How much protein should you eat?
As you probably already know, protein and how much of it you should be eating is a hot topic in the health and fitness world right now. (I mean it always has been and always will be, but right now, it really seems to be a very buzzworthy point of interest.)
Everyone loves to tout the weight loss benefits of protein and everyone loves to tell us that we need to be eating more of it—to stay full and satiated so that we won’t overeat and to build muscle so that our metabolism will stay boosted!
Not that these effects aren’t true, protein does possess these benefits, but how much protein do you actually need to reap them? Do you REALLY need to eat MORE of it?
I’m bringing this up now because, just after working on a story, where Dr. Rachele Pojednic, a researcher at Harvard with a Ph.D. in nutrition, told me that most Americans (approximately 97 percent) already eat enough protein, I got a perfectly timed email from a health and wellness brand, urgently reminding readers that they’re “definitely not getting enough protein” with a link (and a sneaky one at that) to a “story” about why “you really need to add more protein to your diet.”
I won’t say who this email came from, because I actually particularly like this brand and their content, but I will say that I was disappointed to find that upon clicking the link to the “story” I was brought to one of their sponsors’ websites.
Can you guess what that sponsor was trying to sell me? Just try to take a stab at it.
A wild shot in the dark.
Did you say protein supplements? OMG, how did you know?!
So, really in addition to the fact that you probably don’t need to eat more protein (although you may benefit from switching up where you get it from and for some people supplements will fit into the equation — but more on that soon), what I also wanted to bring to your attention is the sneaky and untruthful marketing strategies that are rampant within the health and fitness industry.
Just because you get an email or see a billboard saying you NEED to do X or that X is the new miracle answer to all of your health/fitness problems, does not mean it’s true!
Make sure you always look at the research first before you invest in anything or try a new type of strategy. That’s where the real answers lie.
Now that we’ve got that covered, back to the topic of protein.
How much protein should you eat?
OK people, for our purposes right now we’re talking about the recommended amount for good general health. If you’re aiming for ~HuGe GaInZ~ then you may need a little more than what these guidelines suggest. But we’re not here to talk about ~HuGe GaInZ~, so if that’s what you’re looking for you’re probably better off consulting BodyBuilding.com… or this article I wrote (with help from the always reliable Marc Perry of BuiltLean.com) about how much protein you should eat daily in order to build muscle.
But now, back to the main topic…
If you eat a fairly varied diet, even of the vegetarian variety, it’s likely that you’re already getting enough protein. But just for reference, according to Dr. Pojednic, research shows that we should aim for 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day (that’s about .36 to .54 grams of protein per pound of body weight). So for example, if you weigh 56 kilograms, you should eat between 45 and 68 grams of protein per day (approximately).
You can use either of the following equations to calculate your own needs based on your body weight:
- [weight in kilograms] X [figure between 0.8 and 1.2]
- [weight in pounds] X [figure between 0.36 and 0.54]
If you work out often and/or your workouts are intense, it’s a good idea to lean towards the higher end of the scale (and to make sure that you’re getting protein in some form directly after your workouts) to help aid your muscles with recovery. For me, this is where a protein powder supplement comes in. After strength workouts or long running workouts I typically follow up with a protein smoothie directly after to help aid muscle recovery.
Read more about my training nutrition here.
What are the best sources of protein?
Dr. Pojednic told me that not all protein is created equal. She referred to a recent study in the American Journal of Nutrition that found that a diet where protein was swapped in place of carbohydrates only resulted in weight loss for 30 percent of the people involved in the study.
In the study, protein sources like meat, chicken with skin and cheese actually led to weight gain, but protein sources like milk, legumes, peanuts and eggs led to no weight change, and the only sources of protein that led to weight loss were yogurt, peanut butter, walnuts (and several other types of nuts), chicken without skin, low-fat cheese and seafood.
This doesn’t mean you should absolutely never eat cheese or delicious fried chicken ever again (that would just be ridiculous). It just means that we should all be paying more attention to the quality of the foods we eat and making an effort to get our nutrients from the highest-quality sources as often as possible.
Additionally, don’t dismiss the power of plant protein. Dr. Pojednic said research has shown that high-protein vegetarian diets can provide the same feeling of satiation that’s more commonly associated with high-protein animal products like chicken and fish (nothing against those foods, because they’re great in their own ways).
The main message here: your protein can and does come from a variety of sources, and the more variety the better, because the more varied your diet is, the more likely you are to be meeting all of your nutrient needs. Remember, you don’t need to eat tons of chicken, fish and whey protein shakes every day to meet your protein needs. If, for the most part, you’re eating mostly whole foods at every meal, you’re likely meeting your protein needs without even having to think about it.
Do you guys have any questions or thoughts about protein? If so, let me know in the comments below!
Otherwise, if you’re interested, you can read the rest of my interview with Dr. Pojednic here: The Perks of Protein: Does This Nutrient Really Have the Power to Help You Lose Weight?