Consuming adequate protein has always been an important nutrition goal many people strive for. One reason may be that many people understand eating more protein can help with weight-loss and muscle building. There is an entire market based on this single macronutrient: protein shakes, drinks, bars, powders and much more. Protein is marketed to seem as if more protein is always better, however, this is not the case. Eating too much or too little protein can be counteractive in attaining an individual’s ideal body composition and health status. Each person’s ideal consumption of protein varies depending on their health and fitness goals; it’s a great idea to learn about what protein requirements may be best for you.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adults is 0.85 grams per kilograms of body weight. So, for example, if an adult weighs 150 pounds, they would require around 54 grams of protein daily. This requirement is a generalized standard and therefore is not applicable to everybody. Growing and developing children are advised by the Allowance to consume more protein than an adult.
Increasing the percentage of protein in a person’s diet while decreasing fat or carbohydrate consumption has been shown to have benefits in weight loss, but it is not proven. Protein may help with weight loss because it can increase satiety, especially when eaten with a carbohydrate. Protein has been found to increase dietary thermogenesis, which is increasing the energy needed to digest and absorb nutrients. In a more specific study, a modest protein increase paired with a small reduction of high glycemic index foods (measure of how quickly carbohydrates affect blood glucose) had shown to have a positive effect in weight loss. Could this mean that the more protein you eat the easier it will be to lose weight?
According to Nancy Clark in her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, the typical American actually consumes 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which is enough protein to benefit an adult who considers themselves a recreational exerciser. However, if you consider yourself an adult building muscle mass, Clark suggests 1.6-1.8 g/kg of body weight. Many avid gym-goers or weightlifters are set on the idea that eating a lot of protein is the key for building up muscle, but this is true only to an extent. This means that it is productive to eat more protein if you’re trying to build muscle in the gym, because it will help your body repair damaged muscle and tissue that is a result of training. However, it’s also important to understand that excess protein does not turn into muscle. If someone consumes more protein than their body weight and activity level requires, the excess protein will be broken down for energy or stored as fat. Also, fueling your body with too much protein could restrict your carbohydrate intake, depriving your muscles of carbohydrates that they normally use for energy. In more extreme cases, eating too much protein has also been linked to an increase in risk of osteoporosis, as well as further kidney issues in people who already have kidney problems or diabetes.
While overeating protein can lead to weight gain or (in the more extreme cases) certain health issues, eating too little protein could do just as much damage. A lack of essential amino acids from protein can halt the synthesis of structural proteins in the body, which is important for repairing and replacing damaged tissue. It’s important for vegetarians to complement proteins by eating different variety of plant-based proteins in a 24-hour span. Plant-based proteins are not considered complete proteins by themselves and do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Fortunately, eating a variety of legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and vegetables will provide all of the essential amino acids needed for protein synthesis. Only a little under 3 percent of Americans do not obtain enough protein, which is mainly due to severe food restrictions, unhealthy dieting, or food-insecurity.
Understanding your own physical activity level and fitness goals can help you determine your protein needs. If you’re unsure how much protein you normally eat, try downloading My Fitness Pal and log your food for a few days to see where your nutritional standing is. Most would be surprised to see that they’re eating enough, or even too much, protein.
Ally Littlefield can be reached at [email protected]