When it comes to essential nutrients, there is one fuel source that sits pretty on top of the totem pole of health; protein. Aside from water, the budding macronutrient is just about the most important thing you can put in your body. From muscle growth and bodybuilding to weight loss and health management, protein has been touted as the be-all and end-all of your health needs, but how many grams of protein per day is enough?
It’s an important question. Understanding your correct daily protein intake is essential to your overall health, and it can be a fine balance to get it right. Eat too much and you risk putting on a significant amount of fat; eat too little and you fail to effectively fuel your muscle fibres for growth and maintenance. While there is no hard and fast rule for how many grams of protein per day is required, there are certain steps you can take to ensure you are getting the optimum amount. Before we delve deep into your recommended protein intake, however, there are some important distinctions you need to make.
What is Protein?
While most of us have certainly heard of protein and know that it is something to be aware of, few people truly understand its true purpose and function. Put simply, protein comes in many different forms and is used as the foundation for muscle, tendon, organ and skin growth. The macronutrient is among the most efficient fuel sources in our daily diet and can also help in the production of enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormones that are essential for important cognitive brain and muscle function.
From a scientific viewpoint, proteins are made out of molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. The chains are often referred to as protein chains, which are folded into complex shapes once they become long enough. While your body is effective at producing some amino acids naturally, others must be supplemented through food and diet choices. We call these essential amino acids.
Delving deeper, all protein is categorised into three types;
- Fibrous Proteins – These proteins form muscle fibre, tendons, connective tissue and bone.
- Globular Proteins – These proteins are more water-soluble than others and have a wealth of functions that include transporting, catalysing and regulating.
- Membrane Proteins – These proteins have a number of key roles that include relaying signals within cells and transporting molecules.
Types of Protein
Like we said, protein is a complex beast that encompasses many different functions and forms. Different types of proteins will offer different qualities and quantities, as such; a balanced diet should include many different versions. The most common and generally effective protein source is animal protein.
As animals have similar genetics make-ups to humans, this form of protein provides all essential amino acids in the appropriate ratios. This, in turn, makes animal protein easy to digest and highly important in the development of muscle fibres. Foods that are rich in animal proteins include;
However, while animal protein is indeed highly effective in the maintenance of muscle, tendon and organ health, it isn’t the only way to up your protein intake.
For those among us who aren’t too fond of eating meat or dairy, there are other options. You can find a wealth of natural protein in certain plants and plant products. These include;
- Green peas
- Soya beans
Another great way to up your daily protein intake is to add protein supplements to your diet. By using protein powder you can hit those key protein targets with ease. Even better, these protein supplements are generally low in carbohydrates and calories. These include;
- Protein concentrates
- Protein isolates
- Protein hydroisolates
Protein for Weight Loss
It’s no secret that protein is incredibly valuable when it comes to weight loss, but it’s not as simple as just eating more protein and watching the kilos strip off. Eating a high-protein diet has been proven to boost your metabolic rate, allowing you to burn more calories. Getting around 30 per cent of your total daily calories from protein has been shown to improve metabolism by around 80-100 calories per day, when compared to lower protein diets. However, while the metabolic rate does improve with higher protein consumption, that isn’t the only benefit.
Eating a high-protein diet will help reduce your appetite. By eating more protein, you feel fuller for longer, preventing you from snacking or eating more. In fact, a recent study from PubMed Central found that obese men who upped their daily protein intake to 25 per cent of total calories reported increased feelings of fullness. Additionally, the desire to snack at night halved and obsessive thoughts about food reduced by 60 per cent.
If you are looking to lose weight, protein is almost always the best place to start. Regardless of your chosen style of diet, whether it be intermittent fasting, the paleo diet or the ketogenic diet, all aspects are heavily dependent on strong protein intake.
How Much Protein Should I Have Each Day?
Once you’ve decided to up your daily protein intake, whether it be through protein powders, protein supplements or red meat, you need to set targets. The most basic and common formula for how much protein you should eat per day comes from the US Food and Nutrition Board. It reads as follows;
- o.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight
In this instance, a 100kg man will require 80 grams of protein per day. While this Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is a great basis for starting your protein journey, there are other factors that play into the mix.
Whether you are sedentary or active, how much water your drink and the genetic and macronutrient make-up of the other foods you eat will play into your required protein intake. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine and the Dietitians of Canada suggest that athletes, for example, need more protein. The organisation notes that those who participate in activities like running, cycling, or swimming on a regular basis consume 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Further, strength-trained athletes, such as powerlifters consume 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Here is a very basic run-down of recommended protein intake by activity level;
- Sedentary – Multiply by 0.5
- Light activity – Multiply by 0.6
- Moderate – Multiply by 0.7
- Active – Multiply by 0.8
- Very Active – Multiply by 0.9
- Athlete – Multiply by 1.0
The easiest way to get an accurate protein intake goal down-pat is to determine your current daily calorie expenditure. Understanding how many calories you eat on the whole will allow you to chart the percentage that needs to be allocated to protein.
Common Protein Mistakes and Misconceptions
Most men know the importance of protein, but there are a few key mistakes that we often make. These generally relate to the amount of protein we consume without realising.
- Over-consumption – When you eat too much protein, your body stores it as fat. Some studies suggest that excess protein is excreted in urine, but only a small portion is actually released. Instead, that protein is converted to glucose for energy and stored as fat. Should you eat too much protein, you will undoubtedly increase your calorie consumption, meaning you will run the risk of putting on weight.
- High-sugar protein supplements – When you are adding protein powders to your diet, be wary of the carbohydrate content in your shake. While most whey protein isolates are low in calories, some others have a high proportion of sugar, making you susceptible to weight gain and calorie surplus.
- Shakes over meals – While the protein shake has been touted as a meal replacement, it doesn’t quite have the same impact as a full-blown feed. When you eat a full meal, your body has to work harder to digest it, meaning you use up more calories in the process.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to: 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man. 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
Excess protein is usually stored as fat, while the surplus of amino acids is excreted. Ultimately, this can lead to weight gain, particularly if you consume too many calories trying to increase your protein intake.
Eating a protein rich diet can result in some digestive issues, but that usually has less to do with protein and more to do with a lack of fibre. To compensate, it is advised that you eat a diet rich in fibrous carbohydrates, even if you are trying to increase protein intake.
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