Protein is building block of your body. Every cell contains protein which is needed to build muscle, bones, teeth, skins and organ.
If we do not eat enough protein, our body suffers and we break down our muscles leading to a catabolic state.
Whether you are dieting or trying to gain weight, protein is one of the key nutrients you should be striving to eat more of each day. Unfortunately, there is a bit of confusion on how much protein we should eat a day.
According to The Institute of Medicine it is recommended that adults consume at least of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day (0.8 g protein/kg/day) .
However, this general recommendation is not sufficient for all people since not everyone has equal protein intake needs. Your protein intake requirements will vary based on age, activity level, muscle mass, and your physique goals.
Eating more protein can also help you build muscle, burn fat, and decrease your appetite cravings for junk food which help in weight loss.
This article will help you discover your optimal protein intake requirements to help you achieve your fitness goals today!
What is Protein?
If your body is a temple, then protein is the stones to build that temple. Protein is one of the three key nutrients, along with fat and carbohydrates, which is required for all essential cellular functions .
The human body breaks down protein into small units called amino acids which can be used to build muscle, create enzymes and hormones, assist in cellular repair, and provide overall growth and maintenance of bones, muscle hair and skin .
Your body uses different types of amino acids for all your physiological needs. Essential amino acids are those that your body cannot produce, which means you must acquire them from your diet; non-essential amino acids are those that your body can create on its own from other sources of protein or through metabolic conversions .
In order to meet you body’s needs you need to consume a variety of protein sources from both animal and plants. It should be noted that most animal sources contain all the essential amino acids your body needs .
However, if you are a vegetarian you must eat a variety of plant sources to acquire the essential amino acids that may be inadequate your diet. Fortunately soybeans and quinoa are the best plant-based foods that have complete protein profiles .
Protein Helps You Lose Weight and Build Muscle
Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume. But when it comes to losing weight, you never want to restrict your protein intake.
High protein diets have been shown in numerous research trials to help you increase your metabolic rate to burn more calories and lose fat [7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. Furthermore, protein helps suppress your appetite which helps contribute to weight loss [12, 13, and 14].
In a trial done for individuals over the age of 50, it was also shown that adults retained more lean mass and lost more fat mass during weight loss when consuming higher protein diets .
Conversely, a study showed that those who eat low protein are at greater risk for weight gain [17, 18, 19]. This is again related to the overall decreased satiety associated with lower protein intake, and the lower thermogenesis rate observed with lower protein intake .
In a recent single-blind, randomized, parallel-group prospective trial, young men were given a 4-week hypoenergetic (∼40% reduction compared with requirements) diets providing 33 ± 1 kcal/kg of lean body mass (lbm) who were randomly assigned to consume either a lower-protein (1.2 g/kg of lbm) control diet or a higher-protein (2.4/kg of lbm) diet.
All subjects performed resistance exercise training combined with high-intensity interval training for 6 d/wk. The results showed that for the higher protein group there was an increase in lean body mass, greater fat loss and enhanced exercise performance .
Higher protein intake can also keep the weight off after your diet down. A study showed that a 20% higher protein intake during weight maintenance resulted in a 50% lower body weight regain, and led to increased satiety .
Regardless of your age, the key takeaway is that when you use a lower calorie diet with adequate protein intake and increased physical activity with weight lifting, you should maintain muscle mass and improve muscle strength while losing fat .
Protein helps you build muscle. When you work out, you break down your muscle, so during recovery period the muscle gets stronger due to rest and the rebuilding process from the protein.
Here’s How Much Protein You Should Eat Per Day
When it comes to muscle mass, most studies do not evaluate protein intake by percentage of calories, rather they compare the grams of protein per unit of body weight per day (grams of protein/kg/day). The recommended dietary allowance (rda) for protein (currently 0.8-1.3g/kg/day) meets the needs of 97.5% of all healthy adult Americans not engaged in weightlifting . This comes out to roughly 56-91 grams per day for the average male and 46-75 grams per day for the average female.
However, there are various studies that suggest different protein intake recommendations for those engaged activities that increase the metabolic demand and stress on the body.
Athletes seeking to gain muscle mass and strength generally consume higher amounts of dietary protein than endurance-trained athletes (marathoners), since they require more protein to assist in an elevated level of functioning and possibly adaptation to the exercise stimulus, as well as to help retain muscle mass and lose body fat .
Another study showed that elevated protein consumption, as high as 1.8-2.0 g/kg per day, may be advantageous in preventing lean mass losses during periods of energy restriction to promote fat loss .
One study went even as far to show that consuming a high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/day) in conjunction with a heavy resistance-training program lead to greater muscle mass and muscle strength performance with no deleterious effects .
As you can see, there are different protein consumption goals depending on your activity level and training goals.
What are good foods to eat to get protein?
Protein can be found in animal sources or plants. Your best sources of animal based protein are those that are chicken breast, eggs, turkey breast, lean steaks, milk, salmon or tuna.
Avoid consuming too much processed meats such as deli meats since these contain high saturated fats and have been linked to cause disease, illness and cancer.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan you can still get great sources of protein through lentils, beans, yogurt, quinoa, or spinach.
Here’s a great chart to help you find the amount or protein in these common protein sources . Drink a whey protein shake as a snack or after the gym to give a boost of 20g of protein to your diet .
Remember to use a variety of protein sources to get all the amino acids you need for your body, as well as other vitamins and minerals. For example, try to eat eggs for breakfast, yogurt or nuts for a snack, chicken salad for lunch, and fish for dinner.
Are there drawbacks to eating lots of protein?
Unfortunately, there is a misconception that protein causes damage to your kidneys and liver.
However, there is no evidence showing that those with normal liver or kidney function that consume a high-protein intake will have adverse effects by the increased demands of protein consumption in quantities 2–3 times above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (rda) .
In fact, the World Health Organization (who) and the Institute of Medicine both agree that there is no published evidence that a diet which may contain as much as 2.8g of protein/kg/day produces adverse effects on kidney metabolism in athletes [37, 38].
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you already liver or kidney damage, then there may be some issues with a high protein diet requiring you to discuss this diet with your doctor . Keep in mind that the type of protein you consume may cause adverse effects.
For example, eating too much red meat or full-fat dairy products (whole milk or whole cheese) may contribute to heart disease, so it is best to eat them in moderation .
Protein is made up of several amino acids important for cellular function and helps you build your muscles. The evidence is overwhelming in showing that higher protein intake can lead to increased muscle strength, increased fat loss and reduced appetite.
One should eat a diet from a variety of protein sources to get all the essential amino acids. While there is controversy over how much protein you should consume, it is safe to safe that sticking to the rda recommendations of consuming 0.8-1.3g of protein per kg of body weight would meets the needs of most healthy adults not engaged in weightlifting.
However, if you are seeking to gain muscle and burn fat, then given the numerous benefits shown in several research trials, it may be best to consume anywhere from 1.5-2g of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight per day in addition to a focused weightlifting and aerobic exercise program.
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Rajiv M Mallipudi, md, mhs is an internal medicine resident physician, personal trainer, athlete and author. He has over a decade of personal training experience and helped hundreds of clients of all levels achieve their weight loss and fitness goals. This inspired him to work as a clinical researcher at the nationally recognized Johns Hopkins Hospital Weight Management Center. During medical school he and his classmates created the health and wellness organization, medfit, which provided personal training and nutrition counseling to the medical student body. In his spare time, Dr. Mallipudi enjoys playing ice hockey, dancing, and training for his next bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions. Dr. Mallipudi serves as a contributing writer for the Diet and Fitness sections.