Protein: Part 1 How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
I’m seeing a common trend that my clients are generally not consuming enough protein daily. So, let me start with explaining why protein is so important. What does it do in the body? And why would it be problematic to not be consuming enough?
Protein consists of amino acids which are the “building blocks” that form the primary components of all body tissues (i.e., our skin, hair, nails, bones, collagen, and muscle fibers) and it’s also functionally active in the body.
Forming enzymes and hormones that help our cells communicate with one another
Forming antibodies that allow our immune system to protect us
Forming transport proteins that deliver oxygen and balance all the fluid levels within the body to keep us alive
Helping to maintain blood sugar balance
Providing the amino acids necessary for cognition, mood, and sleep
Increasing leptin activity, which governs the regulation of bodyweight, bodyfat mass, appetite, and food intake.
The body has limited availability to store protein, so whether you are undereating in total calories or simply just not eating enough protein, you may experience muscle wasting. Our bodies have the ability to break down its own muscle in order to free up and access the protein it needs. We need protein for all these important roles in the body, so our body has to get it somewhere!
So how much protein do we really need to bring in from our diet?
Well first of all, there’s the United States Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) guidelines that states we need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Based on this, if someone that weighs 150 lbs., that would translate to a protein need of 55 grams per day.
The problem is that the RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic requirements. It’s basically what you need to just survive, but that doesn’t represent an optimal intake that supports an active metabolism and a lean body mass. It’s the difference of asking what you need to just exist and get by vs. what you need to flourish? I know I want to be on the flourishing side of that equation!
Every individual’s protein needs are going to vary based on weight, physical activity, health history and goals, age, and life cycle stage (i.e., especially pregnancy or postpartum). But for a general recommendation, I suggest a minimum of 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight each day.
You can calculate your weight in kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2, then multiple that number by 1.2 for your daily protein need. For that same 150 lb. person, this would translate to a minimum of 82 grams of protein per day.
What are other considerations that would drive up your overall protein need?
With regular exercise, some recent science indicates that getting closer to 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram is sufficient for most exercising individuals looking to build or maintain muscle mass. That would mean 95-136 grams of protein daily for that 150 lb. person.
Our protein demand also tends to increase as we age, since it’s more difficult to produce and maintain muscle as we get older. Without bringing in enough protein and experiencing a decrease in lean body mass, it makes it easier to gain fat and also increases the risk of getting bone fractures.
And anytime you are repairing the body, like recovering from an illness or surgery, you are also going to need more protein.
If these numbers seem shocking to you, it may be worth consulting with a trained nutritional practitioner. What are some symptoms to look out for that may indicate a protein deficiency in your diet?
Having achy tissues and joints
Having low energy and fatigue
Brain fog and poor concentration
Dysregulated blood sugar, especially if having low dips
Stay Tuned for Protein: Part 2