01 Jul How Much Protein Should You Eat Each Day?
Few nutrients are as important as protein. If you don’t get enough through your diet, your health and body composition suffer. However, there are vastly different opinions on how much protein people actually need. Most official nutrition organizations recommend a fairly modest protein intake. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight – or 0.36 grams per pound. Though this meager amount may be enough to prevent downright deficiency, studies show that it’s far from sufficient to ensure optimal health and body composition. It turns out that the right amount of protein for any one individual depends on many factors, including their activity level, age, muscle mass, physique goals, and current state of health. This article takes a look at optimal amounts of protein and how lifestyle factors like weight loss, muscle building, and activity levels factor in.
Protein — What Is It and Why Should You Care?
Proteins are the main building blocks of your body, used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve many important functions. Without protein, life as you know it would not be possible. Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. These linked amino acids form long protein chains, which are then folded into complex shapes. Some of these amino acids can be produced by your body, while you must get others through your diet. The latter are called essential amino acids. Protein is not just about quantity but also quality. Generally speaking, animal protein provides all essential amino acids in the right ratio for you to make full use of them — which makes sense, as animal tissues are similar to your own tissues. If you’re eating animal products like meat, fish, eggs, or dairy every day, you’re likely doing pretty well protein-wise already. However, if you don’t eat animal foods, getting all the protein and essential amino acids your body needs is a bit more challenging. In this case, you may be interested in this article on the 17 best protein sources for vegans.
Can Protein Help You Lose Weight?
Protein is incredibly important when it comes to losing weight. As you know, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. It’s well supported by science that eating protein can increase the number of calories you burn by boosting your metabolic rate (calories out) and reducing your appetite (calories in). Protein at around 25–30% of total daily calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80–100 calories per day, compared to lower protein diets. Yet, probably the most important contribution of protein to weight loss is its ability to reduce appetite and cause a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake. Protein keeps you feeling full much better than both fat and carbs. A recent study revealed that women who increased their protein intake to 30% of calories ended up eating 441 fewer calories per day and lost 11 pounds in 12 weeks — simply by adding more protein to their diet. But protein not only helps you lose weight, but it can also prevent you from gaining weight in the first place. In one study, a modest increase in protein from 15% to 18% of calories reduced the number of fat people regained after weight loss by 50%.
Take note: A protein intake at around 30% of calories seems to be optimal for weight loss. It boosts your metabolic rate and causes a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake.
A high-protein intake also helps you build and preserve muscle mass, which burns a small number of calories around the clock. Eating more protein makes it much easier to stick to any weight loss diet — be it high-carb, low-carb, or something in between. According to these studies, a protein intake of around 30% of calories may be optimal for weight loss. This amounts to 150 grams per day for someone on a 2000-calorie diet. You can calculate it by multiplying your calorie intake by 0.075.
Disregarding muscle mass and physique goals, people who are physically active such as dancers need more protein than their sedentary counterparts. A high-impact 60-minute Ballet (barre/center) class can burn up to 600 calories if you exert yourself and depending on technical difficulty, can require extensive muscle and tissue recovery. Endurance athletes also need significant amounts of protein — about 0.5–0.65 grams per pound, or 1.2–1.4 grams per kg. Older adults have significantly increased protein needs as well — up to 50% higher than the DRI, or about 0.45–0.6 grams per pound (1–1.3 grams per kg) of body weight. This can help prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia (reduction in muscle mass), both significant problems in the elderly. People recovering from injuries may also need more protein.
Does Protein Have any Negative Health Effects?
Protein has been unfairly blamed for a number of health problems. Some people believe that a high-protein diet can cause kidney damage and osteoporosis. However, these claims are not supported by science. Though protein restriction is helpful for people with pre-existing kidney problems, protein has never been shown to cause kidney damage in healthy people. In fact, a high protein intake has been found to lower blood pressure and help fight diabetes, which are two of the main risk factors for kidney disease. Any assumed detrimental effects of protein on kidney function are outweighed by its positive effects on these risk factors. Protein has also been blamed for osteoporosis, which seems strange considering that studies show that it can, in fact, prevent this condition. Overall, there is no evidence that a reasonably high protein intake has any adverse effects on healthy people trying to stay healthy.