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How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

nutrition, trainingTheo Brenner-RoachComment
How much protein do you really need header

Ah protein, the lifeblood of the fitness industry. There probably isn’t a gym in the world that isn’t selling some type of protein supplement. We seemed obsessed with it, which means you’re probably obsessed with it and I don’t blame you. How could you not be? You are sold the dream that protein can provide you with untold muscle gains and superb leanness.

You think more must be better and you’re told more is better. 

More protein = more progress. 

Are you right to think this? 

In my experience the sheer amount of information including the biased mis-information means you never really stood a chance. I know I never did.

When I first started working out, I believed that protein shakes were as important as my workouts.

I would knock them back in the name of high protein diets and progress, whilst neglecting proper fat and carb intake. Thinking back the amount of money I spent on egg whites, protein shakes and meat was obscene but I did it anyway in the name of health and fitness. 

Shame on me for not knowing any better, for not questioning the methodology and following blindly. Props to you for seeking out answers and educating yourself.

All it takes is a quick google search to see:

A. There is a hell of a lot information out there on this topic

B. Your recommended daily protein intake will vary widely depending on who you ask

C. It can all be a bit overwhelming and confusing trying to cut through the BS

Today we will put the bullshit to one side, so you know once and for all what you need to do. 

Here's the problem:

Overstated protein needs, (by what is usually an unnecessary amount) makes no difference to your rate of muscle gain or fat loss and can be to your detriment in the long run. 

You see, if a larger part than required of your daily calorie allowance is taken up by protein it leaves less room for both carbohydrates and fats which play important roles in your diet.

Carbohydrates are the bodies primary energy source and are needed for physical activity, brain function and the operation of organs. They are also important for intestinal health and waste removal. 

Fats are used as a backup fuel source when carbohydrates are not available but day to day are used to absorb and store certain vital nutrients. Specifically, fat-soluble vitamins that make up an essential part of your diet.

Why are your protein needs inflated?

There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • The influence of pro bodybuilders on the mainstream fitness industry. Steroid use allows bodybuilders to process far more protein than the recreational weightlifter.
  • The idea that more is better. Protein is vital for building and preserving muscle so people wrongly assume that the more they consume the better their results will be.
  • The power of supplement companies in the industry. They have a clear financial incentive to misrepresent the amount of protein needed daily.

Why do we need to eat protein?

Proteins are essential to the human body, they are the building blocks of the body’s tissue and work to repair and rebuild your muscle.

Protein provides 4 calories per gram, which is the same as carbohydrate and significantly less than fat which provides 9 calories per gram. 

Protein is made up of chains of amino acids which can be categorised as essential, meaning the body cannot produce them and you must get them through food sources and non-essential which means the body can produce them itself.

Overall, protein is a major structural component of your body’s muscle and is used to build and repair muscle tissue. It's clear that it's vital to your body composition but how much do you need to eat to get the maximum benefit?

Let’s end the second-guessing and set your protein intake with confidence once and for all.

How much protein do you need daily to build muscle or lose fat?

SPOILER ALERT: @@The optimal amount of protein per day is 0.6g - 1g per lb of total bodyweight depending on your training goal.@@

Note: if you are heavily overweight or obese then your protein needs will be overstated and you should use 0.8g per goal bodyweight instead.

I know this may seem low to some of you, so let’s look at the research:

  • This study found that 0.6 - 0.9g per lb of bodyweight is adequate for maximising protein synthesis. It also goes on to say that experienced athletes may require less than this, whereas less experienced athletes will benefit from protein intake at this level. Additionally, the researchers go on to say that protein intake within the 0.6 – 0.9g per lb of bodyweight may be advantageous when in a calorie deficit to help prevent the loss of muscle mass.
  • This study also concluded that 0.8g of protein per lbs of bodyweight is an optimal daily intake to building muscle for strength exercisers, whilst endurance exercisers can probably get away with 0.5 – 0.6g.
  • This study concluded that their results were “unable to show any significant evidence indicating that protein intakes above 2.0 g per kg per day [was effective] for enhancing strength and body composition changes in college strength/power athletes.”

This study in particular highlights the fact protein intake above 1g per lbs of bodyweight is not necessary for the recreational to semi-serious weightlifter, given that even under the physical demands of their training college strength and power athletes gained no additional benefits from a protein intake over 2g per kg which is the equivalent to 0.9g per lb.

What does this means and how do you calculate your intake?

This means that your actual daily protein intake is only 0.8g – 1g per lbs of bodyweight if you are strength training. This is probably quite a lot less than you are used to, but don’t worry it’s a good thing as it will give you more flexibility in your diet by freeing up some calories for carbs and fats.

How do you calculate your intake?

To keep it straightforward let’s, use a 150 lb male as an example.

  • Firstly, to work out what 0.8g per pound of his 150 lb bodyweight is we need to do the following calculation: 150 x 0.8 this gives us 120.
  • This 120 is the daily protein gram allowance our 150 lb guy wants to shoot for.
  • To work out what this is in calories we just need to multiply his daily protein gram allowance 120 by 4* - 120 x 4 = 480 *(4 is the number of calories per gram of protein)
  • Using these calculations we can see the total gram allowance is 120 g and this equals a total of 480 kcal from protein per day.

To calculate your protein intake based on a different weight you can use the same calculations, substituting 150lb for your weight and if you want to calculate a different level of protein intake you can substitute 0.8g for the new gram amount per lb of body weight.

Do you need to take protein supplements?

The answer to this question really depends on who you ask, the supplement industry is a big money business so you’ll always find someone who will tell you it’s a must. In my opinion, protein supplements are optional as they are not essential to your overall success.

Sure, some people find it easier, quicker and perhaps ultimately cheaper to use protein shakes but the truth is you can easily reach your protein needs using food sources.

Using food sources has the additional benefit of keeping you fuller for longer and being more satisfying as a meal. Not to mention that in comparison drinking your calories will always be less satisfying and will never keep you as full.

Good sources of protein

Protein can be found in a wide range of food items and will be found in the highest quantities in meat and seafood. Examples are;

Meat

  • Chicken
  • Beef 
  • Lamb 
  • Turkey
  • Pork

Seafood

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel
  • Seabass
  • Prawns

Dairy

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Yogurt

Legumes

  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Soybean
  • Black beans

Meat Alternatives

  • Tofu
  • Seitan
  • Quorn

Supplements

  • Whey protein
  • Casein protein
  • BCAAs

You should find that eating 2 portions of meat a day i.e. a chicken breast at lunch and a piece of beef or portion or turkey mince at dinner combined with the protein found in other food items in your diet will be enough for you to hit your goals without too much trouble. 

Summing Up

There you have it. 

A definitive answer on how much protein you need to build muscle or lose fat backed by science. Along with information on how to calculate it and where to get it from.


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