How Much Protein Do I Need For Optimal Health and Performance?
Protein: Is too much of a good thing not a good thing?
Protein is a necessary macronutrient that is necessary for life but does that mean we can eat it in unlimited quantities?
The amount of protein one person needs is highly dependent on a number of factors such as age, gender, body composition, sport, medical conditions and goals when it comes to sport and body composition. Let’s first take a look at what protein is and what it does.
What is protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids, a.k.a. “the building blocks of life.” I had the opportunity to go into a cadaver lab many years ago and I was for some reason surprised to see that we are all just giant steaks walking around (literally, that’s what our muscles look like)! Sounds morbid but it’s true. That “steak” is protein, which is made up of various amino acids. Twenty of those are common, meaning they are often found in our food. Of those twenty, nine of them are essential. This means the body cannot produce them and must get them from food. Meat is the best source of essential amino acids. Plants are good sources of non-essential amino acids; which can be synthesized from other foods.
So, what does protein do?
Most people think of protein as building muscle and that is absolutely true. Protein helps to build muscle back up after a hard workout, which helps your muscles recover and adapt to training. This ultimately allows you to become better at your sport. This is where Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA’s come into play. Ever heard of them? If you’ve been in a gym recently, most likely! They’re in almost every protein powder, pre-workout supplement and you can even buy BCAA supplements.
BCAA’s contain a specific set of amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine, that help with muscle growth and provide fuel for muscles when energy is low. BCAA’s can also help with reducing muscle soreness and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Research is conflicting on BCAA supplements but that’s grounds for another blog post.
Protein also helps to maintain organs, cell structure and makes up a portion of your blood. This is called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to working muscles. Protein is also responsible for creating enzymes and enzymatic reactions in your body, including metabolism! Lastly, protein contributes a very small amount of energy (2-4%) to working muscles during prolonged exercise. Carbohydrates and fats are much better fuel sources than protein.
How much is too much?
Ok, we know protein is good and necessary but let’s get back to the question at hand: Is too much protein not a good thing? In short, yes. Just like the saying goes, “too much of a good thing is not a good thing.” There are several reasons for this:
- Too much protein can cause fat gain: Most people can only utilize upwards of 35g of protein within a 2-3 hr period and the rest gets stored as fat; even if it’s “lean” protein.
- Your kidneys can suffer: When you take in too much protein, you take in too much nitrogen. Nitrogen has to be filtered through your kidneys and excreted as urine. Too much can place too much stress on your kidneys, especially those with kidney problems.
- Kidney stones: Consuming too much protein can increase calcium excretion from your bones. Your kidneys need to filter this out through tiny tubes. Too much calcium can cause stones which are very painful to pass.
How much protein should I be eating?
How much protein you should be eating really depends on you. Take a look at the chart below to see where you fall. First, you will want to divide you weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert to kilograms (kg). Females more often than not can stay on the lower end of the range and males on the higher end of the range.
|Endurance Athlete||1.2-1.5 g/kg per day|
|Weight Lifter||1.4-1.7 g/kg per day|
|Master Athlete >60 y.o.||1.2-1.5 g/kg per day|
|Team Sport Athlete (baseball, football, soccer)||1.2-1.7 g/kg per day|
So for example, I weigh 130 lbs. I’d consider myself more of a weight lifter and I’m a female.
130/2.2= 59 kg
59 x 1.4= 82 g protein per day
Now, there will be other factors that may affect how much protein you may need to take in. If you are dieting or have a specific medical condition, you may need more. If you have a problem with kidney function, you may need less. However, this is a good place to start.
Are you still not sure how much protein to consume? Not sure about carbohydrates and fats?
If you need help with a customized strategy, check out my program The Sustainable Sports Nutrition Academy, which provides a sustainable approach that’s based on science.
Ready to take your performance to the next level but are struggling with following through on your nutrition and training goals? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation, so we can discuss your particular situation and goals!