I’ve had a few people share that they struggle to get enough protein in their diet lately, so I thought I would put together a basic guide on the topic. We will cover:
the fundamental reasons why adequate protein intake is important to a healthy body (there are more reasons, but you now, we ain’t got all day)
how much protein you really need; and
some myths you’ve probably heard of.
I also have put together a nifty downloadable guide to ensure you don’t lose you gainz, bro.
Why protein matters
It helps keep you full for longer (1)
It helps you build muscle (2) if you are getting enough energy daily and strength training.
Conversely, if you are in a caloric deficit (i.e. if you are dieting) but still strength training, protein can help spare your hard-earned muscle mass (3)
Adequate protein intake can reduce sugar cravings and snacking (4)
Because protein doesn’t cause the blood sugar spikes that carbohydrates do, if you are taking in enough protein during the day you may experience fewer cravings for sweets come night-time, as your body will not be riding the blood sugar roller-coaster.
Protein promotes recovery, whether from injury or a hard workout (5)
How much you should shoot for?
Figures vary when it comes to protein recommendations, and some people take this question very seriously. Here are my two cents:
A common recommendation, especially for active folks, is to aim for 1g/lb of body weight. In the case of overweight individuals, this recommendation can be interpreted as 1g/lb of target body weight. The literature seems to show that 0.7g/lb of body weight is a minimum for active individuals.
What does that looks like?
The idea that the body can’t take up more than 20-25g of protein at a time has been thrown around in the fitness/bodybuilding world for years now, but it is not entirely true, because those studies were conducted using fast-digesting protein sources in the absence of other macronutrient sources. In other words, it may be true if you are chugging a protein shake, but not if you are having a well-rounded meal. (6)
However, this does not mean that you should be lumping all your protein into one meal. Indeed, you will feel fuller and better fueled if you learn to build a balanced plate where you consume a little of each macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) at each meal.
If you are just getting started with nutrition, your key takeaway should be that you should be consuming protein at every meal. This downloadable cheat sheet should help you with that, as well. Get in touch with me if you have any questions!
Word of caution
If your current protein consumption is vastly below the amounts we just discussed, I strongly encourage you to build up your protein intake slowly to avoid GI distress. For your sake and that of everyone around you, please go gradually, increasing your intake by about 10-15g a day each week (for instance, if you are currently consuming about 60g of protein, bump it up to 70-75g this week; then, next week, go up another 10-15g, etc)
Could you overdo it?
It is a myth that excessive protein intake is bad for your kidneys: while this is true for people with a rare pre-existing kidney condition, this is false for those with healthy kidneys. (7) If you are using whole food protein sources, it is going to be pretty hard to overdo it on the protein, aside perhaps for potential GI distress associated with a rapid, drastic increase in protein intake. So once again, just take it slow.
Supplementation: not ideal
If you are super active and struggling to get enough protein from whole food sources, a protein shake might be a good alternative for you. However, keep in mind that supplements are only second best to whole foods, so don’t rely on them too heavily! The cheat sheet I prepared for you might help you fill the gaps.
I completely understand that you may not wish to consume meat with every meal, or at all. And that is totally OK! There are a number of reasons why one might wish to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. The cheat sheet has got you covered, too.
Myth: beans are not a complete protein and have to be consumed in immediate conjunction with a grain to be effective.
No need to become a stickler for food combinations: as long as you consume your beans/legumes on the same day as some grains (wheat, corn, rice, etc), then you are golden.
For more pro-tips on how to make sure you are getting enough protein daily and a thorough list of protein sources so you never feel stuck in a chicken breast rut again, download the 411 on Protein Cheat Sheet!