By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
In recent years, there’s been so much hype about high protein diets. They’ve been praised for their ability to build muscle, lose weight, increase satiety, and improve immunity. Food makers are adding it to everything from cereal, chips, yogurt, and even ice cream to entice you. Some sources suggest that you consume massive amounts of it to build lean muscle. However, others suggest consuming way too little. All this information begs the question: how much protein do you need?
I’ve read a lot of research studies about macro needs (carbs, protein, and fats) in order to deliver you the best possible information and to help you reach your goals. The reality: there’s no magic formula to follow since we all metabolize foods very differently. While some people may be more sensitive to carbs, others may be more sensitive to fats. Finding the right ratio takes some trial and error, and being aware of how your own body responds to a particular diet plan.
That said, there are some good recommendations that take into account your lifestyle, current status, and goals. So, let’s break down the facts:
The RDA for Protein = 0.8 gm per kg of body weight
Ex: If you weigh 150 lbs. = 0.8 gm x (150lbs/2.2kg = 68kg) = 54 gm/day
Protein needs for a vegan diet are only slightly higher, due to the bioavailability of the protein source resulting in 0.9 gm per kg of body weight.
Ex: If you weigh 150 lbs. = 0.9 gm x (150lbs/2.2kg = 68kg) = 61 gm/day
You need 20 gm to 30 gm from a high-quality source, such as whey, consumed within 2 hours after exercise. This will help to stimulate muscle growth. It can be in the form of food, a post-workout shake, a bar, or as a nutritious snack or meal depending on your schedule.
No, except during ultra-endurance exercise. Athletes may benefit from consuming protein during events that are longer than 3 to 5 hours.
I recommend distributing it throughout the day.* Aim to consume about 20-30 gm of high-quality protein (or 0.25 g/kg body weight) in 3-5 small meals, spaced evenly with an additional 20-40 grams consumed before sleep (preferably casein since it is slow digesting). If you want to use a protein supplement, then be sure to read up on the types of protein powder that are available. This will help you select the best one to match your dietary needs.
*Exact quantities will vary based on individual status.
Foods that provide all of the essential amino acids are best for muscle synthesis. Milk might have the advantage over single-source proteins like soy because milk contains both whey and casein. Whey protein is more effective than casein alone, and soy is slightly less effective than whey on muscle protein synthesis.
Some evidence suggests the answer is yes; protein intakes of 1.8 to 2.7 gm/kg/body weight or at the higher end of the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution range of 30% to 35% seem advantageous to preserve lean mass and enhance fat loss (additive effect when exercise is also performed.)
Consume sufficient energy (i.e. calories) for healing and recovery. This should be a high protein diet/ Aim for 1.6 to 2.5 gm per kg of body weight, spaced evenly throughout 4 to 6 feedings a day. This will help you to prevent the loss of muscle mass when recovering from an injury.
It’s easy enough to consume a protein bar as a quick healthy snack. However, there is no evidence that supplements are superior to food sources. Rather, foods provide essential nutrients that are not present in supplements. However, the convenience of supplements might suit your lifestyle.
As you can see, individual needs are a complex topic and vary widely depending on the individual. If this information seems daunting, the most important takeaway is to space your daily intake throughout the day and aim for about 20-30 grams per meal and 5-15 grams for snacks.
*For reference: 2.2 lbs = 1 kg