If you’re confused about how much protein you need per day, you’re not alone. There’s not a cut-and-dried answer. Everyone has a different “need” depending on gender, weight, activity level and goals.
I’ve been doing a lot of research to try to answer this question for myself. There is a lot of information out there. Here is the lowdown on what I found.
What is the RDA for protein:
The purpose of the RDA guidelines is to inform you how much of a specific nutrient your body needs on a daily basis to function properly. So basically, depending on your weight and activity level, the RDA for protein can be viewed as the minimum requirement to keep you healthy.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for men is 56 grams per day and 46 grams per day for women.
Chances are you may need more. But how much more and why?
What is Protein?
Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body, making up roughly 20 percent of your total body weight. Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. Also, protein plays a major role in all of the cells and most of the fluids in your body. Although your body is good at “recycling” protein, you use it up constantly, so it is important to continually replace it.
Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids. Your body can produce some of these amino acids, but others must be consumed through the diet. Animal products (meat, eggs, dairy) and many plant foods are good sources.
Follow this link to see what’s included in the protein food group:
Protein and Weight Loss
When you want to gain muscle and lose fat, eating the right amount of protein is key. Protein and the amino acids that make it up are required for two main reasons.
1) To construct muscle – they are the building blocks
2) They act as a switch to ‘signal’ that it’s time to start up the “muscle building machinery”.
Leucine is probably the most important amino acid that stimulates this “switch” and is highly present in protein rich food.
Because protein is required to build muscle AND to signal the body to start this process, it’s important to spread out protein consumption evenly throughout the day.
How Much Do You Need?
“When it comes to building muscle and losing fat, research consistently shows that doubling the RDA spaced out throughout the day is the path you want to take to get the best results the fastest”. (BJ Gaddour, “Men’s Health, Your Body is Your Barbell”). This seems like a good rule of thumb in general. Let’s see what other people say.
Nutritionists use a standard to estimate your minimum daily protein requirement.
Multiply the body weight in pounds by .37.
Using this formula, a 150 lb. man would require a minimum of 55 grams of protein per day. This falls right in with the RDA. And if you’re very active and exercise frequently, professionals agree you can nearly double this requirement. Be advised, though, if you’re shooting for a gram of protein per pound of body weight, or more, you’re probably overdoing it. The extra protein will not necessarily benefit you. Also, that’s a lot for the body to process and the extra calories will most likely end up as fat.
To look at it another way, it is recommended that 10-35% of your daily calories come from protein. This is a rather large range and where you fall in it also depends on your weight and activity level. For a diet of 1800 calories per day, this means anywhere from a minimum of 45 grams of protein to over 150 grams of protein per day. That 35% is a pretty high number and may be overdoing it for a lot of people. In my diet, I lean towards around 20% protein.
So you see, there are various rules of thumb to figure out the ideal protein for you.
Tracking the Protein Grams you Eat
Many foods contain protein, but at the end of the day, how do you know how much you’ve consumed?
Here is an easy rule of thumb:
Remember the numbers 1, 5, 10, 15, 25 to roughly estimate protein intake.
- 1 gram of protein for every serving of fruit and vegetables
- 5 for every egg or handful of nuts you eat
- 10 for every cup of milk or yogurt
- 15 for every cup of beans or half-cup of cottage cheese
- 25 for every 3-4 ounce serving of meat
Protein and Exercise Recovery
After a workout your body switches immediately from performance mode to recovery mode. It’s important to rebuild broken down muscle so you can come back stronger in your next training session. It is a great idea to refuel with protein right after your workout. Try a protein shake. Whey is a rapidly digested protein source loaded with leucine that will help maximize muscle recovery and growth.
Nutrient Timing: Exercise Recovery and Carbs
I found an extra helpful tidbit in my research about muscle recovery and carbs.
Nutrient timing is the concept that certain foods benefit your body more at specific times of the day than at others. After exercise, your muscles want to restock their supply of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. This is the time that your muscles are primed to take in the carbs you eat. In fact, after exercise is one of the few times carbs are preferentially transported to your muscles and away from your fat cells.
It’s a great idea to plan your starchiest meal of the day within 2 hours of your training. This could be breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on when you workout.
Your other meals of the day should consist of protein and nutrient dense carbs and vegetables.
A Few Last Words…
I hope this helps answer some questions you have about protein or got you thinking more about nutrition. As a trainer I am all about the workout but honestly, 75 – 80% of the weight loss equation concerns what you put in your mouth.
Wishing you much success!