speeds up the rate of recovery and helps build muscles faster.
This is why bodybuilders love whey protein powder. It contains plenty of high-quality protein that helps their body recover more quickly and build more muscles.
And there is research to support protein’s ability to build muscle and strength (j).
Experts calculate the amount of protein you need to build muscle mass in terms of grams per kilogram of body weight.
Most recommend that you should consume about 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight if you want to increase muscle mass.
However, there is no real consensus on what the optimal intake should be. Several studies have tried to find this and came out with different results.
To maximize the muscle building effect of protein, you should take it right before or after an intensive workout.
If you have high body-fat, then your calculation should be different. You should use your lean mass or your target mass to calculate how much protein you need per day.
Conclusion: Protein is the most important ingredient for building muscle mass. A well-recommended protein intake for building muscle is 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Other Situations That Demand an Increased Protein Intake
There are other people who need to increase their protein intake besides bodybuilders and fitness models. Highly active persons need more protein than sedentary people.
This includes people with very physical jobs, runners, people who walk a lot, club swimmers, and pretty much anyone who exercises regularly. Elite athletes (especially endurance athletes) should consume at least 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (m, n).
If you belong to any of the above and fail to increase your protein intake, you will become too thin.
The older members of the population also need higher amounts of protein, about 50% more than the recommended daily protein intake. They need to consume about 0.6 grams per pound of body weight (o, p).
Increasing your protein intake may also help with injury recovery (q).
Conclusion: Some groups of people need to increase their daily protein intake even if their goal is not to lose weight or build muscles. This includes elite and casual athletes, people with physically demanding jobs, people who exercise frequently, the elderly, and people recovering from injuries.
Are There Any Side Effects of Protein?
We seem to only talk about the positive effects of protein on our body. But are they any known negative effects of protein?
Some people claim that too much protein is bad for you.
But we couldn’t come across any scientific study to back this up.
The truth is too much of anything is bad for your health, even water. However, you’d really have to eat a lot of protein for it to have any adverse effects on your health.
There’s no proof that protein has any negative effect on the kidneys, but even if it does, the positive effects on the risk factors far outweigh any negative effects.
In the end, there is no evidence that a high-protein diet has any adverse effects on people’s health.
Conclusion: Some people blame protein for kidney disease, but there is no evidence to corroborate any such claims.
Ways to Increase the Protein Contents of Your diet
You simply need to make sure that you include high-quality protein in your meals. The best source of quality protein is animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and fish.
Vegetarians can also get good quality protein from plant sources like quinoa, nuts, and legumes.
If for some reason, you do not get enough protein from these sources, whey protein is an excellent alternative. It is one of the best sources of quality protein and can meet a significant percentage of the recommended daily intake.
If you are just looking to maintain optimal health, you just need to increase the amount of quality protein in your diet (and add plenty of nutritious plant foods) to meet your protein intake requirements.
How do measure the amount of protein?
Some people do not understand the meaning of “grams of protein.” If the recommendation says 100 grams of protein, it means 100 grams of the protein nutrient and not 100 grams of the source containing the protein. Therefore, 100 grams of protein does not mean 100 grams of meat.
For example, a 226-gram serving of beef only contains 61 grams of protein, and there are only 6 grams of protein in a large egg weighing 46 grams.
You can use a food tracking service like “Cron-O-Meter” to determine how much of a nutrient is present in your food. Check out our review of the top food tracking apps.
What if I Just Want to Maintain my Current Health Status. How Much Protein Do I Need?
For people that are already healthy and not interested in bodybuilding or losing weight, and do not do much exercise, your protein needs will be different.
The average joe or jane should aim for about 0.8 to 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
This translates to about 51 to 91 grams for the average Joe and 46 to 75 grams for the average Jane.
However, there is no evidence that protein has adverse health effects, so it is perfectly safe to eat higher amounts.
So how much protein do you need a day? The answer depends on many factors as outlined in this article, but you can never eat too much of this healthy and very beneficial nutrient.
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