**Skip through the first seven paragraphs or so if you already have an understanding of what protein is and what it does. You can move right onto how much you need and some recommendations from me.
We can all agree that protein is important, yes?
From the most carnivorous carnivores to the most earth loving vegans, protein is important. Our bodies require protein. We need protein. People have even been on record saying, they crave protein.
Why is protein important though? Some people will simple say, "for muscle". They aren't wrong. If that's all that I needed to explain to someone, I'd be happy. However, protein is used for so much more in the body, it's amazing and incredibly interesting. At least 10,000 different proteins create what you are and you should want to maintain, you!
Nutrition, fundamentally is all about supporting homeostasis or promoting stability inside your body when the environment around it may not be so stable. When our body is put under stress from growth/aging, activity, or other external factors it needs time and resources to recover and repair itself to get back to the state it previously was. At times it may adapt, like when you are lifting heavy weights, the body may "agree"to grow larger so it can do the work you continue to ask it to do.
More or less, however, your body is always looking to come back to a stable position and maintain itself. The body doesn't want to be broken down or comprised. It fights back, it wants to live. You may see this when you are inflamed after an injury, sore post workout, or when you have a fever. That's all a response by the body to maintain homeostasis which it believes is optimal health. The important point here is that it's protein that drives a lot of this process (C Reactive proteins and other antibodies, collagen, insulin, and much more). I'm really simplifying this here - so just realize there is so much more about protein we could talk about.
Back to what most people think about when they think protein - muscle! Cardiac muscle (heart), skeletal muscle (biceps, chest, quads...), and smooth muscle (organs) are all muscles that need to be maintained with protein. No one wants to have less cardiac muscle so their heart is weaker or less skeletal muscle so they're not as strong during workouts or less smooth muscle so their intestine isn't working properly. Protein helps maintain these muscles and as we grow or workout we need to provide protein (along with other nutrients and over calories) to help them adapt to the work we're asking them to do.
Last thing I'll say here is, proteins are made up of smaller pieces, those pieces or building blocks are called amino acids. There are 20 amino acid building blocks that make up a protein. These amino acids blocks link up together to form a chain. A protein isn't considered "complete" until it forms a chain of all 20 of these amino acids. These chains then link up to form complex structures a cell wall or a human body (organic chemistry is coming back to me know and I'm feeling nauseous).
What may be more confusing is that some protein foods are not actually complete or supply us with all the amino acids necessary to carry out the full job of what protein is made to do. Animal proteins, like meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, are similar to the protein found in our body. These are considered to be complete sources of protein. They contain all of the essential amino acids that our body needs. Good news though, vegetarians, non-meat animal proteins, like milk, yogurt, eggs and high- value plant proteins can be combined with "complementary foods", rice and beans for example, to provide all of the essential amino acids.
"I don't care if you're vegan, vegetarian, or taking bites out of live animals - you still need enough protein"
**Please know this isn't meant to be the most comprehensive breakdown on what protein is and all the functions is supports in the body. Check out
Bottom line: without protein in our body and consumed through our diet to replace it our body would be compromised and we couldn't do the work we ask it to do like workout, commute, or survive!
What are protein sources:
Meat, poultry and eggs: lean cuts of beef, pork loin, skinless chicken and turkey
Fish and seafood: salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp
Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods: yogurt, milk, cheese, cottage cheese
Legumes: beans, lentils, soy, peanuts
Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds
Supplements: whey, casein, plant proteins (soy, pea, rice...)
Like I briefly mentioned above, not all protein is created equal and not all protein sources are actually "good sources" or "complete sources" of protein.
What do I mean by that? It's best to consume foods that provide all 20 amino acids so it can be put to work in our body. Animal proteins tend to have them all together in one food like a ribeye, a chicken breast, eggs, or greek yogurt. These sources of protein may be more readily accessible and easy to prepare. By no means does this mean you need to eat only these. These sources may be more expensive and void nutrients plant sources provide.
Plant foods like rice, beans, wheat, peanuts, peas, or corn are missing some of the amino acids and can't fully support the function of what protein needs to do in the body. Alas, there are solutions here though; you can combine incomplete protein foods and form a complete protein like when you combine bread and peanut butter, split pea soup and corn bread, and the ever popular example of rice and beans. Even easier, there are complete plant protein: quinoa, tofu, tempeh, edamame, amaranth, buckwheat, spirulina, hemp seeds, chia seeds, nutritional yeast. These sources of protein may be less readily accessible and more challenging to prepare, however more cost effective and have other great health benefits vs animal proteins. By no means does this mean you should accept these are harder to incorporate and shouldn't put effort into eating these.
There is one more thing. The biological value. This refers to how well and how quickly the body can actually use the protein from these foods. Animal proteins, generally, have high biological value. They contain complete essential amino acids necessary for maintaining your body. Plant proteins can also be high biological value depending on the food. It should go without saying that if a protein doesn't absorb into your body well it's not as optimal as one that will. If you consume a protein that isn't absorbed well you may be required to eat more of it which can provide excess calories, you may need to spend more money and prepare more food, or you may just feel overwhelmed by how much you need to eat. There are also benefits to your body using protein more rapidly as in recovery from a workout; the faster protein can be delivered to the muscle delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) may be reduced and an individual can return back to maximum effort workouts faster. See below a table with 15 foods that are ranked by their biological value (BV).
"I will tell you - that if it works for you, if you are healthy, safe, and you are achieving the health outcomes you want to achieve - you do you."
