How much protein do I really need?
::Steps onto soapbox::
The current accepted answer (in the medical community) is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This is what I learned in my nutrition class (from a PhD in nutrition). This means that a 125 pound woman needs about 45 grams of protein a day. This is actually down from many outdated recommendations.
Want to hear something crazy? That number might be overestimating.
I saw my brother about a week ago and he is STRONG. Rob is a vegetarian and has been for probably 7 or 8 years now (he’s 20). Rob is 6’4″ and close to 200 pounds, but he wears the same size shirt as my 6’1″ 165-170 pound fiance (hope they don’t mind me telling their weights, heh – and the shirt size is a men’s medium).
What I’m trying to say is that Rob is skinny and all muscle. I asked him how he bulked up. “I’m working out and eating tons of protein,” he says to me. “How much is ‘tons’?” I respond. “Oh, you know – maybe 50 or 60 grams a day.” The fact that he could gain so much muscle on just 50-60 grams of protein a day is quite a shock to some people, but Rob is living proof.
For some people that amount of protein may seem like a pittance. Those people would be wrong (IMHO). As a disclaimer, I will admit that protein needs can vary drastically if you are sick or have a specific medical condition. I’m speaking more about the average person, not those in extenuating circumstances. And I will admit that there is variation within the average – maybe Rob and I need less protein than the “average” person… but not that much less. I do best on a high-fat, high-veggie diet.
According to this site, the body burns about .34 grams of protein a day per kilogram of body weight. To add in a margin of safety, we can bump that number up to about .45 grams per day per kilogram of body weight (this would be just 26 grams per day for that 125 pound woman). That’s barely half of what the medical community is telling you the “required” amount is. I’m not shocked at this anymore. Our country likes to prop up big business – what better way to promote the meat industry than by telling our citizens that more protein is better?
If the requirements really are that low, it is nearly impossible to be protein deficient if you’re eating enough. Fresh vegetables and whole grains are fantastic sources of protein. Have you ever met someone who had a protein deficiency? Probably not. People that are protein deficient are usually junk food junkies or people who aren’t eating enough, period. One other way to be deficient is by eating poor sources of protein that are hard to digest (dairy comes to mind).
This is a direct quote for this site, because I can’t say it better:
“By the way, breast milk, which has been the ideal food for human babies for hundreds of thousands of years, provides 6% of calories as protein – far less than cow’s milk, which has 22% of calories as protein.”
How interesting. 6% of a 2000 calorie diet is just 120 calories – or just 30 grams of protein.
If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates (or enough in general), your body will start to use its protein for energy – a process called gluconeogenesis. If you have too much protein in your diet, gluconeogenesis breaks down the protein into glucose. You pee out the extra amino acids. One benefit of getting glucose from protein is that it doesn’t cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar (which is why higher protein diets can be good for people with diabetes). However, gluconeogenesis is taxing on the liver which is why high protein diets can damage the liver.
Basically, if you’re eating enough carbs, the your body uses carbs and spares protein – and is able to use the protein for the amino acids it needs. If it breaks down the protein for energy all those extra amino acids are wasted.
The other neglected and ostracized nutrient that I think is incredibly important is… FAT! Specifically healthy fats (this can include animal fats). Healthy fats promote hormone balance, fight depression, and fill us up.
::Steps off of soapbox::
What’s your favorite carb? Fat? Protein?
How much protein do YOU feel that YOU need?
(Back later with today’s journal-y entry. Just had to get this post out there.)