Your doctor, your mother, your persistent, nagging, personal trainer. All of them are telling you the same thing over, and over again. Gone are the days of trying to get you to finish your veggies, but now it is to eat more PROTEIN!!! Kidding about the veggies part...still eat those.
WHY IS PROTEIN IMPORTANT?
Okay so maybe your mother isn’t telling you to eat more protein, and maybe not even your doctor, but I would bet your trainer is. No, protein isn’t just something that will help you fill out your schmedium shirt, but rather is an essential macronutrient that does most of the work within your cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
Assuming that you are engaging in some form of strength training, then it’s safe to assume that building lean muscle is a desired outcome. Even if your goal isn't to gain size, and you want to trim down, or just get stronger, you will still have to build lean muscle in addition to potentially losing some body fat.
Protein sources provide essential amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for muscle growth and energy, as well as recovery. Even if you’re not strength training, protein keeps your immune system functioning properly (a big deal these days with COVID), can help reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease, can help curb appetite, and aid in weight loss.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD I HAVE?
This is the area where people usually give a little pushback because it sounds either impossible or undesirable. Most folks don’t love consuming copious amounts of meat, poultry, and fish to hit their protein intake goal for the day and that’s understandable, we will go over how to realistically implement these in a second.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that the average individual should consume about .35 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for a 150 pound individual, they should be consuming about 55 grams of protein per day. Now that’s a fairly low estimate, and doesn’t account for any kind of exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that for an individual who is engaging in strength training, and has the goal of increasing lean muscle tissue, should consume between .5 and .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For the same 150 pound individual, that would equate to 75-120 grams of protein per day. Now that’s a fairly large range and can be determined by how often you’re strength training and lifestyle preferences. If you are engaging in weightlifting once, maybe twice a week you can get away with the .5-.6 grams/lb range. If it’s more than that, then go with .7-.8 grams/lb to aid with proper recovery.
*It should be noted that at a certain point there is a diminishing return with excess protein. For example, say a 300 lb individual was strength training 4x/week, they wouldn’t need to consume 240 g of protein. That would be a bit excessive and probably lead to complications with digestion and adherence to the plan. Consult a professional if this is the case and find out what may work best for you, typically anything over 200 grams of protein per day is most likely unnecessary.*
HOW AM I GOING TO EAT ALL THAT PROTEIN??
Okay so perhaps it sounds daunting to eat over 100 grams of protein in a day, and it can be a challenge if you’re not used to it. But protein can be easier to rack up than you think, and there are a ton of foods that have protein that you may have never accounted for.
First, let’s begin with the main sources. These include red meat, poultry, fish, greek yogurt, eggs, protein powder, and meat substitutes (tempeh, tofu, etc.). This does not include beans, nuts, or anything similar as those are sources of either fat or carbs that happen to have some protein as an added benefit.
4 ounces of chicken breast has about 25 g of protein. Your average 6 ounce sirloin steak has about 45 grams. A scoop of protein powder has 20-25 grams. Let’s say for breakfast you had a fruit smoothie with protein powder, lunch was a salad with some chicken and black beans in it, snack was a cup of greek yogurt with fruit, and dinner you had salmon with rice and veggies. That’s easily over 100 grams of protein right there! That doesn’t even account for the protein that is in rice, bread, any nuts you may have had, and other small things throughout the day that add up.
All this to say that increasing protein intake can sound like an uncomfortable process, but if you vary the source and pick things that you know you like and can stick to, it shouldn’t be too overwhelming to be somewhere in that .5-.8 grams/pound of bodyweight range.