How Much Protein Do We Really Need? Part One


People like to argue about macronutrients. It has to be one of the favorite hobbies of the health-conscious. How much fat? How many carbs? How much protein?

Plenty of people like to pretend there's a "magic" macronutrient composition that is right for everyone, but in my experience oversimplification leads only to frustration and could even result in metabolic damage.

Having said that, many people feel they need a guide to achieve optimum wellness. We like to see things in numbers. It helps give us a target to shoot for so we feel like we're meeting our nutritional goals.

Talk to ten different people and you'll probably hear ten difference recommendations for protein intake. I've heard everything from less than twenty grams a day all the way up to two grams per pound of body weight (whoa! that's a lot of chicken). I personally feel most people are going to fall between those numbers. But where in between? First let's briefly explore the importance of this nutrient:

Why Do We Need Protein?

The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions--TodayIn The Mood Cure, Julia Ross explains that protein contains the building blocks that make up our entire bodies--our muscles, our bones, our organs and even the brain chemicals that make us feel happy, emotionally stable and energetic. According to Julia, adequate protein intake is essential to our emotional and physical health. Dr. Diana Schwarzbein makes puts similar emphasis on protein in her books. Reading those books has helped to shape my personal views on protein intake and its importance in the modern diet.

So How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

I'd like to say there was a blanket answer for protein requirements, but there's not. People do well on varying amounts of protein, just like the other macronutrients. But since it helps to have a guide, here's a few ways to look at it:

  • Julie Ross recommends 20-30 grams of protein three times a day. I think this is a reasonable figure for most people and will provide plenty of protein without too much fuss over it. However, it's a little unspecific when it comes to activity level, body weight, etc.
  • Another standard method for computing protein needs is simply eating 1 gram of protein per kilogram of weight. Notice this is kilograms, not pounds. To get your weight in kilograms, divide your weight by 2.2. (So if you weigh 150 that would be about 68 kilograms.) This is slightly more tailored, since at least it takes into account your size. But I find it errs on the low side, at least for what makes my individual body happy.
  • One more method (and what I personally use at this time) is 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. This seems to work well for me. I like it because going by lean mass is even more specific than weight. Two people can be the exact same weight but have strikingly different amounts of lean body mass. Likewise, men tend to have more lean body mass than women, and generally someone who does regular resistance training will have more than someone who doesn't. So this method caters to all of those factors. It is also a little more complicated, because it involves figuring out your body composition within some level of accuracy. So tomorrow I'm going to continue this post by explaining how to do just that! Stay tuned...

Remember: As important as it is to eat enough protein, it's even more important to choose the right protein. High quality dairy, eggs, legumes, seafood and meat are among the top sources. Avoid soy like the plague: it's an anti-food

This post is part of Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!

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