How much protein do you really need?
Do you get enough protein?
Chances are, it’s a question you think about as a healthy eater. So much attention is paid to protein intake, especially in light of our carb-aholic or carb-aphobic tendencies in North America, depending which side of the eating landscape you inhabit. So let’s talk protein: why you need it and how much you need.
First things first, what does protein do in the body?
- Protein is a critical nutrient for the maintenance and growth of all body tissues, including skin and muscle
- Protein is an important component of immune function
- Protein intake is critical for healthy bones
- Protein within a meal helps slow down the rate of absorption of sugars in the meal, keeping blood sugar rise more stable
- It tends to be more satisfying to the human appetite, although to what extent is still up for scientific debate
How much protein should you consume?
Let’s start with the average person, working out a few times a week.
The official government recommendation for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for an adult. So for a 150lb person (divide lb by 2.2 to get kg), they would need 68.2kg x 0.8g = 54.5g of protein per day. A 200lb person would need 73g of protein per day. That is not a lot of protein.
However, some research suggests that a higher value for protein intake is beneficial, even for the average joe or jane. Dividing your weight in pounds by 2 will give you the grams of protein recommended under this schema. So a 150lb person needs 75g of protein per day and a 200lb person needs 100g or protein a day. We are still not talking crazy amounts.
What about protein needs in pregnancy?
Protein is serious business in pregnancy, considering that you use amino acids to build pretty much every cell in the human body. To make sure you’re getting enough, eat at least 70 grams a day. Read this for more pregnancy nutrition advice.
And for those of you who are in active training for a sports event or competition? You would greatly benefit from individualized nutrition consulting but here is the ballpark in the meantime:
For endurance athletes, 1.2-1.4g per kilogram body weight per day is recommended.
For strength athletes, 1.4-1.7g per kilogram body weight per day is recommended.
How much protein can the body absorb?
There is a lot of talk on the internet about the body having a ‘maximum dose’ of protein that can be absorbed in any one meal; however, this paper refutes that notion. The gut has an almost unlimited ability to absorb protein. What complicates factors is that some amino acids compete with each other for absorption, and there may be a dose after which you are no longer maximizing muscle building, if that’s what your after.
Typically, the ‘max dose’ suggested is 20-25g at a sitting but the research is mixed. The author of that paper suggests that if muscle gains are what you are after, ensuring you get enough protein over the course of the day, and aiming for a per meal dose that is roughly 0.4g/kg/meal – so that would be roughly 27g for that 150lb person.
Do you need to eat protein at every meal?
I greatly recommend that you space your protein consistently throughout the day, making sure not to skip protein at breakfast in particular, as most of us are used to doing. This will help in particular with appetite and energy levels.
List of Protein – rich Foods
Here is a list of the protein content of some common plant and animal-based foods. I’ve also got a list of the best plant-based sources of protein. I recommend that everyone – not just vegetarians – eats a plant protein once a day. Plant protein sources are usually also high in fibre and protective photo-nutrients that you won’t find in animal sources. And variety in the diet is one of the keys to better health.
- 100g of halibut has 26g of protein
- 100g of chicken breast has 30g of protein
- 100g of salmon has 20g of protein
- 1 can of tuna has 42g of protein
- 1/2 cup of cottage cheese has 14g of protein
- 3/4 cup Greek yogurt has 18-22g of protein
- 3/4 cup of black beans has 11g of protein
- 3/4 cup of extra firm tofu has 28g of protein
- 1 cup edamame has 23g of protein
- 3 tbsp hemp seeds has 10g of protein
- 1 extra large egg has 7g of protein
- 1 large egg white has 3.3 g of protein
- 2 slices of sprouted grain toast has 10g of protein
- 1/4 cup of almonds has 7.5 g of protein
Some foods you might think are a high source of protein, but aren’t (they are add up though!)
- 1/2 avocado has 2 g of protein
- 1/2 cup of quinoa has 4g of protein
- 1 cup raw kale has 3g of protein
- 1 tbsp of peanut butter has 3g of protein
- 3/4 cup of cooked oatmeal has 5g
- 1 tbsp of chia seeds has 2g of protein
- 1/4 cup of hummus has 5g of protein
- 1 cup of steamed broccoli has 4g of protein
There you have it! Eat protein, space it throughout the day, add more veggie proteins…no need to go overboard.