When you hear the term “protein intake,” you might think just about building muscle, but it’s really much bigger than that. Protein is essential for our bodies to work properly from head to toe, as we are literally made of protein.
You can think of protein as the worker bees of your body. Each protein has a job and is doing that job pretty much all the time. Protein rarely just sits around idle in your body, nor is muscle simply “stored” protein. In fact, the body actually doesn’t store protein at all. The proteins of your body — made up of individual components called amino acids — are acting as the manpower of movement, the hard-working immune system and carriers of oxygen in your blood, just to name a few roles.
When it does come to muscle, dietary protein is essential for ensuring your body has the necessary building blocks (amino acids) to maintain and build lean body mass. Without a surplus of amino acids available to the muscles, they will not grow in strength or size. Of course, the existence of protein in the body is not enough to build muscle; adding resistance exercise to your daily routine will get you on the fast track to muscle growth.
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Nine out of the 20 possible amino acids are essential, meaning the body cannot make them on its own and they must be ingested. Animal proteins are “complete” proteins because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins (such a legumes) are not all complete proteins but can be paired together to easily meet your amino acid needs.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?
Protein has a Recommended Dietary Allowance level of 0.8 g/kg of body weight. However, this is technically the minimum daily average intake level to meet the requirements of 97–98% of Americans. So while this is a good starting place, there is certainly a lot of wiggle room based on individual lifestyle and personal goals.
Many eating styles suggest using a percentage of your total calories to determine your protein needs is sufficient. While this is a decent guideline, it doesn’t really account for your unique body and personal goals. Therefore, determining your general protein needs is best defined by using your weight.
Most formulas will use kilograms as the body weight measurement. You can easily convert your weight in pounds to kilograms with this formula:
Weight in pounds / 2.2 = weight in kilograms
For example: 150 lbs / 2.2 = 68.2 kg
DAILY PROTEIN NEEDS
The range of recommended protein varies for different populations. You should consider protein intake a range to experiment with, not a set in stone, never-miss number. Working with a range gives you flexibility based on activity levels that day, hunger, the way your body feels and desired outcomes.
These guidelines are based on several sources of expert associations in fitness and nutrition. While this is a good guide, it’s best to consult a physician or registered dietitian nutritionist to determine your ideal protein range.
|Recommended Dietary Allowance by the Dietary Guidelines||0.8 g/kg of body weight|
|Average healthy adults||1.0–1.5 g/kg of body weight|
|Active adults who exercise regularly||1.1–1.6 g/kg of body weight|
|Active adults trying to lose weight||1.6–2.0 g/kg body weight|
|Weightlifters looking to gain muscle||1.2–2.0 g/kg of body weight|
|Older adults over 50||1.0–1.5 g/kg of body weight|
|Endurance athletes||1.3–1.6 g/kg of body weight|
Newer research is beginning to look not just at how much protein is needed daily but also how and when it is consumed throughout the day. It seems to make a difference on body composition, satiety and even athletic performance when protein is spread throughout the day instead of eaten more heavily at one time of the day (e.g., dinnertime). Research has shown interesting results that spreading total protein needs over the day evenly (about 20–30 grams per meal) is more effective at stimulating muscle synthesis and may translate to an overall healthier body long term.