Making the Most of your Calories: Protein
Stroll down the diet and health aisle of your local bookstore (if you still have one) and you’ll see a myriad of diet books that each claim to hold the secret of getting thin and staying that way. While high-protein diets are nothing new, the Atkins Diet really brought them back into the public eye after a long spell of low-fat plans. Due to the huge popularity of Atkins, other high-protein/low-carb diets seemed to sprout up overnight. All claimed that carbs made you fat and protein was the answer to your weight woes. These diets did vary to some degree and offered up varying nutrient percentages. While some eliminated entire food groups, others made more sensible recommendations. But are high-protein diets really the way to go? Just how much should you be eating?
High-protein/low-carb diets have created a lot of confusion regarding just how much protein a person really needs. Fortunately, research has shown such extreme and restrictive diets are not necessary for successful weight loss. Furthermore, studies have also demonstrated that there is an upper limit to the benefits one can gain from eating protein. Eating a steak the size of your face every night will not translate to bulging biceps…though the extra calories might fill out that cute belly bulge you’ve been working on.
Below is a break-down of protein requirements adapted from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. She compiled this information from the joint position statement released by the American College of Sports Medicine, American College of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Dietitians of Canada, three of the most respected organizations devoted to the advancement of research in this field. The below figures are suggested protein intakes for healthy individuals.
|Grams of protein per pound of body weight|
|Current RDA for sedentary adult||0.4|
|Recreational exerciser, adult||0.5-0.7|
|Endurance athlete, adult||0.6-0.7|
|Growing teenage athlete||0.7-0.9|
|Adult building muscle mass||0.7-0.8|
|Athlete restricting calories||0.8-0.9|
|Estimated upper requirement for adults||0.9|
So how does this translate in terms of percent of calories from protein? Suppose you’re 150 pounds and you’ve determined you need 2200 calories, which would allow for a little weight loss. You typically get out to run 3-5 miles a couple times per week, you strength train twice per week, and you go for a long hike or bike ride on Saturday mornings. So how much protein do you need? Based on all that information–restricting calories, endurance activities three times per week, and strength training twice per week–your best bet would be 0.8-0.9 grams per pound of body weight, or 120-135 grams per day. In terms of calories from protein, that would be about 22-25%. This coincides with what I typically recommend for my clients who are exercising and trying to lose weight: about 50-55% of calories from carbs, 20-25% from protein, and 25-30% from fat.
Next time I’ll chat about how to get that protein as well as protein considerations for vegetarians and vegans.