Protein is an important part of everyone’s diet, whether you’re an athlete or not. The benefits of protein are many, from repairing tissue to building muscle to making hormones. It is also the building block of nails and hair, and participates in all cellular processes in the body.
High-protein diets are a big trend nowadays with an emphasis on weight loss. And while they do seem effective, there are currently no studies to show the long-term effects of a drastically increased protein intake. The safe route would be to up your protein intake (adjusting other macronutrients accordingly) depending on your personal needs and level of activity, and not on numbers dictated by a fad. So how do you know how much protein to take?
Your Specific Protein Needs
The U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is pretty modest: about 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight (that’s less than 46g of protein per day for someone who weighs 57kg). But this varies depending on lifestyle and activity level. Pregnant and breastfeeding women have different requirements, as do athletes.
A 2004 review recommends that those engaged in low- to moderate-intensity exercise consume at least 1g of protein per kilo of body weight, to as much as 1.7g for those participating in endurance training.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that athletes who want to build muscle mass should consume 1.4 to 1.8g of protein per kilo of body weight. Those engaged in high-intensity endurance training may benefit from getting up to 2g of protein per kilo of body weight.
A review in Journal of Sports Sciences likewise recommends a higher protein intake for athletes. Some of the guidelines:
- “Based on the individual’s sport/activity, phase of season, specific training volume and goals, establish daily targets for energy intake and the respective macronutrients.” There is no one-size-fits-all approach to protein intake or to overall nutrition for that matter. The common theme for everyone is to obtain the nutrients needed from whole foods as much as possible, but the amounts really vary from person to person.
- “Base macronutrient targets, including protein intake, on a gram per kilogram body mass basis, not on percentage of calories.” This goes with the shift in recent years from an emphasis on the percentage of macronutrients to the quality of protein, carbs, and fat that are consumed.
- “Distribute the protein evenly throughout the day, likely in three to four main meals plus one to three snacks.” Since protein isn’t stored the way carbohydrates are, it’s important to keep a steady stream of protein coming in throughout the day. Aside from the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can have a post-exercise snack and a pre-bedtime snack.
- “20-40 g of protein per meal or snack is a general target range.” A cup of Greek yogurt has about 20g of protein. Chia seed pudding, jerky, and cheese are other snacks that are high in protein.
- “Emphasize high-quality protein, particularly those sources with higher leucine [an amino acid] content, but these should not be limited to animal proteins.” High protein doesn’t automatically mean you should eat more red meat. Keep in mind that what you eat doesn’t just have protein. A steak, for example, is an excellent source of protein, but also has a lot of saturated fat. A better option would be salmon, which is low in saturated fat. You can also tap other protein sources like legumes, soy, and nuts.
- “Carbohydrate co-ingestion in the post-exercise period is important when recovery of muscle glycogen is a priority.” Carbs and protein work hand in hand when it comes to muscle repair, recovery, and growth, so your post-workout meal should be a good balance of macros.
- “For individuals struggling to hit targets with whole foods or who consume lower quantities of leucine-rich foods, consider supplementing conservatively with protein powders or branched chain amino acids.” Maybe you’re vegetarian or simply can’t eat that much meat. Look into supplementing your diet with whey or pea protein, which is a plant-based protein that is ideal for those who are allergic or intolerant to dairy, a component of whey.
If you’re thinking of adding a protein supplement to your diet, read our guide on how to choose sports nutrition supplements.
Product You Might Be Interested In
Vanilla Protein Powder Nutritional Booster
This unique blend is made from pea protein powder, chicory root fiber, chia seeds, beneficial probiotics, and monk fruit extract for a touch of sweetness.