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, or 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.

It’s a given, protein is important.

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.  Just for fun, I’ll calculate a typical day for me…I wonder if I’m getting enough?

ageing gracefully

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 0.36g/lb (0.8 g/kg) per day.

So, for a 150 lb (68 kg) 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, producing adequate hormones, thinking and great moods.
  • 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 0.6g/lb (1.3 g/kg) per day.

  • Athletes need more protein for their energy and building muscle mass.
  • Those ageing gracefully and seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that’s common as we 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 sugar 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. Just in case you needed another good reason to add more plants to your diet!

Is there a better time to eat protein during the day?

Something else to keep in mind when choosing protein types is when to eat them. I mentioned it takes a significant amount of energy to digest protein but did you know it can take up to 5-6 hours for a healthy digestive system to assimilate a serving of red meat?  

Think about that for a minute. If you have a big juicy steak at 7 pm for dinner and you go to bed at 10:30 pm where do you think all your energy is being utilized? You got it…to digest your dinner. This means the very important task of healing and restoring our body done while we sleep is cut short as the body must deal with what you last ate.

Plant proteins take the least time for your body to assimilate, 30-50 min.  Grains take 90 min, fish is 45 min to 1 hour, poultry 1.5 – 2.5 hrs. Beef and pork are the hardest on our digestive systems take 3-6 hrs to digest

Keep this in mind when planning your meals. If you are an omnivore or carnivore try to eat your animal proteins for lunch, having lighter meals full of plant or fish proteins at dinner.

fish dinner

How much protein is in food?

  • A 3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g protein.
  • A 3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g protein.
  • ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g protein.
  • A large egg contains 6 g protein.
  • ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g protein.
  • 1 medium baked potato contains 3 g protein.
  • 1 tbsp nut butter contains 7 g protein
  • 2 tbsp hummus contains 7 g protein

Just for fun!  Here’s a typical day in my life and kitchen. Right now, I am quite active, walk to work (20 min each way), try to take a yoga class 2-3x/week and dragon boat paddle 2x/week.  Consequently, I am nursing a shoulder/pectoral injury. Lastly, I am conscious of the fact that I am nearing 48 yrs old so need to remember that muscle and bone loss are occurring.

Breakfast: Steel cut oats with pecans, coconut and banana – 8 g protein

Morning snack: A handful of almonds and piece of dark chocolate – 6 g protein

Lunch: Big salad with lots of veggies and a boiled egg – 8-12 g protein

Afternoon snack: Blueberry Protein Smoothie – 22 g protein (this has added protein powder)

Dinner: Grilled halibut steak with asparagus and arugula salad – 35 g protein

Evening snack: Orange – 1 g protein

A grand total of 84 g protein/day.  Considering I am ageing, active and healing from an injury – this is a good amount. Laying it all out it becomes clearer I need to ensure I do a protein smoothie on days that I have a salad. On days that I don’t, I had better add in some chicken or beans to my salads.

If you are wondering whether you are getting enough protein in your diet, I’d be happy to chat with your for 30 min (free of charge).  Book some time here.

In conclusion

Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. “Enough” is about 0.36 – 0.6 g/lb (0.8 – 1.3 g/kg) 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, so it’s best to have just enough.

I’d love to know: Are you one of those people who needs more protein? Let me know in the comments.

Recipe (high-protein): Baked Chicken Breasts
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika

Instructions Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a layer of parchment paper on a baking dish.

Place the chicken breasts in the prepared dish. Brush on both sides with olive oil.

In a small bowl, mix spices until combined. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken on both sides.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to at least 165°F at the thickest part.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Serve with lots of veggies.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-protein
http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/do-you-eat-enough-protein
https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-protein-per-day/
http://www.cleanse-yourself-lose-weight.com/digestion-time.html

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