Nutrition Inspiration

March 21, 2018

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

I have clients ask me about protein all the time. Have you wondered if you are getting enough and is there such thing as too much? I am here today to break it down and explain some of the most important aspects of adding protein into your diet.

What is Protein?

Protein is a macronutrient in our diet, meaning you need to consume large amounts to remain healthy. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are all macronutrients. You might think of muscles when you think of protein but it is so much more than that. Every cell in our body is made from protein. Our hair, nails, body tissues, and hormones are all made of protein. It also works to repair tissue damage in our body and facilitates growth in children and pregnancy. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids.

Our bodies are able to make some amino acids but there are 9 amino acids that are considered ‘essential’ meaning we can only get them from the foods we eat. A complete protein is a food that contains all of the essential amino acids. Most sources of complete proteins are from animal based foods. This does not mean the ONLY source of protein is from animal foods. Plants contain amino acids as well, the only difference is they are usually not complete, meaning they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids. The good news is if you eat a variety of foods throughout the day, you will be getting a variety of amino acids in order to build protein in your body.

Eating protein also helps keep us full longer because it is not broken down and digested as quickly as carbohydrates. This is why it is a good idea to have protein at every meal and every snack if you can.

How much protein do we need per day?

This question isn’t as straight forward as you might think. The basic answer is a healthy, sedentary adult should get at least 0.8grams per kg of body weight. So, for example if you are 140lbs / 2.2 = 64kg x 0.8 = 51grams of protein per day. To put that in perspective 1 egg has about 13 grams of protein, 3 oz of beef (a piece the size of a deck of cards) has 22 grams of protein. That doesn’t seem like very much, and it isn’t. For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, that is only 10% of your total calorie consumption. According to comprehensive research reviews and studies, a good target for protein intake can be between 15-25% of your calories. This number varies greatly depending on age, sex, activity level, and current health status. What is sometimes more important than the exact amount of protein is the type of protein. Eating healthier proteins is important for your overall health. If you aren’t sure whether your getting enough protein throughout the day work with me to get on the right track.

Healthy Sources of Animal Protein

  • Eggs
  • Lean Meats that are baked or grilled- examples include chicken or turkey breast, tenderloin cuts of meat, grass-fed meats are leaner and have more healthy fats in them.
  • Grilled and steamed fish
  • Yogurt and cheese

Plant Based Sources of Protein

Even if you are not a vegetarian or vegan (someone that does not consume any animal products) it is important to get protein from sources other than animal products. Proteins from this group contain ‘protein and carbohydrates’ or ‘protein and fat’. This is actually really good because it adds balance to our meals as well as fiber and other vitamins and minerals we might not get from animal products.

  • Beans (also contain carbohydrates)- black beans, chickpeas, lima, kidney, pinto etc.
  • Nuts (also contain fats)- almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios etc.
  • Legumes- peanuts
  • Lentils (also contain carbohydrates)
  • Seeds – pumpkin, hemp, chia, flax etc.
  • Whole Grains (also contain carbohydrates) – brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, adlai, whole wheat etc.
  • Soy based products- soy milk, tofu, seiten, tempeh, etc. You want to stay away from the highly processed “meat substitute” items like hotdogs, tofu bacon, etc. because these foods are high in sodium, additives and preservatives.
  • Protein powders – there are many protein powders coming out now that are rice, hemp and pea based. I linked to protein powders I recommend below.

Garden of Life Organic Vegan Protein Powder with Vitamins and Probiotics
Garden of Life Greens and Protein Powder
Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder
Vega Protein & Greens, Plant Protein Shake

Can I get enough protein if I am a vegan or vegetarian?

Yes, absolutely. There are even successful body builders that follow a vegan lifestyle! You just have to pay a bit more attention to make sure you are eating enough. Plant based protein is not digested as fully as animal based protein because of the fiber and other nutrients it contains. So you should eat more than the standard 0.8g/kg to make sure you are still getting adequate amounts.

Is it possible to eat too much protein?

You can eat to much protein but it’s not usually something healthy people have to worry about. The main concerns are-  eating too many animal proteins can lead to constipation, weight gain (any food in excess), and heart disease if the protein is high in saturated fat. Also, if you have kidney problems or have certain diseases eating too much protein can be harmful. If you think you might fit in this category be sure to talk to your doctor. I hope this goes without saying but you also don’t want to be eating all protein all the time. A health balanced day incorporates healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Please leave questions in the comment area and I will be sure to answer them! If you enjoyed this article and learned something new be sure to share this with friends.

Cheers ~ Amanda

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