Protein – How Much is Enough?
Protein is not just for great skin, hair, and nails; it’s critical for health. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to repair damage, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods.
Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein’s great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.
Protein is important, and this is a given.
There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein we need. I go through those calculations with you. Then I list the amount of protein in some common foods.
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How much protein is enough?
There isn’t a real rule that applies equally to everyone. There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.
Start with the minimum recommendation of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day.
So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55 g protein/day.
Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It’s not optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking, and great moods. It’s not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these camps, you may need to increase the minimum protein intake. Aim closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day.
Athletes need more protein for their energy and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that’s common in old age. And injured people need more for recovery and healing.
How much protein is too much?
As with fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can cause weight gain. Extra protein can be converted into sugars or fat in the body. The interesting thing about protein is that it isn’t as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat; this is because of its “thermic effect.”
The thermic effect is the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. To digest protein, your body needs to spend energy (i.e., burn calories). More calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates.
If you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues.
FUN FACT: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.
How much protein is in food?
- A 3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g
- A 3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g
- ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g
- A large egg contains 6 g
- ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g
- 1 medium baked potato contains 3 g
My favorite is chicken because it’s lean and is high in protein for the amount you eat. I mean, I love eggs too, but I would have to eat over 5 eggs to get the same amount of protein that is in one 3.5 oz chicken breast.
And the calories are not the same in 5 eggs compared to 3.5 oz of chicken, even though there are only 4 calories per gram of protein in each. There is more in each of these than just protein. Those 5 eggs have about 400 calories compared to the 3.5 oz of chicken with 220 calories.
Be smart in your choices. And really look at what you’re getting. All calories are not created equal, not even protein calories.
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Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. “Enough” is about 0.8 – 1.3 g/kg (0.36 – 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you’re a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you’re an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level.
Too much protein can cause weight gain, just like too much of anything, so it’s best to have just enough.
This is one of those things where more is not better. Your body can only use so much protein, but it does need enough.