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How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

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 consuming massive amounts to build lean muscle, while others suggest consuming way too little. All this information can make it very difficult to figure out how much protein is right for you.

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 maybe 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’s some good evidence on protein needs that take into account your lifestyle, current status, and goals. So, let’s break down the facts:

How much protein does the average person need?

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

How much protein do vegans need?

Protein needs for vegans 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

How much protein is needed post exercise to stimulate muscle protein synthesis?

20 gm to 30 gm of high-quality protein, such as whey, consumed within 2 hours after exercise. This can be in the form of food, a post-workout protein shake, a bar, or as a nutritious snack or meal depending on your schedule.

Is protein needed during exercise?

No, except during ultra-endurance exercise. Athletes may benefit from consuming protein during events that are longer than 3 to 5 hours.

Is there a best time to ingest protein, and are there specific times during the day when it is better to eat protein to support muscle anabolism (muscle building) ?

Distributing protein throughout the day is recommended.* 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 gm of protein consumed before sleep (preferably casein since it is slow digesting). 

*Exact quantities will vary based on individual status.

What is the best source of protein for athletes?

Protein that provides all of the essential amino acids is best for muscle protein synthesis. Milk protein 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.

Should high-protein diets be consumed when trying to lose weight?

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.)

When recovering from injury, can a high-protein diet prevent loss of muscle mass?

Consume sufficient energy (aka calories) for healing and recovery. Aim for 1.6 to 2.5 gm/protein/kg spaced evenly throughout 4 to 6 feedings a day.

Are protein supplements better than food sources of protein?

There is no evidence that protein supplements are superior to food sources. Protein foods provide essential nutrients that are not present in supplements. However, the convenience of supplements might suit your lifestyle.

The Bottom-Line

As you can see, protein 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 protein intake throughout the day and aim for about 20-30 grams per meal and 5-15 grams for snacks.

Resources Link: Protein Powder 

*For reference: 2.2 lbs = 1 kg

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