The above my sound like I'm promoting one source of food over another. Call yourself vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or carnivore - I really don't care. I truly believe that by defining yourself by only one style of eating you're selling yourself short and missing out on the benefits of what all these foods can provide. Live too far on either side of the "I only eat this way" spectrum and you'll need to supplement with something, be it B12, fiber, magnesium, or whatever. Every style of eating has it's dark side as well as it's positives. Whether you stick to your eating stile from an environmental, humane, or health stand point just please don't alienate yourself or others. I will tell you - that if it works for you, if you are healthy, safe, and you are achieving the health outcomes you want to achieve - you do you.
Bottom line: Eat protein! Realize there are benefits to all proteins. Some may be more optimal for your lifestyle, but just make sure to incorporate protein.
How much protein do we need
Let's start by reminding you that protein is vital for life and how much protein you need depends on age, sex, health status and activity level. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.8 grams/kg).
56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
See the table table below for the protein content in a few common foods:
*record scratch* STOP!
Is this really enough protein though? Many professional organizations like the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietetic Association (CPSDA), and even the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) would say no. There is much evidence that to maintain muscle mass we need more and that as we age we require even more protein. Athletes certainly have been found to require more protein for optimal recovery and maintenance of muscle for the stress they put their body through.
In a 2018 study from The Journals of Gerontology that looked at 2,900 seniors over 23 years, found that older adults who consumed more protein were less likely to lose “functioning”defined as the ability to dress themselves, get out of bed, walk up a flight of stairs and more.
The ISSN has continued to recommend increasing dietary protein to levels significantly beyond current recommendations for athletic populations to 0.64 - 0.9 grams per pound (1.4-2.0 g/kg) as it may improve body composition.
According to the ISSN even higher protein intakes (1.05–1.4 g/pound fat free mass) may be required to maximize muscle retention in lean, resistance-trained subjects while eating at a calorie deficit.
During a calorie deficit for even the general population, it will benefit them to prioritize protein because it digests slow and maintains feelings of satiety. More importantly protein needs increase for muscle maintenance during that time as well just like in the resistance trained subjects.
What are my thoughts on all this? People don't eat enough protein. I'll say it again, people don't eating enough protein! Most individuals are either too busy to eat it, eat at fast casual restaurants that only provide so much protein, or they just don't know how much to consume for their body and their goals. Based on research I've read through over the years, I wouldn't recommend anyone I work with eat less than 0.55 grams per pound (1.2 g/kg). For most of my clients that are active or in a calorie deficit for body fat loss, I've settled on 0.8-1.1 grams of protein per pound (1.8-2.2 g/kg) and have found much success with clients and myself.
"For most of my clients that are active or in a calorie deficit for body fat loss, I've settled on 0.8-1.1 grams of protein per pound (1.8-2.2 g/kg) and have found much success with clients and myself."
I think people really just don't know how much protein they need or maybe have heard myths about protein, like it harms the kidneys, leaches calcium from bone, or compromises the liver, which are just un-true. One exception is individuals with current kidney dysfunction or kidney failure. This does not mean protein caused this - it means that they have compromised kidneys for another reason but will have trouble filtering out the byproducts of protein breakdown as well as other byproducts from other food sources. Protein will not cause the kidneys to be harmed. If you have healthy kidneys eat your protein.
Instead of just simply hitting a number, an amount of protein for the day, and thinking you're
good to go, you should also be aware of signs of protein deficiency: stress fractures, brittle hair and nails, muscle loss, weakness, extended recovery from workouts, lower body temperate , and reoccurring illness.
Bottom line: Eat your protein! For most of my clients that are active or in a calorie deficit for body fat loss, I recommend 0.8-1.1 grams of protein per pound (1.8-2.2 g/kg)
Food and supplement recommendations
Hitting your protein goal can be a challenge when you realize how much is optimal and how you currently eat. It can take time and effort! I will say that it's possible to get upward of 160-180 grams of protein per day, but again, it's challenging. It's definitely possible to get it from whole foods as well, but again, it's challenging. Don't disregard packaged food options and supplements because they aren't whole food, they are great to help plug up deficiencies.
People’s Choice Jerky or Epic Bar (chicken sriracha): Calories: 90-120 cal
Protein: 12-15 g
Fiber: 0 g
Carb: 0-1 g
Fat: 2.5-4.0 g
Dry Roasted Edamame: Calories: 100 (1/4 cup) 200 cal (1/2 cup)
Protein: 10 g / 20 g
Fiber: 5 g / 10 g
Carb: 8 g / 16 g
Fat: 3 g / 6 g
Protein: 12 g
Fiber: 4-6 g
Carb: 26 g
Fat: 7 g
Hard Boiled Eggs: Calories: 170
Protein: 16 g
Fiber: 0-1 g
Carb: 0-2 g
Fat: 11 g
Mackerel/Sardines/Anchovies Calories: 170-180 cal
Protein: 18-21 g
Fiber: 0 g
Carb: 0 g
Fat: 11 g
Bone Broth (1 cup) Calories: 45 cal
Protein: 9 g
Carb: 1 g
Fat: 0.5 g
Rise Bar: Calories: 280 cal
Protein: 20 g
Fiber: 4 g
Carb: 20 g
Fat: 16 g
Tuna Packs: Calories: 130 cal
Protein: 20 g
Fiber: 0 g
Carb: 0 g
Fat: 5 g
oatsovernight.com: Calories: 310 cal
Protein: 26 g
Fiber: 8 g
Carb: 44 g
Fat: 6 g
Quest Bar: Calories: 200 cal
Protein: 21 g
Fiber: 14 g
Carb: 21 g
Fat: 9 g
Fair Life Core Power
Calories: 240 cal
Protein: 42 g
Fiber: 3 g
Carb: 11 g
Fat: 3.5 g
*also available in a 26 gram protein option
Isopure Ready to Drink: Calories: 160 cal
Protein: 40 g
Fiber: 0 g
Carb: 0 g
Fat: 0 g *fruity/citrus flavors
You got this, Ryan