Protein - How much protein should we consume?


Most people get enough protein from their diet, so consuming extra protein may lead to potential adverse health effects.

According to MedlinePlus, the daily recommended intake of protein (which is plentiful in eggs, quinoa, chicken, and fish) for healthy adults is 10 to 35 percent of your total calorie needs. For example, if a person on a 2,000 calorie diet ate 100 grams of protein per day, this would provide 20 percent of their total daily calories.

When it comes to recommended daily amounts of protein, there are no hard and fast recommendations. “You must factor in a person’s dietary protein intake and wheather he or she has a medical condition that needs to be factored in,” explains Renato Roxas Jr., MD, Chief of Medicine at DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital. “Some reputable sources suggest that 1.2 grams of whey protein supplementation per kilogram of body weight as a good guide. It is best for people to work with their doctor to determine the safe amounts for them.

"The RDA for protein for adult men and women is around 50 to 62 grams of protein per day. This will typically prevent any protein deficiencies," she says. Though that's a rough estimate, CCHE Chief Culinary Officer, Ken Immer notes, "Most often, we hear about recommending protein in specific gram amounts per day. However, that can be misleading because it should be closely tied to your total calorie needs, rather than just an arbitrary number," he says. "There is a wide range of recommendations when it comes to the ideal percentage of calories from protein—10 to 35 percent of total calories, 10 percent being the absolute minimum, and 35 percent being the maximum before there is a toxicity to be concerned about." As a general rule, Immer recommends that men aim for 140 grams and women shoot for 110 grams per day, which is more than the RDA, but still within safe limits.

Athletes' protein needs can be up to twice those of the average person because of the energy they expend and the process of breaking down, repairing and building muscle. The recommended dietary allowance for protein is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day, which translates to 54 grams for a 150-pound person. She recommends that the average adult get 20% to 25% of their calories from protein: 100 to 125 grams for a person on a 2,000-calorie diet. Protein needs vary by the individual; older adults or those recovering from surgery or illness might need more.

Even athletes who have some of the highest needs can meet their needs through food.

Most people, even athletes, can also get everything they offer by eating sources of lean protein like meat, fish, chicken, and dairy products.

It doesn’t take that much protein to achieve those goals. Most Americans already get about 15% of their daily calories in protein. To build a pound of muscle, Lewin explains, the body needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day. That’s not really that much. Some of these powders have 80 grams of protein per serving. You don’t need that. All your body is going to do is break it down for energy. And too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and your liver.

The following daily recommendations come from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  1. The average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
  2. Those taking part in recreational athletics need 1.1 to 1.4 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.
  3. Competitive athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams, and those involved in ultra-endurance sports may need up to 2.0 g per kilogram of weight.
  4. Athletes building muscle mass need 1.5 to 2.0 grams per kilogram per day.

Say you’re an adult athlete who wants to build muscle mass, and you weigh about 75 kilograms (165 pounds). The most protein you would need per day is 150 grams. That sounds like a lot. But one 4-ounce hamburger contains 30 grams of protein, 6 ounces of tuna has 40 grams, and a single ounce of cheddar cheese has 7 grams.

Protein is important for young athletes too. Recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for teenagers are based on pounds of bodyweight rather than kilograms. The average teen needs 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Teenage athletes, according to the Academy, need more — 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound per day.

The Academy cautions, though, against teens using protein supplements. Excessive protein can be hard on the kidneys. It also can contribute to dehydration. To avoid those risks make sure your teen gets his protein from high protein foods in his daily diet.

How much depends on things like your gender, age, activity level and health. Someone who is regularly exercising, whether it’s an activity like running or strength training (or both), needs extra protein. Protein before a workout helps make amino acids available to your body so it doesn’t use the protein in your muscles to fuel a workout— and protein post workout helps repair damage to your muscles that occurred during the workout, helping to prevent injury and also helping to make those muscles bigger and stronger.

If you calculate your protein intake and determine that you’re not getting enough for your athletic needs (some signs of too-low protein intake: you’re unusually fatigued, feel weak when lifting weights or doing other strenuous activity, or are recovering from injuries slowly) how can you best use protein powders to help you improve your performance?

First, ignore the conventional wisdom, which says to take protein powders immediately after a workout. “Before, during, and after a workout, carbs are what your body needs. They’re what your body uses for fuel, and what your muscles run on,” says Lewin. “Yes, protein is also important for recovery after a workout, but research shows that at that point, the body needs fuel with a 4-1 or 5-1 ratio of carbs to protein.” Since most protein powders have at least 20 grams of protein per scoop, you’d need about 80 grams of carbs to go with that scoop to get the proper proportion of nutrients!

For a better “recovery drink” after a workout, Lewin recommends a fruit smoothie with yogurt or milk, or, surprisingly, chocolate milk. “A glass of chocolate milk is one of the best things for recovery,” she says.

So when should you use protein powders, if you’ve determined you need them to get more protein in your diet? Throughout the day as a snack or meal replacement, says Lewin, but not in the immediate time period surrounding your workouts.

And don’t forget, says Conn: “Protein powders are not really necessary if you have access to a normal, healthy diet.”

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