The first and main job of dietary protein is to repair and rebuild cells and enzymes. Protein is very efficient at giving every part of your body its form and function and only a small amount of the caloric potential in protein is used for energy. So why isn’t everyone walking around with slabs of muscle? The USDA recommends about 50 grams of protein per day for adults. However in order to maximize a fit lifestyle, build and repair muscle, maintain connective tissues, tendons, skin and hair strength, individuals thrive on much more than the government nutrition agencies suggest.
How much protein should you be getting in order to sustain your body and reach your goals? Many nutrition experts, doctors, strength coaches and others in the fitness industry disagree on the ideal amount for each person. That is simply because every person is different. Your protein needs will change as you age, as your training progresses, as your goals change, what your recovery is like, and how the rest of your diet is set up.
Some recommendations require that you know your total lean weight or weight in kilograms, both easy to determine, but to keep things very simple, start by eating 1 gram of protein per total pound of body-weight. Extremely athletic, deconditioned, obese or underweight individuals, or individuals with specific needs may need more detailed guidelines for determining protein levels. Try including as many complete protein sources as you can, including all animal products. When eating incomplete proteins, such as beans, rice, vegetables and some grains, be sure to include a variety of other foods with your meal to get a balance of amino acids. Feel free to tinker with your intake in relation to your body composition goals, satiety levels and rate of recovery. I highly recommend using Mt Fitness Pal or another free diet tracker in order to monitor your average intakes.
But What About. . .?
If you are concerned about consuming such high amounts of protein, you should thoroughly do your own research. There have been many false ideas floating around the media and the locker room that may have dissuaded you from increasing your protein. A common misconception is that higher amounts of protein become too much for the kidneys to process. High protein intake along with a regular health diet including all of the essential nutrients will not cause renal disease. Chronic diseases, cancers, cardiovascular and digestive disorders open the doors for kidney failure, which does make it harder for individuals with kidney disease to completely process the natural waste products created during protein digestion.
Protein will not cause you to gain unwanted weight or muscle mass over night. Only through goal setting, dialed in training and proper total nutrition will this happen – if that is your goal. For the women especially, whose goals may not include gaining 20 lbs or muscle, a high protein intake is still a must. The muscle building comes from the entire diet as a whole, specific strength training protocols and with the help hormones found naturally in your body.
Costs and convenience of high protein consumption. Like any new ‘diet’ there is a learning curve in which the dieter will make mistakes, willingly or not. Increasing your protein intake is no different. Getting 100 to 200 grams of protein per day is not something that can happen without a little bit of focus. At first it will be hard to fit all of your protein on your plate. I recommend splitting up you total protein intake to get an equal amount at each meal, just to give you an average to shoot for. Once you become familiar with what foods and meals you frequently eat have high protein, you will gradually need to pay less attention to how many grams you are getting per meal and eventually per day.
Unless you are eating 8 ounce portions of meat at every meal, you will probably need to supplement with a protein powder. The best brands I have come across, as far as flavor and cost, are Optimum Nutrition and Dymatize. Do not cheap out and go to Wal-Mart for your protein powder! The most common form is whey protein, which is derived from cows milk, and is the fastest digesting protein source. Digestion speed is important if you are consuming the whey after a workout. Caesin is another form of protein from cows milk and digests very slowly, ideal for drinking before bed, to supply your muscles throughout the night. There are many other sources of protein including egg, rice, pea, hemp and more, there are also blends of protein types that will have varying digestion speeds. If your diet is already well rounded, get a basic protein powder with less that 3 grams of fat and 6 grams of carbs and nothing more added. There are protein powders that can replace a meal or a snack, these include more fats, carbs and often enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
Ethics of high protein consumption – There are many ethical, environmental and nutritional issues surrounding high protein consumption. Many mainstream books and films (Omnivores Dilemma, Food Inc, Slow Food Nation, King Corn) have highlighted the overuse of antibiotics, pesticides, fertilizers and the happenings in unsanitary, crowded factory farms. The best option would be to find local, grass fed animal products that a nutritionally superior and environmentally sound. Resources like eatwild.com can connect you with local farmers. As with anything worth buying, you get what you pay for, and top quality meats and animal products (the best sources of protein) are expensive and may require that you buy in bulk. It is best to vary your protein sources as much as you can.
Log onto My Fitness Pal to track the protein you have eaten today, browse supplement websites to find a brand and flavor protein powder that you would like to try, and spend the next few minutes thinking about how to add more protein to all of your meals tomorrow.
Let me know if I can help!