As a society and a culture, we seem to have an obsession with protein. One only needs to look at any store grocery shelf and see the advertisers vying for customers by touting PROTEIN on the box or label. Somewhere along the way we learned to equate protein with “good”, and carbs and fat with “bad”. Is protein deserving of this label, and how much do we really need?
As a dietitian I see and analyze plenty of diets. The reality is that there is way too much hype about getting enough protein. As long as a student is getting enough calories, I rarely see a deficiency of protein. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that most healthy adults get 0.8 grams per kg of body weight. This equates to about 45 grams per day for women, and 65 grams per day for men. The USDA found that most of us get at least 69 grams per day, and this is true even for vegetarians. If you are a serious athlete, or trying to increase muscle mass via weight training, than your needs will of course be higher. For these individuals I’ll calculate 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kg body weight, bumping the daily requirement anywhere from 65 to 125 grams. Even at the higher level, it’s usually not a challenge to meet.
Besides the obvious of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, vegetable and foods from the bread and cereal group also contribute a decent amount of protein. With protein we find it is best to spread your intake throughout the day, i.e, 20 grams with breakfast, 20 grams with lunch, and 20 grams with dinner. This not only helps the body utilize the amino acids via a steady supply, it can also help with satiety. Several studies have shown that proteins are the most satiating of the three macronutrients (carbs and fat). So when you consume protein steadily throughout the day, you’ll not only be meeting your needs, you’ll also help curb and control your appetite as well.
And one more mention about protein and timing is related to when and what to eat post-workout. If you are trying to bulk up, you’ll want to consume some protein within 30 to 45 minutes after lifting. At this time the muscles and body are most receptive to those amino acids, and you’ll reap the benefits via a quicker recovery and a quicker path to increased muscle mass. It is recommended to consume 12 to 20 grams of protein in that window. This can be a greek yogurt, half a peanut butter sandwich, or even a glass of chocolate milk. As for protein powders, drinks, and shakes, there is nothing magical in them that you can’t get in good old fashioned food. They are convenient, but also usually fairly pricey. If money is no object, feel free to indulge. However, if you are like most of us, life comes with a budget, and protein powders and such can eat into those funds pretty quickly.
Remember, eat a balanced diet from all the food groups, get enough calories, and have a plan to get some protein in at each and every meal. With this simple strategy, you’ve got your protein needs easily met.