Fitness columnist Emmet Rushe cracks into the confusion about protein to give a guide on how much we really need to eat.
Protein is a German word that is taken from the Greek word Proteios, meaning the first in.
There is no question about it; protein is the most important macronutrient in your diet, but many people are confused as to how much protein they really need to consume.
One question I get asked a lot, (and by a lot I mean A LOT!), is ‘how much protein should I take?’
This is usually asked by people looking to either build muscle or burn fat.
The question in itself is a bit of an open-ended question, as there are a number of factors that you have to take into consideration before you can give a straight answer.
If you listen to the media over the past few years, they would have you believe that over-consumption of protein will cause health issues such as cardio vascular problems and kidney problems. These claims are false and have been debunked by several studies in recent years.
It is however recommended that if you have a pre-existing renal issue, you should monitor your protein intake.
For people in good health, protein is safe.
Not only is it safe, it is the one macronutrient that you shouldn’t be leaving out from your meals if your goals are fat loss or muscle gain.
So: Why Protein?
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body.
Hair and nails are mostly made of protein.
Your body uses protein to build and repair tissue.
You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals.
Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood
Protein also has a high thermic effect.
Protein requires 25-30% of the energy it provides just for digestion, absorption, and assimilation while carbs only require 6-8% and fat requires 2-3%.
That means that eating protein can lead to a higher metabolic rate which means greater fat loss when dieting and less fat gain during phases of muscle gain.
You are burning fat through eating alone.
Protein also has a better satiety effect (the sense of being “full” or “satisfied” after a meal), compared to carbs and fats.
You will feel fuller for longer and will be less likely to snack in between meals.
Diets higher in protein have also been shown to lead to greater weight loss than low protein diets.
So the question is just how much protein is enough?
This will depend on a few of the things I mentioned to above.
Are you training?
What age are you?
What are your goals? (Fat loss or muscle gain?)
If you are inactive, the RDA of 0.8g per kg of bodyweight is more than enough for you.
For older adults this increases to 1g per kg of bodyweight.
For active individuals, especially those involved in strength training regimens, studies have consistently shown optimal intake to be about 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
For an alternative and a method that I personally use, set your protein at 1g per pound of GOAL BODY WEIGHT.
This means that if you want to be a lean 60kg (132lbs) you would consume 132g of protein per day.
If you are feeling a bit lost here and you don’t want to start lifting a calculator every time you eat a meal, I also use the Precision Nutrition method with clients and in my classes.
You will use your hand as a measuring tool.
For fat loss you simply have a palm sized portion of protein with every meal.
Your palm is like a tailor-made portion controller for you each portion should be the thickness of your thumb.
Protein is something that you should have in your diet.
The benefits outweigh any negatives that you could think of and if you want improved body composition, protein is simply a must.