Protein, protein, PROTEIN! You hear about it everywhere, you see it in muscle-building magazines, and you hear Dr. Oz. (ugh…) preaching about it on a regular basis. How do you know what to believe?
What is the benefit of more protein?
Why do we need it?
How can it help someone not looking to get super swole, but rather just look healthy?
Protein makes up a huge part of the human body. Obviously it makes up muscles, but also hair, skin, nails, hormones, and enzymes. Protein recommendations over time have been habitually low. The CDC still recommends that adult women consume 46g per day, and men consume 56g per day (also see .8g/kg of bodyweight)
These numbers are so low that it makes my muscles go catabolic just reading about it.
The low numbers are so old, and based off of studies showing the amount to prevent negative nitrogen balance in sedentary individuals – in other words, the minimum dose required to keep your muscles from eating themselves while you sit in mom and dads basement playing WoW and eating Cheetos.
However, in someone who is active, and looking to transform their body (lose fat and/or gain muscle) needs to increase their intake to numbers much higher than these sad little amounts. When we weight train, we increase the rate of muscle breakdown, and thus need to rebuild the muscle with the right building blocks – amino acids from protein.
Another issue I commonly see is reduced protein when calories are reduced. I see this more in women, but for some reason one of the first areas that calories get slashed from is protein. Also, when on a reduced calorie diet, the body is undergoing more stress and this can make you more susceptible to increased muscle loss along with fat loss (especially when paired with strength training).
This can be a problem because the leaner someone gets, the less room for error you have here.
Decreasing protein intake will not help you in weight loss goals for the following reasons:
- Protein helps with satiety, or fullness, and will help control overall intake
- 20-35% of calories from protein are burned through processing (vs. 5-15% from carbs, and 0-5% from fat)
- You need to maintain muscle, as muscle is your constant calorie consumer. Muscles are very metabolically active and the more you have, the more calories you burn at rest.
So what is the ideal protein intake?
While there is still some varying opinions on this, I can say with 100% confidence that your protein intake should be based on:
- Body composition goals
- Fat loss – 30-35% of calories (remember, protein is 4 cals/gram so – if your calorie goal is 2400 cals, then 30% is 720, divided by 4 = 180g of protein per day)
- Muscle gain – shoot for 1 gram per pound of ideal/goal body weight
Or you can go with the position statement from the International Society of Sports Nutrition:
…it is the position of the International Society of Sport Nutrition that exercising individuals ingest protein ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg/day. Individuals engaging in endurance exercise should ingest levels at the lower end of this range, individuals engaging in intermittent activities should ingest levels in the middle of this range, and those engaging in strength/power exercise should ingest levels at the upper end of this range.