How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?
Would you consider yourself someone that eats enough or not enough protein? Whether you are aware of it or not, you may be consuming more than you think. According to the dietary guidelines, almost 60% of the US population meets or exceeds the recommended amount of protein. Protein is essential for various functions in the body but protein in excess can also be harmful. High protein intake in conjunction with low carb intake requires the body to break down more protein into energy; this increases ammonia levels, which causes muscle fatigue. Therefore, high protein intake can backfire when it comes to physical performance and being aware of how much protein your body needs is important.
Most of the protein consumed by Americans, comes from food sources high in saturated fat such as beef, chicken, pork and processed meats (deli cuts, sausages, hot dogs). Intake of saturated fat can lead to increased cholesterol levels and a higher risk for heart disease. Protein foods such as fish and legumes are consumed the least among Americans and yet these foods have been linked to preventing heart disease. Therefore, protein intake should be varied, and the amount of protein consumed should be appropriate for the individual. Here are some ways to find out what protein amounts are right for you and how to incorporate a variety of protein sources in your diet:
Protein recommendations for the general population The recommended dietary allowance for protein among the general US population is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Take, for example, an individual that weighs 63.5kg (140 lbs.). According to the 0.8g of protein per kilogram bodyweight recommendation, this individual only needs 51g of protein per day. Although this recommendation is for normal, healthy individuals, it’s important to know that age, sex, health status and activity levels are factors that can influence protein needs. To find your protein needs based on age and sex, check out MyPlate's recommendations.
Protein recommendations for athletes Athletes require a higher protein intake than the general population with recommendations of 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The more demanding the activity or sport, the higher the recommendation of grams per kilogram. Extensive research suggests soy, eggs, dairy, fish or meat should be the primary protein choice after an exercise session because these foods enhance muscle repair and growth. It’s important to note that athletes can consume more protein without reaching dangerous levels of ammonia due to the high consumption of carbs. Eating enough carbs also conserves more muscle mass due to the body utilizing less protein for energy.
How to calculate your protein intake Calculating your protein needs can be quick and simple. First, you’ll want to convert your body weight from pounds into kilograms. To do this, divide your weight by 2.2. For example, we’ll use 150 lbs / 2.2 = 68kg. Next, multiply your weight times 0.8. 68kg x 0.8g protein = 54g of protein per day. If you need more protein in your diet due to exercise or a more active lifestyle, multiply by 1-1.2 g per kilogram body weight. If you are 60 and over, you may want to consider using 1g, as research suggests that sarcopenia may be prevented or slowed down. (Note: Individuals with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or impaired kidneys should consult a Registered Dietitian about the appropriate amount of protein that should be consumed.) Remember, there are a variety of ways you can incorporate protein into your diet. Protein does not end with chicken, beef or pork and with the current shortage of these foods due to COVID-19, it is a great time to start incorporating more plant-based proteins. Additionally, incorporating a variety of protein sources into your eating pattern will be good for your health.
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Written by: Manuel Alonso, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern