The Power of Protein – How Much Do We Really Need?

Protein speeds recovery after exercise or injury! Builds lean muscle and strength following resistance training! Reduces muscle loss! Curbs hunger! Helps maintain a healthy weight!  Many accolades are given to protein, but how much is enough? Protein is an essential macronutrient that is in the current spotlight, with a leading role in diets like Paleo, Atkins and Keto.

High protein diet trends have piled the amino acid building blocks sky high. But are we getting too much protein in our diets? If not managed properly, excess protein intake can have negative results, such as extra fat storage and weight gain, kidney stones, high saturated fat intakes, elevated cholesterol, increased risk for heart disease and colon cancer. Too much of a good thing can be costly!

Just how much protein do we really need? 

According to the American Heart Association and The Center of Disease Control and Prevention, the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for a healthy adult is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (Or 0.8 grams per kilogram).   A 170 lb. person would need about 61 grams of protein daily.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends athletes aim for 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That same person at 170 pounds as an athlete would need 93-108 grams of protein to support their muscle needs for the whole day.  For intensive regular weight lifting, or event training 1.5 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram body weight is applied.  Excessive protein intake is defined as greater than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.

*Note adjust protein requirements for goal weight.*

For the best results, space protein out over the full day with 15-25 grams of protein at meals and in the early recovery phase, (anabolic window) 30 minutes after exercise. Studies show higher amounts, (of up to 40 grams of protein) after exercise did not show any additional benefit.

How do I Include protein (15-25 grams of protein) at breakfast and post-workouts or snack?

Here are some ideas:

  • 5 oz. low-fat Greek yogurt (15 g) or cottage cheese (19 g) topped with 1/2 Cup berries (1 g) and a hard boiled egg (6 g)
  • Smoothie w/ 1-cup fair life ultra- filtered low-fat milk (13g), 1 Tbsp. peanut protein powder (7 g), 1-cup of spinach (0.7g) and a banana (1.3g)
  • 1/2 cup dry Oatmeal (5 g) cooked in 1 cup low-fat milk (8 g) w/ 1/4 cup slivered almonds (7 g) and cut-up pear. (Soy milk alternative 1 cup, 7 g)

The appropriate portion for choosing fish, poultry or meat for lunch or dinner is, keeping the portion palm-size or the size of a deck of cards. (3 oz. portion is ~15-28 grams) This should fill about 1/4 of your dinner plate. The Dietary guidelines for Americans emphasize the importance of the type of proteins eaten and not just 10 – 35% of calories coming from protein sources including plant protein supports heart health:

  • Soy, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils
  • Lean meats, such as skinless, white-meat chicken or turkey, and lean cuts of beef or pork
  • A variety of fish
  • Egg whites (if eating more than 2-3x week)
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Consider a Meatless Monday to your regular meal planning!

Add a high fiber carbohydrate (2-8 g) 1/4 the space on your plate and on the remaining 1/2 plate, fill with steamed, grilled, baked/broiled veggies and/or salad (1-5 g). Include low-fat dairy, fresh fruit, fiber and monounsaturated fats in your daily eating plan to help balance your diet intake. Adequate water intake for good hydration also plays a role in meeting health needs.

Choosing ‘Food First,’ whole foods whenever possible is always preferred over supplements. Getting enough calories to support activity/exercise and weight goals is crucial to support lean muscle mass. When needing support of a protein supplement check for one with < 200 calories, 5 grams of sugar or less, 2 grams of saturated fat or less and no trans-fat or partially hydrogenated oils. 

Protein can still hold a ‘Leading Role’ but remember the whole cast works together to make the performance!