How much protein do we really need?

by Kilo on December 4, 2010

Guest post by Amy Welling

The last semester I taught at the University level I taught two sections of a course about Exercise and Nutrition. I loved teaching that class, I didn’t have to teach about the basics of nutrition because everyone, but one person, was an Exercise Physiology major and had back ground in nutrition already. My favorite topic of discussion with the class was protein.

We had vegans, vegetarians, regular people and meat heads. Not meat heads like you’d see in the free weight area of the gym who scare off anyone who isn’t grunting like their in pain, but people who ate a ton of meat. I had one boy tell me that he was strictly a carnivore, someone will be seeing him in their Cardiac Rehab in the next few years I’m sure of it.

We talked about the amounts required for various types of athletes and for sedentary individuals. I tried to put a lot of emphasis on not over doing the protein because there are many side effects of to much protein in your diet ranging such as higher risk of dehydration, higher fat depositation to increased risk of cardiovascular disease if your protein sources come from animals.

The truth is most of us don’t need excessive amounts of protein to have enough for our body to recover from the stresses that we put on them. The recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein for the sedentary individual is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight this should be about 12-15% of the daily calorie intake. Strength athletes should have anywhere from 1.4 to 2.0+ grams per kg of body weight, about 15-20% of total daily calories. If you’re just doing a little strength training, a few days a week not really working your body hard then you don’t need as much protein as say someone who does a full work out daily.

Okay great, you see these numbers now what do they mean? For the ease of the examples I’ll use a 220 pound person, which is 100 kg. A sedentary individual would only need 80 grams of protein a day from all sources or 320 calories. This would be about 3 cups of slivered almonds, 5 1/3 cups pinto or black beans or 9 oz roasted chicken breast. That doesn’t include the amount of protein that is found in grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products that we use. Easily people can go over the amount of protein that they need.

If that same 100kg person were a strength athlete doing a full workout daily they would need about 200 kg a day. In that case the person may want to look into protein supplementation, or I would because their daily caloric requirements based off of their energy use would be so high that I don’t think that I could meet them from just eating regular food, but they may have more time to eat food than I do.

In reality though how many of us actually do a full strenuous workout daily? Very few of us actually do for whatever reason we have not enough time, no one to watch the kids or even just no desire to do it. The only time in my life that I came anywhere near strength training of that magnitude that would require 2 grams per kg of body weight I was 19 and weighed all of just over 52 kg (118 lbs), which gave me a protein requirement of 104 grams a day, not much more than the examples above.

Ideally we need to be some where in between the two if you are lifting weights a few days a week. If you eat a diet typical of most Americans then you’re already getting all the protein that you need and then some. If you have doubts after you’ve calculated your needs just keep track for a week of what you eat and enter it into one of the many free programs like the one at fitday.com. After you have your numbers look and see where you need to go from there.

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