How much protein should I eat?

It seems to me that there is a lot of confusion regarding the issue of protein intake. It is a huge debate and the research made by the experts has been very exhaustive with the question “how much protein should I eat” being brought up by everyone from the casual gym user to development scientists.

First of all, let me start by making it clear that it is essential for good health. Protein provides the building blocks that help muscles grow. It should be included at all mealtimes, particularly before and after a resistance training session. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight; however, this is only for sedentary adults.

PROTEIN BY NUMBERS

In regards to endurance-based exercise, the recommended protein intake range s from of 1.0 grams per kilogram per day to 1.6 grams kilograms per day depending on the intensity and duration of the endurance exercise – the more you train, the more calories you expend, the more your muscles are used and broken down, the more protein you will need.

The training age of the individual – how long they have been undertaking exercise – also comes into account. When you start to train, your body will need more protein for the first few weeks because of greater muscle breakdown. If you keep the same workout program for more than a month, you will then need less protein because your body will have adapted to the stresses of exercise. This is the reason why we increase intensity and duration of exercise, so that the body has to adapt to new stresses. At this stage, the body will again need the elevated protein levels to recover the muscles and prevent further muscle breakdown.

Recommendations for strength/power exercise typically range from 1.6 to 2.0 grams kilograms per day.

IT’S NOT JUST ‘EAT MORE MEAT’

However, getting protein into your body should not be taken as “eat more meat”, even though beef, chicken and turkey (as well as milk, cheese, and eggs) do have a high protein content. Protein sources can also be found in whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, vegetables, and fish of course – click here for a list of protein sources.  Protein supplements can be used but only if you feel that you are not getting enough to match your exercise work rate.

NOT ALL PROTEINS ARE EQUAL

The body cannot use the protein you ingest for muscle-building unless all of the necessary amino acids are present. Some foods contain ‘complete protein’ which is where they provide all the amino acids necessary to produce usable protein. Even foods known for their high protein content contain differing amounts of usable protein. For example, if a food says it contains 10g of protein, because of the inherent quality of the protein, your body may only be able to use 7g of it for efficient cell repair.

The following chart shows, in the right column, the percentage of the protein source that your body is actually able to use for building muscle:

Fig 1: Efficiency of protein source usage by the body. Reference: The New Encyclopaedia of Bodybuilding, p 707

So, even though only 12% of an egg’s weight is made up of protein, 94% of that protein can be used by your body – this is the optimal natural protein source. Whereas soybeans can 42% protein, you can only process 61% of it making it a less efficient source, albeit still a good source of protein; it’s just not as good as others.

N.B. whey protein, a milk derivative, has even more net protein than eggs!

Thus, there is a big difference between how much protein a food contains and how much of that protein you can actually use to build muscle. The following table gives you a good guide for how efficient, out of 100, a protein source is for having useable protein for your body (Dobbins, B. Schwarzenegger, A; 1999 revised edition: The New Encyclopaedia of Bodybuilding; pp706-707)

Fig 2: The rating of different food sources based on the efficiency of protein utilisation by the body upon ingestion. Reference: The New Encyclopaedia of Bodybuilding, p 707

PROTEIN TIMING

Moreover, timing your protein hits is vital to optimise your physical progression. Your body can’t process more than 30g of protein per serving, according to research from the University of Texas, so scoffing six steaks at dinner is a waste and promotes fat storage – fat storage can occur when a food type (protein, carbohydrates, fats) is eaten in quantities above saturation point. Instead, plan five or six small meals throughout the day with optimal protein levels for your goals and current physical condition.

I hope this helps in clarifying the issue of protein.

 

Owen Thomas

Personal Trainer

Fitness Body Pro

www.fitnessbodypro.com

Chris James
Top Local Trainer Author
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