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 or 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.
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 1.2 g/kg per day.
So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete growing teenager or the elderly, this is about 82 g protein/day.
Mind you, this is an absolute minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It may not be optimal for good body repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It’s not enough for athletes, growing kids, 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 for a minimum of 2.2 g/kg (1 g/lb) per day.
Athletes need more protein for their energy, performance and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off the muscle and bone loss that’s common in aging adults. Kids and teens need more to keep up with their growing bodies. And injured people require more for recovery and healing.
How much protein is too much?
As with fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can cause weight gain IF the overall amount of calories consumed is consistently above one’s daily requirement. 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 could harm your kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood, provided you are appropriately hydrated. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues or who are chronically dehydrated.
FUN FACT: Plant proteins are also great adjunct choices to help increase your protein intake.
How much protein is in food?
● A 3.5 oz chicken breast has about 31 g protein.
● A 3.5 oz can of salmon has about 20 g protein.
● ½ cup cooked beans contain about 6-9 g protein.
● A large egg contains about 6 g protein.
● ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g protein. (be careful here as that same ¼ cup will contain 20 or more g of fat).
● 1 cup of broccoli contain about 2.6 g protein
● A 4 oz steak has about 28 g protein.
● A 3 oz packet of tuna has about 17-24 g protein.
● 1 cup cooked spinach contains about 5.3 g protein.
● 1 scoop quality protein powder contains about 20 g protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of to maintain optimal health. “Enough” is about 1.2 – 2.2 g/kg (0.54 – 1.0 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 of a good this can still be too much, so don’t overdo it.
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
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.