By Jen Kates, CHC, CPT, Pn2
Protein is one of the most misunderstood and underestimated parts of the diet, so this will outline how much you should get each day, why you should eat this much, as well as how you can eat that much protein.
First of all, it’s important to emphasize the importance of protein. Every cell in your body contains protein. It is needed for cellular repair as well as to make new cells, not to mention for the growth and development in kids and pregnant adults.
Protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient. Macronutrients are the nutrients that our bodies can breakdown for energy: protein, carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol. Thermogenic means that your body burns more calories to digest or breakdown the macro. Yes, you can actually burn more calories digesting certain foods over others.
Protein is also the most satiating macro, meaning it helps quell hunger better than the other macros, including fat and fibrous carbs. As you may have already experienced, managing your hunger is how you make your diet more successful if you are attempting to lose body fat. Because it’s so satiating, this means protein also helps with managing and even preventing cravings.
When you eat adequate protein for your lifestyle, you’ll usually have fewer cravings, especially if you are eating enough to support your lifestyle, activity levels, and overall training.
So, how much protein do you need?
The amount of protein you need is dependent upon your body composition, weight, height, medical history, and current health, as well as your goals, in addition to the type, intensity, duration, and frequency of your physical activity.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (or RDA) is 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight - for those of us following Imperial measurements, that’s only 0.36g per pound of bodyweight. The RDA is simply the amount of protein you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements for much of the adult population, but not all of it, as I will outline.
If you want to increase your muscle, studies show that you need to eat more than this. Keep in mind that athletes and those whom are breastfeeding or pregnant also require more protein.
Want to do this? Make sure to eat enough protein to perform your best!
How much protein should you consume? Here’s an outline of suggested amounts (special thanks to examine.com for compiling these numbers based on the current research):
- If you’re sedentary, aim for 0.54-0.82 g/lb or 1.2-1.8 g/kg
- If you’re at a healthy weight range and active and want to maintain your weight, aim for 0.64-0.91 g/lb for 1.4-2.0 g/kg
- If you’re at a healthy weight, active, and want to build muscle, aim for 0.73-1.10 g/lb or 1.6-2.4 g/kg but up to 3.3 g/kg if you’re an experienced lifter and want to minimize fat gain while bulking
- If a healthy weight and active but seeking fat loss, aim for 0.73-1.1 g/lb or 1.6-2.4 g/kg
- If overweight or obese, aim for 0.54-0.68 g/lb pr 1.2-1.5 g/kg - this is using your total body weight and not necessarily your lean mass
- If pregnant, aim fo 0.77-0.82 g/lb or 1.7-1.8 g/kg
- If breastfeeding, aim for at least 0.68g/lb for 1.5g/kg
- If vegan or mostly plant-based with your protein intake, then your requirements may be a bit higher than what I just outlined simply because plant-based proteins are less bioavailable due to their amino acids profile, which means your body doesn’t utilize the protein in the food as effectively as animal-based proteins
This isn't to imply that you shouldn’t be vegan or follow a plant-based diet. It simply means that due to the nature of plant-based proteins often having poorer bioavailability, you should consider increasing your protein intake, especially if you’re noticing that you’re not recovering well, sleep is poor, or performance is reduced.
Looking at all of these numbers outlined, most people should aim for 0.73-1.1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Basically, you can take 73-110% of your bodyweight as your goal range. Example: A 120lb woman needs 88-132g per day.
You may have heard people claim that high protein intake will cause kidney damage. This is true -- if you suffer from kidney disease. However, if you have healthy kidney function, then a higher protein diet has been shown to be safe.
How do you get this much protein?
Lean meats, seafood, shellfish, eggs, dairy, and supplements are the best sources of protein based on their amino acid profiles. Leucine is typically the limiting essential amino acid required for protein synthesis (the process in which cells make proteins which is responsible for cell function, overall cell structure, and even in the process of building muscle).
Some examples of around 30g or protein include the following (keep in mind these are estimates):
- 5 eggs
- 3 whole eggs + 3 egg whites
- 2 whole eggs + 2 egg whites + 2 thick cut slices of bacon
- Chicken breast = 3.5 oz cooked or 4.8 oz raw (don’t eat it raw, obviously)
- Chicken thigh = 5.6 oz raw or 4.2 oz cooked
- Flank steak = 5.2 oz raw or 3.9 oz cooked
- My favorite, ground bison (90%lean) = 5.6 oz raw or 4.2 oz cooked
- Ground beef (90%) is around the same, but it has more fat than bison = 5.6 oz raw or 4.2 oz cooked
- Shrimp = 6 oz raw or 4.5 oz cooked
- Salmon: 6 oz raw or 4.5 oz cooked
- 4 oz Icelandic yogurt + protein bar like an RX Bar + some bison jerky = 35g
- A serving of Enduro Bites Recovery Protein!
Thus, 3-4 oz of cooked meat (5-6 oz of raw meat) is equal to approximately 30 grams of protein on average.
My hope is that this gives you a better understanding of protein’s importance, how much you should aim to consume each day, and how to get this much protein in your diet. Here’s to better managed hunger and cravings, as well as better overall performance by including sufficient protein into your diet.
About Jen Kates, CHC, NASM-CPT, Pn2, PPSC
Jen has been coaching for over 12 years and founded Shift Human Performance after working in the biotech research industry for 12 years. She specializes in coaching busy working professionals (like you) on how to unleash your full potential by optimizing your nutrition, fitness, sleep, and recovery, without spending countless hours in the kitchen or the gym. Besides her experience coaching hundreds of athletes, she holds several world-class certifications in personal training, health coaching, nutrition, and ways to train pain-free.