The recommended daily amount (RDA) for protein is 0.8g per kg of bodyweight. At 175lbs (79kg) you would eat 63g of protein. Does that sound like enough? The RDA guideline is intended to meet minimum requirements for nitrogen balance in healthy moderately active people. Essentially, RDA is useful if your goal is to consume the minimum amount of protein to prevent disease. But what if you’re trying to gain muscle? Lose fat? Gain strength, improve performance, or improve your energy? If you’re thinking your protein needs might be higher, you’re thinking correctly.
Before we talk about protein requirements, I think it’s important that we mention weight training. Weight training is the catalyst for muscle growth. As you place greater stress on your muscle tissue by adding weight to the bar or reps to your sets we force the need for adaptation. The adaptation is larger and stronger muscle tissue to accommodate your next bout of exercise. The training is the catalyst and protein is the raw materials your muscles need to grow and recover.
If you’re not consuming enough protein you may eventually fall short of your goals. Consuming too little protein too long and you could find yourself; lacking energy, experiencing prolonged soreness, with increased body fat, eventually loss of muscle (think flabby where muscle used to be), your hair may thin, be more prone to injury, and your cognition could suffer.
Protein makes up organs and muscles, helps with enzymatic processes to make energy, and it provides the building blocks for various hormones and amino acids that are used to make neurotransmitters for your brain. If there is not enough protein in your diet, your body will pull protein FROM your muscle tissue. Which can lead to the less than desirable effects mentioned above. All of these processes have a cost (the cost is dietary protein). This is why most lifters and athletes find that more protein is required than RDA for performance and physique improvement. You’re asking your body to do more “work” which requires more of an investment from dietary protein to meet all your body’s needs.
So how much?
A review published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition concluded:
“Those involved in strength training might need to consume as much as 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram per day. While those undergoing endurance-based training might need 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram per day.”
This means, for a weight trainer weighing 175lbs, a protein intake of 126g to 134g per day. For an endurance athlete, 95g to 126g would be needed per day.
In my own experience, whether in coaching or with myself, even more protein may be needed. Thankfully, there is research to support this. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism evaluated the effects of dietary protein on body composition in calorically restricted (burning more calories than consuming) resistance-trained athletes. It aimed to provide protein recommendations for these athletes.
Their results indicated “the range of 2.3 to 3.1 grams per kg of fat-free mass is the most consistently protective against the losses of lean tissue.” That’s 2-3g of protein per kg of lean tissue to conserve muscle mass. Continuing with our 175lbs example. This person could intake 158g to 237g of protein per day.
If you’re not an athlete and trying to lose fat how does this apply to you? Remember if you are trying to lose fat, you’re likely calorically restricted, and if the protein isn’t high enough you can lose muscle tissue. Losing muscle is losing FUNCTION! What do I mean? Well, carbohydrates are stored in the body in 2 main places 1. Your liver (stores ~100g) 2. Your muscles (~400g -The glycogen storage capacity of skeletal muscle increases as your muscle mass increases- read that again). When your body needs energy it can break down the stored carbohydrate (glycogen) and release it into the blood for your cells to use to make energy. If you’re losing muscle tissue, let's say fast-twitch fiber (where the majority of muscle glycogen is stored) you’re losing the ability to store glycogen. Remember more muscle means more storage capacity for carbohydrates - losing muscle means you literally have less places to store glycogen and you lose energy reserves.
What happens if you’re losing more slow-twitch muscle? Well, our slow-twitch or endurance muscle has the highest mitochondria count. Remember from high school biology - mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells. These organelles help us make energy (ATP) from our food. If you’re losing muscle you’re losing energy storage capacity and likely decreasing the amount of ATP - life-sustaining energy- you can generate! If you’re generating less ATP from the fat and carbohydrates you eat that can translate to decreased performance, loss of strength, and endurance. Losing muscle will yield less energy reserve capacity and decreased ability to make energy-losing function.
Now, what do we do with all this information? What should YOU intake? If you have healthy kidneys (easy to find out with blood work) and have no preexisting conditions suggesting limiting protein, Aim for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight and overtime see what differences you notice in your recovery, muscle mass, body fat percentage, energy levels, and performance.
What would 175g of protein look like on a plate during your day? I would split the protein evenly across 5 feedings. This makes it much easier to consume your protein requirements.
175g protein divided evenly into 5 meals equals 35g protein per meal.
Breakfast (Meal 1) 3 whole eggs, 4 egg whites
Snack (Meal 2) 1.5scoops protein powder (various on brand most supply 20-25g per scoop)
Lunch (Meal 3) 3.5oz chicken breast
Snack (Meal 4) 1.5scoops protein powder (various on brand most supply 20-25g per scoop)
Dinner (Meal 5) 3.5oz flank steak
NOTE: This is just an example of how you could consume 175g of protein. It is not a suggested meal plan. You would need to add the desired amount of vegetables, carbohydrates, and fats to your daily meals for a well-rounded nutritional approach. I have found most people prefer a mix of carbs and fats for their energy requirements. We will expand on this in the future. It’s important to use a mix of protein sources, there's no magic in the sources mentioned above. These are protein sources I have favored over the years. I’ve also felt a high-quality protein shake can make meeting protein needs easier. Simply adding these 2 shakes adds 70g of protein, it’s time-efficient and involves less preparation.
Aim for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight and over time see what differences you notice in your recovery, muscle mass, body fat percentage, energy levels, and performance. This makes it painfully easy to calculate, hop on your scale. If you weigh 190lbs, eat 190g protein, if you weigh 167lbs eat 167g; you get the idea. Divide that number by 5 meals and make a plan that’s sustainable for you to meet your protein needs! Adequate protein is especially important if you are weight training, desire to gain muscle, minimize fat gain, or optimize recovery and performance.
Best in health,
B.S. Community Health