Protein: How Much Do You Need?
Are You Getting the Right Amount of Protein?
What is protein? Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body, being about 16 percent of our total body weight. Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. However, protein plays a major role in all of the cells and most of the fluids in our bodies. In addition, many of our bodies’ important chemicals — enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and even our DNA — are at least partially made up of protein. Although our bodies are good at “recycling” protein, we use up protein constantly, so it is important to continually replace it.
Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. Our bodies cannot manufacture nine amino acids, so it is important to include all these amino acids in our diets. Animal proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy products (especially whey protein powder) have all the amino acids, and many plants have some of them.
How much protein do we need?
Our protein needs depend on our age, size, and activity level. The standard method used by nutritionists to estimate our minimum daily protein requirement is to multiply the body weight in kilograms by 0.8, this is the number of grams of protein that should be the daily minimum. According to this method, a person weighing 75kg should eat 60 grams minimum of protein per day just to sustain healthy living & keeping their muscle structure. But for someone that is exercising will require much more depending intensity, duration and type of exercise performed. So if you’re training, protein requirements are almost doubled! Look at having 1.5 to 2.5 grams per kilogram. A person weighing 75kg should eat 187.5 grams of protein per day
Do people who exercise need more protein?
Although it is controversial, there is evidence that people engaging in endurance exercise (such as long distance running) or heavy resistive exercise (such as body building) can benefit from additional protein in their diets. Some researchers in the sport nutrition field recommend 1.5 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for endurance exercisers and 1.8 to 2.5 grams per kg per day for heavy strength training.
But shouldn’t protein intake be a percentage of total calories?
Quite a few programs and nutritionists quote percentage of calories, usually in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent, as a way to figure out how much protein a person needs to consume daily. This is a rough estimate of a person’s minimum protein needs. It works because usually larger and more active people need more calories, so the more calories they need, the more protein they will get.
Where this falls down is when people are eating diets which are lower in calories for any reason, conscious or not. People who are ill or losing weight, for example, do not need less protein just because they are eating fewer calories. So if you are still exercising to retain muscle, therefore not losing muscle but losing body fat at the same time. To help retain your precious muscle that you work hard for, if you are decreasing your calories make sure you still getting enough protein.What happens if we don’t eat enough protein?
Unlike fat and glucose, our body has little capacity to store protein. If we were to stop eating protein, our body would start to break down muscle for its needs within a day or so. Protein and amino acids primary use for your body is to build/maintain muscle and muscle recovery. Remember less muscle you have the slower your body will burn energy, resulting the age old excuse “I’ve got such a slow metabolism” or “I try so hard, but I can’t burn fat…”
Is it OK to eat a lot more protein than the minimum recommendations?
This is the crucial question for people on diets which are higher in protein than usual, as low-carb diets tend to be. In a review of the research, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the only known danger from high protein diets is for individuals with kidney disease. After careful study, they recommend that 10 percent to 35 percent of daily calories come from protein. They point out that increased protein could be helpful in treating obesity. There is also accumulating evidence that extra protein may help prevent osteoporosis.
Extra protein can be broken down into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. On low carb diets, this happens continually. One benefit of obtaining glucose from protein is that it is absorbed into the bloodstream very slowly, so it doesn’t cause a rapid blood sugar increase.
What foods have the most protein?
Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts all have substantial amounts of protein. But protein powders and protein bars are quick and convenient way of supplementing into our daily nutrition and training. Prior to training it would be advised to eat a small amount of carbs to increase blood sugars and overall energy to prepare your muscles for the workout ahead. With protein it is advised the best time for maximum intake of proteins and amino acids is immediately after a training session to prevent muscle catabolism (muscle wastage) and promote lean muscle growth. Recent studies show that the intake of whey protein (which found in most quality protein supplements) is the fastest bioavailability into the muscle cell. In other words, your muscles get the best results! Not to disregard other forms of protein (i.e. Meat, chicken, fish etc) as they great forms but those proteins take longer to digest and less bioavailability to muscle cells.
In summary, eats lots of protein through out your daily nutrition but remember supplements should never replace “whole” foods but it is an idea to “supple” or “added in” to your nutrition plan. Protein supplements are easy and are convenient without the stress, time and hassle of preparing a meal, but drinking a protein shake or eating a protein bar, utilising 30-50grams protein in just one hit!
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Paul Jazwinski Personal Trainer / Fitness Instructor Specialising – Muscle mass/Bodybuilding. General health, fitness and toning. Nutritional advice and supplement recommendation Also a distributer of Health, nutrition and wellness Supplements