How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
For weeks, my husband has been talking about how obnoxiously sore he is. He says he is tired of that and feels pretty beet up any time we do a workout. It makes complete sense, they guy is working a physical labor job 12 hours per day and climbing, practicing yoga, and going for an occasional run when he can.
In general, there are three explanations for lasting, intense soreness.
- The first reason he could be sore is in the instance that he completed a new work out or style of conditioning that his body was not use to and he was out of shape for. This soreness usually occurs at the beginning of an athletic season (if you have ever played a sport, then you probably know what I am talking about).
- The second reason he could be feeling this soreness is slight overtraining. Overtraining is worth a whole post of its own. Which I will get into, but not here. Just briefly, overtraining occurs when output (training/workouts) exceed that bodies ability to recover adequately. This happens when someone is not getting proper sleep, training too high volume while not resting and while (the most common culprit) not consuming enough calories, or enough calories but low quality food that is not providing enough nutrients.
- The third reason, Is that he could not be consuming enough protein and he is not timing his meals as best he could.
We often hear that protein is the building blocks of muscle. This is true, and it’s also not as accurate as it could be. It is better said that amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. What happens when you stress the muscle by working out, is that the muscle fibers tear - we want this. This stress forces the muscle to recover and heal those small tears. It uses amino acids, especially, the branch chain amino acids, L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine, to repair the muscle tissue. What happens if the body has a sufficient amount of these amino acids? The body will repair those tears made during exercise and build a little extra muscle in anticipation for the next time the muscles are torn. This is how we get stronger (read: gains). If there is not enough amino acid supply, the body can not properly repair, nor does it have any extra to allow for growth.
How much protein do you need?
When it comes to protein, many people think that more = better. This is largely due to marketing. More does not equal better, in fact it can be dangerous, hard on the liver and kidneys, increase acidic conditions in the body, encourage yeast overgrowth, inflammation, and can increase IGF-1, which when too high, can lead to an increase risk of cancer growth. There are dangers to having too much, but there are also dangers of having too little. So how do you know how much you need?
It all depends on what you do!
Strength Based Sports:
To keep up with training that consists of continual tears to the muscle with the goal to increase muscle size and strength, it is important to eat enough protein. The best amount for strength training is a gram for every pound of lean muscle mass. If you know this, great. If not, you can use your entire weight and base it off of that.
You will be fluctuating every macronutrient based on how you look and what time of the season it is.
You will be eating in a surplus on a good off season and a deficient when you diet down, but you want your protein intake to stay the same to grow and maintain lean muscle mass.
1g per pound is an easy rule of thumb.
If your coach has you eating more than this, ask questions, and if they ask you to go over 1.5g per pound of body weight, really ask questions.
A Combination of Strength, Power and Conditioning:
Cross-fitter/climber/Sprinter/Calisthenics/Circuit training (Basically strength mixed with endurance): You will need more carbs for glycogen, energy, adrenal support, recovery and shuttling amino acids to the muscles. This will mean that you will not have as much room for extremely high levels of protein. You do still need about .8-1g per pound of body weight for recovery.
Be careful not to go too low in calories because this could cause you to hold on to weight as well as a whole host of other problems. Aim for .8g per pound of body weight.
(maintain strength and increase conditioning)
.8g per pound of body weight.
Weight & Strength Gain:
(Also great for Powerlifters)
play around with eating 1g per pound of body weight and increase your overall calories. You may be able to go up to 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going any higher.
You need less protein, but it is still important for recovery, injury prevention, gut health, and overall support. You may need to experiment based on your digestion, and energy needs. If you train off carbohydrates, you will likely feel better with less protein. If you train off of fats, you will probably be able to ingest more protein and feel great. This category is the most bio-individual of them all. Expirementation is what I would say is best. Start with around .6g protein per pound of body weight or .8g protein per pound of body weight. Just having a minimum might be the easiest strategy for you, depending on your sport.
Everyone else – active level:
Do you strength train? Are your workouts intense for at least 1 hour? .8g protein per pound.
Physical Laborer (you work hard with your body as a full-time job): .8-1g protein per pound.
Sedentary job, workout 3-5 days per week: .6-.8g protein per pound.
Of course, I would be recommending that you increase your activity level. But if for whatever reason, life circumstances, injury, etc. you are not active momentarily, shoot for a minimum protein requirement. Two- three servings of protein per day should cover your minimum needs. The RDA minimum is .8grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Multiply pounds of bodyweight by (.36) For women, this is usually around 50gram and for men, somewhere around 60grams depending on your weight.