Protein is a hotly debated topic in the fitness space, but do you know how much protein you actually need? As with anything, the answer is that it truly does depend. The problem is that oftentimes when someone realizes that something in the nutrition world is good and provides health benefits it will get overstated and overhyped. We will break down what it depends on, how much you need and how to know where to find protein in your diet.
What is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient found in your food. A macronutrient is just a nutrient found in large quantities within food, not all that fancy but incredibly important. It is made up of building blocks known as amino acids that help to provide structure & function to your body in many different ways. Some of these amino acids your body can make on it’s own but there are 9 that your body cannot produce and thus they are deemed “essential” amino acids and ones you must obtain from your food. These include: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. All of these can be found in food but need to be prioritized so that they make it on your plate and in your body!
Speaking of essential amino acids, there are both complete proteins & incomplete proteins. Complete means they contain all of the essential amino acids and normally include animal proteins like meat and poultry. Incomplete proteins on the other hand are missing one or a few of the essential amino acids and must be paired throughout the day with other sources to ensure you are getting enough. Examples of pairings include rice & beans, peanut butter on whole wheat toast, or hummus & pita bread.
Try not to get too bogged down in the details, we’ll talk more below about how much protein you actually need to determine if you are even in the right ballpark, errrr gym?
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Great question. It depends. Many fitness gurus will tell you that you need 1 gram per pound body weight and while for some people that may be great, for most people it’s just not sustainable nor necessary to see results.
When looking at the research and what is realistic, you can find there is a range, best advice? Test it out and see what feels best for you AND what is most sustainable for you. Here’s a good rule of thumb:
- Absolute minimum need: 0.8g/kg body weight
- Physically active &/or looking to change body composition: 1.1-1.5g/kg body weight
- Elite Athlete (training >5 days/week): 1.5-2.0g/kg body weight
Is there such a thing of too much protein? Yes and no. If you have any kidney disease issue, then yes, too much protein can tax the kidneys. However, if you do not have any issues with your kidneys (this is easily weeded out with annual bloodwork) then technically it’s fairly hard to overdo protein. That being said, if you are using a ton of powders and supplements, it may be overkill. It’s hard to go overboard on a juicy steak but it’s easy to go overkill on protein powders. So just think of the source of your protein, analyze how you feel, get your bloodwork done annually and you are good to go.
Where to find protein?
Now that you know what protein is and how much you need of it, let’s discuss some top ways to include protein into your diet. Ideally you will want to include protein in every meal and snack throughout the day so that you can reach your goals sustainably. However, there is no hard and fast rule of how much you must eat or not eat in one sitting. Below you will find some top sources of protein and how much protein is in a normal serving.
Top Protein Sources
- 4 oz. raw meat (prepped ahead of time), 20+ g
- Fish & seafood, 16+g per servings
- Jerky or Meat Sticks, 9g in 1 oz.
- Lunch meat (like Old World Naturals or Applegate), 10+g in 2 oz.
- Cheese & cheese sticks, 5g in 1 stick
- Canned fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, etc.), 20+g per can
- Hard-boiled eggs, 12g for 2 eggs
- Cottage Cheese, 25g in 1 cup
- Greek Yogurt, 20g in 1 cup
- Milk/Milk alternatives, 8+g in 1 cup
- Nut/Seed Butter, 8g in 2 Tbsp
- Nuts/Seeds, 27g in 1 cup
- Legumes, 15-30g in 1 cup cooked
- Quinoa, 8g in 1 cup cooked
- Oats, 5g in 1/2 cup
- Protein Powders, Shakes, & Bars (should be your last resort or in an emergency)
What About Protein Powders?
Ah yes, before we go let’s quickly discuss protein powders. There is nothing wrong with using protein powders to meet your protein goals. However, if you are solely relying on them multiple times per day it may be a sign that you need to find other sources of protein from real food. You also want to consider the quality and brand that you are using as they are not regulated by the FDA. Check out labdoor.com as a 3rd party testing platform with no financial gain by exposing brands that may not have the best ingredients nor have what they say they have on their label. As a rule of thumb, try to get most of your protein in through real food and then and only then turn to protein powders for support of your goals!