How Much Protein Do You Need?

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Protein and Your Body’s Needs

There are many things that factor in how much protein a person needs. Everything from your size, your goals, your fitness levels, your diet goals, your sex, and your overall health are things that can determine how much protein one needs. So with all of that in mind, are you getting enough, too little, or too much protein? Let’s address one of the most common questions.

What Is Protein?

Let’s start off with the basics explaining exactly what protein is and how your body uses it. To keep it simple, proteins are amino acids which the body uses to build everything from muscles, to your body’s connective tissues, to the structures in your eyes. The body uses about twenty different amino acids; ten of which your body doesn’t make or makes in too small of amounts so you must get them from diet (1).

How Your Body Uses Protein

Protein For Fat

Let’s get rid of one myth right here: you can’t just eat a diet high in protein and expect not to get fat. For each gram of protein it carries four calories. This is something to take into consideration when training (or when you’re not training). The average american gets more protein than they need (1) and they also get way more calories than they need. So, anything that you take in (yes, including protein) will be stored as fat.

Protein For Energy

It’s not your body’s preferred source of energy (the last preferred source, actually) but protein can also be used by your body for energy. If your body is having to use protein for energy, it’s not a good thing. You’ve used up your carbohydrate supply and likely your fat supply also. Thus your body will be literally, wasting away.

Protein For Building Blocks

Now here’s’ the obvious; protein is used by the body to promote natural growth (in growing children and adolescents), to build structures of the body, and to build or maintain muscle mass. Pretty simple concept, eh?

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Now break out the calculator and do the math and there you have it (a little simple multiplication with grams per kilogram).

For the average person: The average person who doesn’t adhere to an exercise program 0.8g/kg would be adequate. For example, if you weigh 70kg then you need about 56g of protein each day.

Bodybuilder Actve Recreational Athlete Endurance Athlete
Minimum Acceptable Intake 1.0 1.0 1.4
Adaptation Period 1.6-2.0 1.2-2.8 1.6-2.0

*Adaptation period for a program regimen should be about four weeks long.

Protein and Pregnancy: The RDA for protein increases by an additional 25g/day during pregnancy (2). However, many pregnant women already consume more than their daily requirement for protein so an increase is note necessarily required.

Things To Keep In Mind About Protein

1. Make Sure You Get Enough Calcium: For every gram of protein consumed above the amount of protein it takes to maintain your body tissues, anywhere between 1-1.5mg of calcium is excreted (1). Add to the fact that the Standard American Diet does not get adequate vitamin D or Calcium – this can make achieving daily calcium goals near impossible.
2. Increase Your Fluid Intake Protein requires about seven times the water for your body to metabolize than it does when you eat carbohydrates or fat (1). For those on low carbohydrate diets (Paleo, Atkins, etc.), ensure that you’re getting around 2-3 liters of water. Low carbohydrate diets and high protein intakes can increase the risk for dehydration which can impair your athletic performance. It also might make matters worse if you’re a regular caffeine drinker as well because of its diuretic properties.
3. You more than likely don’t need as much protein as you think you need. The supplement industry is big business and they want your money. Stick with your recommended amount. Any more is likely a waste.
4. What’s your target weight? Are you trying to gain muscle mass? For example, if you weigh 170 pounds and want to weigh 180 pounds – calculate your protein needs using 180 pounds instead.

Discussion: Were you surprised with the number for your protein needs? I was by mine. When I was keeping track of my calories via a food diary I was consuming almost 200g of protein at times. Consuming that much protein for my physical needs is just not necessary. How much protein do you find yourself needing? Has there been a time when you’ve been taking too much or too little protein?

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1. Clark, M., Corn, R., Lucett, S. NASM Essentials Of Personal Training. National Academy Of Sports Medicine. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. 425-429. Print.
2. Hampl, Jeffry S. Wardlaw, Gordon, M. Perspectives in Nutrition. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 2007. 236-255, 534, 592. Print.

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