Sheldon’s Corner: How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is essential for life. It provides the building blocks for your body’s tissues, organs, hormones, and enzymes. This macronutrient is crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass. It also increases satiety, which is why it’s so important to get enough protein when you’re limiting your calories to meet a fat-loss goal.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED?
The amount of protein you need depends on your weight, goals, and lifestyle. The daily minimum recommended by the National Institutes of Health is 0.36 grams per pound for a sedentary person. However, if you do intense workouts or have a physically demanding job, you’ll need more. While the average healthy diet provides enough protein for most people, it may benefit you to bump up your intake if you exercise to build muscle or lose fat, either from dietary protein or supplements.
If your goal is to lose weight, increasing the protein in your diet can help you lose more fat and preserve more lean mass, which explains the popularity of low-carb, high-protein diets. But it’s also important to save room in your diet for other crucial nutrients. Make sure you’re eating enough fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to keep your body energized and operating at peak performance.
The protein calculator on this page takes your body-composition goals and activity level into account to estimate your protein needs. Everyone is different, though, so experiment to find the right level of protein for your body. Start with the number given by the calculator, see how that makes you feel, and try adjusting your protein level up or down to see what amount makes you feel good and perform well.
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WHAT ARE THE BEST SOURCES OF PROTEIN?
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein. There are 20 different amino acids in all, and different proteins provide different combinations of amino acids in varying ratios.
Since each high-protein food contains a different amino-acid profile, it’s important to eat a range of protein sources. In other words, don’t just eat chicken breast five times a day. Great protein sources include lean meats, cottage cheese, eggs, and fish. If you’re vegan, eat plenty of legumes, nuts, and seeds.
If you find it tough to get enough protein from dietary sources, use protein supplements to hit your numbers. Try adding flavored whey powder to oatmeal, smoothies, or muffins, or grab a protein bar for a treat. There are also many vegetable-based proteins for those who don’t consume dairy.
Since high-protein foods tend to be low in fiber, increase your fiber intake as well to keep your digestive system humming along smoothly. Green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and asparagus are high in fiber and go great with steak, chicken, or any other protein source.
DOES PROTEIN TIMING MATTER?
While it’s important to eat protein throughout the day as part of your diet, it’s especially beneficial to ingest protein before or after a strength-training session. A good hit of protein can help increase muscle size and strength when taken pre-workout, post-workout, or both.
You can use protein shakes for this purpose, or plan to eat protein-rich meals and snacks before and after working out. For example, have some Greek yogurt before your workout, and salmon with broccoli and sweet potatoes afterward. Some people find that eating right before a workout upsets their stomach, though, so experiment and see what works best for you.
To optimize recovery, it’s also a good idea to eat protein before bed. A slow-digesting protein like casein, found in dairy products and casein powder, can increase muscle-protein synthesis while you sleep, so you wake up better recovered from the previous day’s training session and ready to crush the next one.
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