The Complete Guide to Getting Adequate Protein in Your Diet

Getting enough protein is important whether you want healthy skin and nails to lose weight or get bulging biceps. But “enough” can be the difference between eating a few extra eggs and washing down a steak with a protein shake. Here’s how to find out.

The “Official Guide” is enough to stick with it, but the more the better

The focus is on muscles, but protein is also required for healthy skin, hair, hormones, and organ function. The Department of Health and Medicine ( formerly the Institute of Medicine ) states that the average sedentary adult should eat 0.36 grams of quality protein per pound of their total body weight each day. For example, a 150 pound office worker who does not exercise will need about 54 grams of protein per day to meet his basic nutritional needs. These are about two fist-sized chicken breasts.

It’s also an RDA to live on if you’re sedentary, not interested in making any changes, and getting enough calories to support your weight.

Most Americans are already doing well at meeting the RDA , but there is a growing body of research showing that most adults will benefit more from eating more than the RDA . The authors of this recently published review article in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism note that higher protein intake helps whether you want to lose weight, lose weight, or work towards your athletic goals. Rather than giving an absolute number, the authors recommend a range of 0.57 to 0.76 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

In other words, you will be eating at least twice as much protein. Eating more protein takes some getting used to, and unless you have kidney problems, a high protein diet is not bad for you. But they will probably be more expensive.

When you exercise, you need more protein.

When you exercise regularly, your protein requirements increase. To become stronger, the rate of muscle recovery and growth must be ahead of muscle breakdown. And for that to happen, you need to eat food and – yes, you guessed it – protein.

The type of exercise you do changes the recommendation slightly. This study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, suggests:

  • If you are lifting weights, use a weight of 0.63–0.82 g / lb.
  • If you do an endurance sports such as jogging or cycling, use a weight of 0.54–0.63 g / lb.

Both of these ranges are in linewith the American College of Sports Medicineguidelines for proteinfor active individuals , while the International Society for Sports Nutrition maintains up to 0.9 g / lb bodyweight – slightly higher. In general, there is a consensus that people who exercise should be getting twice their daily allowance.

More protein helps you lose weight

Ironically, you will actually need more protein than if you were trying to build muscle. When you lose weight, you break down tissue, including muscle tissue, faster than you create it, so your muscles will benefit from more protein. This is what “more” looks like when you want to lose weight and:

  • You are sedentary or do light activities: aim for 0.45–0.68 g / lb body weight.
  • You are very active: aim for0.6-1.2 g / lb body weight , especially if your goal is to maintain muscle. The source for this range comes from an article in the European Journal of Sport Science . The authors argue that the less fat you have, the more benefit you will get from the higher range. This means that you will base your actual protein intake on your muscle mass (the ratio of muscle mass to body fat).

One important point to note: if you are obese and are calculating your needs based on total body weight, you are overdoing it on protein. Be guided by your ideal body weight , not your current body weight . So if your weight is 250 pounds and you want to gain 180 pounds, you should multiply your intake by 180, not 250 (for example, 81-122 grams of protein per day for a sedentary person).

One of the main benefits of eating more protein when you’re trying to lose weight is subtle: High protein foods help you feel fuller than carbs or fat and control your appetite. This is a huge boon to your efforts. In the end, overeating chicken breasts takes a lot of work. At the end of the day, calories matter, so when you’re feeling full and satisfied, you won’t be hunting for extra calories.

Another thing to consider is that if you are aiming for a more athletic physique, you will see better results by combining a higher protein intake with a weightlifting program. Lifting weights gives muscles a more powerful signal to “hold on” than eating a lot of protein alone, according to a review published in the Journal of Sports Science .

If You Want to Build Muscle, You Need Less Than You Think

In general, eating 0.36–0.54 g / lb of body weight is sufficient to build muscle mass, along with an appropriate weightlifting program and consuming enough calories to maintain (or gain). However, some people in fitness circles claim that building muscle requires a higher protein level, at least 1 g / lb of body weight. Kamal Patel , director of independent nutrition research site , explained why this number does not apply to the majority:

The vast majority of lifters will not get any additional muscle-building benefit if they eat more than 0.8 g / lb or so. In fact, this number can decrease as you get more experience and need less protein, since you are not a beginner and therefore do not break down a ton of protein during exercise.

Indeed, the study , published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, involved 12 novice athletes and took either 0.61 g / lb or 1.19 g / lb over a 4-week period. The researchers found no differences in strength or muscle gain between the two groups. However, there is one caveat: studies like this often look at short-term outcomes, so the long-term outcome is less clear.

This does not mean that the 1g / lb recommendation is completely faked; it just isn’t necessary for people who are overweight or obese, or people who are already consuming a lot of calories. As Alan Aragon , an instructor at the National Association for Strength and Conditioning , told me, “given individual variability, you can’t just say that 1 g / lb is not good for anyone.”

For now, here’s a tip: Eat more protein if you want, but after a certain point, more protein won’t help you build muscle faster. Also, the “extra” are just calories.

Seniors should really eat more protein

A high protein diet is essential for healthy seniors. In fact, Patel believes that it is imperative for seniors to increase their protein intake.

Since aging makes it difficult to build muscle mass due to various physiological factors, it’s important to get a higher protein intake than even the average young person, especially if you don’t have much muscle to start with and just started exercising at age 60. -year-old.

Patel is not alone in this. Studies like this in the Journals of Gerontology have shown that strength (especially strength in the lower body) is closely related to survival and better quality of life in later years. This means that seniors 65 years of age and older will benefit from consuming at least 0.54 g / lb of body weight or more to mitigate the loss of muscle and strength that is part of the aging process.

Make Your Protein Intake Work for You

Protein recommendations are not so straightforward. If you just need rough and simple advice, Aragon suggests using 1 g / lb of lean body mass and adjusting as needed. If you are unsure of your body fat percentage, follow your target weight. For example, if you currently weigh 150 pounds and would like to weigh 125 pounds, aim for 125 grams of protein.

For more flexibility, experiment with 0.36 g / lb (RDA) to 0.82 g / lb as we discussed. Not only do you need to adjust your intake based on your goal to build muscle, lose weight, or maintain, but you also need to consider how hard and how often you exercise, your lifestyle, dietary habits, and food availability, to name just a few. Examples. Maybe you need high protein foods to feel full, or maybe you need to cut back on them a little because all that lean meats and protein shakes are taking their toll on your food bill.

Either way, it’s like a challenging food tetris game in which you have to fit a suitable protein goal to your calorie goals without straining you as hell or getting so high that you can’t eat your (beef) pie and neither. eat it. …


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