Protein is not just for great skin, hair, and nails; it’s critical for health. Your total body weight, once water is removed, is over 50 per cent proteins! Without it, you wouldn’t be able to repair damage, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods. Meeting your daily protein intake is critical! Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein’s great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.
Protein intake is extremely important! According to Dr. Michael Colgan, known as the father of sports nutrition:
“Protein may be the single most important nutrient we do not get enough of.”
There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein we need. In this post I will go through those calculations with you and let you know why the RDA levels are likely insufficient. Next, I will tackle the question of quality of protein. Lastly, I list the amount of protein in some common foods.
Understanding Why We Need Protein
As already mentioned, protein is used in rebuilding of body structures. Because of the vast number of structures that require protein (and the correct amino acids in sequence to build them), it is important to consume quality proteins on a regular basis.
One of the key body tissues that requires protein for both repair and growth is muscle. The maintenance of lean muscle is of particular significance it is largely responsible for our daily energy expenditure. More muscle mass you have means your body burns more calories, even at rest! Therefore it should be everyone’s goal to hold on to as much muscle as they can.
Here’s the problem though – sarcopenia! Sarcopenia refers to the body’s natural tendency to lose muscle as we age. This process begins after age 25 and it is estimated that by age 60 more than 50 per cent of ones muscle mass is lost as a result. In order to reverse or inhibit the effects of sarcopenia a person must do the following:
- Perform regular resistance-based exercise
- Consume high quality protein
SO HOW MUCH PROTEIN IS ENOUGH?
There isn’t a real rule that applies equally to everyone. Obviously a 250 pound football player will require more than a 100 pound ballerina! There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.
The minimum recommendation (RDA) for protein is set as 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day. So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55 g protein/day.
Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It’s no where close to optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods.
It’s definitely not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these camps, you will need to increase the minimum protein intake. Aim closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day. Current research from world leader in protein research, Dr. Stuart Phillips (McMaster University), suggests even higher amounts of protein than this to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. His recommendation is to consume somewhere between 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg (0.73 to 1g/lb) per day!
Athletes need more protein intake for their energy and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that’s common in old age (remember sarcopenia?). Women are notorious for consuming too little protein. Furthermore, injured people benefit from more protein for recovery and healing. Chances are you fall into one of these categories – and even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete per se, if you’re not sedentary, you definitely need more protein than the RDA!
How much protein is too much?
As with anything you eat, if you consume in excess you can gain weight. Extra protein can be converted into sugar or fat in the body, however if you’re sticking around the recommendations above it’s unlikely that you will add on fat. The interesting thing about protein is that it isn’t as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat; this is because of its “thermic effect.” The thermic effect is the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. To digest protein, your body needs to spend energy (i.e., burn calories). More calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates.
Many people (especially women) who increase their daily dietary protein intake find that their weight may increase. This is likely because they were protein deficient and unable maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis in order to repair and build muscle! Once they begin consuming adequate levels of protein to “turn on” muscle building their lean mass increases. It’s important to remember that more muscle is a good thing! It’s the body’s engine where most of our calories are burned!
Oh… and if you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be! There is zero evidence linking higher protein diets to kidney damage! If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues.
FUN FACT: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.
Quality of the Protein You Eat
So now that we know the importance of dietary protein, and the adequate levels to build repair muscle, and maintain health the question remains what type of protein is best? In Dr. Colgan’s book The Anti-Inflammatory Athlete At Any Age he states that:
“If you eat garbage proteins you will grow a garbage body…”
The quality of the protein ingested on a daily basis is paramount to building a healthy body. Dr. Colgan’s recommended source of protein is New Zealand undenatured whey protein concentrate. His research showed that this form of whey is superior in terms of its muscle building, immune boosting, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein
First, we must understand that protein is made up of 20 different amino acids (building blocks). The body is constantly breaking down and repairing itself leaving these amino acids to be used as required. There are some amino acids that the body can create from broken down structures, and there are others that need to be consumed in our diet. Dietary proteins are categorized into these 2 different groups based on the amino acids that they contain:
- Complete Proteins
- Incomplete Proteins
Complete proteins are those that contain all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine). Sources of complete proteins include: meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. These types of proteins have all the building blocks present needed for the body to repair its tissues and create new ones.
Incomplete proteins are those that lack the 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot create itself. Plant-based proteins are “incomplete” proteins. Vegans and vegetarians should therefore closely monitor their protein consumption to ensure that they are getting enough of the missing amino acids that plants lack. The one exception to the incomplete protein is soy protein. Despite being a “complete” protein in terms of its amino acid profile, some argue that there are dangers in consuming soy protein. See The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN if you want to learn more.
How much protein is in food?
- A 3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g
- A 3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g
- ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g
- A large egg contains 6 g
- ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g
- 1 medium baked potato contains 3 g
As you can see consuming the level of protein recommended by Dr. Stuart Phillips of up to 2.2g/kg/day (or 1g/lb/day) can be challenging eating whole foods alone – especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian. A 120 pound female would have to eat 20 eggs per day! That is why supplementing with complete protein sources just makes sense. We love the convenience and quality of these protein shakes, snacks, and bars!
Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. While “enough” is set to 0.8g/kg (0.36g/lb) per in terms of the RDA, experts in protein research and metabolism like Dr. Stuart Phillips and Dr. Michael Colgan would recommend consuming upwards of even 2.2g/kg (1g/lb) per day! The difference depends on whether you want to just “survive” or if you want to thrive! The lower level will be adequate to keep you alive, but if you’re an athlete, senior, or injured person, we’d recommend aiming closer to the higher level to maintain vital lean muscle mass, rebuild body structures and boost your immune system!
Do you realize you need to bump up your protein intake? We’d love to show you how we’ve been able to get the bulk of our high quality protein delivered to our door for FREE! Click CONTACT US if you want to learn how!
Recipe (high-protein): Baked Chicken Breasts
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a layer of parchment paper on a baking dish.
Place the chicken breasts in the prepared dish. Brush on both sides with olive oil.
In a small bowl, mix spices until combined. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken on both sides.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to at least 165°F at the thickest part.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Serve with lots of veggies.
Colgan, Michael. (2012). The Anti-Inflammatory Athlete. (1st ed.). Vancouver: Science Books. ISBN-10: 0978348648