How Much Protein Do I Really Need?
People often have very skewed perceptions of how much protein they actually need. It can be a bit of a minefield, especially when there is so much research out there.
Further, it is definitely one of our commonly asked questions and discussion points with our clients here at Fresh Fitness Food and so we thought we’d give you our round up to help you figure out how much protein you really need!
What is protein and what is it needed for?
Protein is one of three macronutrients required by the body.
Proteins are primarily functional and structural components within each cell of the body as so are required for growth and repair, as well as the maintenance of optimal health.
Other functions include important roles in:
- building and repairing of tissue
- hormone and enzyme production
- skin, hair, and bone health
Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscles. Essential amino acids are those which cannot be synthesised by the body and therefore must be obtained from food. In their absence, it would be impossible to build, repair or maintain muscle mass.
Protein is constantly built up (Muscle Protein Synthesis) and broken down (Muscle Protein Breakdown) in our bodies and the balance between the two is called protein turnover. Both processes happen simultaneously.
MPS is stimulated by 2 main factors:
- Protein intake
- Resistance training
If combined together the effect is even stronger (1).
How is protein typically classified?
Protein sources can be classified as either complete or incomplete :
- Complete protein sources contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the body. Animal-based protein sources are all complete.
- Incomplete protein sources tend to be low or lacking in one or more of the amino acids. The majority of plant-based sources are incomplete. There are a small number of plant-based sources of complete protein, including quinoa soy, but they are needed in relatively large quantities to provide a similar quantity of protein.
How much protein do I need?
As noted, this is a very commonly asked question for us at Fresh Fitness Food.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 0.8g per kg of body weight, but this is a guideline for the intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people, meaning it is a very general guideline. It has been suggested that this amount is not an appropriate amount for a training athlete to meet their daily needs (2).
How much protein you need can be influenced by a number of factors such as weight, your goal (weight maintenance, muscle gain, or fat loss) and level of activity.
Active individuals may require in the region of 1.2g – 2.0g per kg of body weight. For highly active people and athletes, this figure can exceed 2.0g per kg of body weight.
However, it is vital to note there is a large body of research into protein requirements, much of it providing conflicting results. Therefore, guidelines should be used as guidelines and not strict rules.
The bottom line, requirements are highly individual as what works for one person may not for another in similar circumstances.
Where does protein come from in our diets?
Eating good quality protein is a great starting point for a healthy diet.
Protein comes from animal-based sources such as:
- Red meat
- White fish
It also comes from plant-based alternatives such as:
- Soy products e.g. tofu and tempeh
Are protein powders and supplements needed?
Protein powders are a useful way to help supplement your diet, especially if you are often on the go and/or cannot pre-prepare all your meals in advance.
However, whilst there is a time and place for protein supplements, as with all macro- and micro-nutrient intake the priority should be to obtain adequate intake through a healthy and balanced diet. Real, wholesome food should always come first and supplements should not be used as a substitute.
Do I need to eat protein at certain times of the day?
It depends! Largely and in everyday life, it is likely more important to focus on consuming enough good quality protein across the course of the day as a whole. However, depending on your training frequency and training status, giving protein timing a little more thought could be beneficial.
The timing of protein intake has been suggested to be more relevant to those more experienced athletes.
Pacing or spreading what is often referred to in research as ‘feeding episodes’, approximately three hours apart, has been consistently reported to promote sustained, increased levels of MPS and performance benefits (2).
The recommendation for protein timing from the ISSN is to spread the intake across multiple feedings is also similar at three to four hours. While more research is being done to establish the effects of this long term, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in doing so and it may provide some benefit.
The timing of protein intake has been suggested to be more relevant to those more experienced athletes. Several studies have found that depending on how experienced someone is, the anabolic window can last up to 48 hours but the impact diminishes over time (3). The anabolic window refers to a suggested limited period of time after training to optimize training-related muscular adaptations (4).
Novice lifters can usually get away with just making sure to cover their absolute needs in a 24 hr time frame, whereas if you’re more experienced, a little more planning should go into your intake.
Protein is a vital part of our diets and so we should undoubtedly be focusing on consuming a wide variety of good quality protein sources as part of our daily intake.
If you would like to discuss your current fitness goals and whether your protein intake is appropriate, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or book in for a call here to speak to a Nutritionist.
Alternatively, if you are ready to get yourself on board with us here at Fresh Fitness Food, get started here! Less time shopping, preparing and tidying up, equates to more time training and maybe even an extra hour in bed!
Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meal plans delivered straight to your door, ensuring not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.
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- Burd, N.A.m Tang, J.E., Moore, D.R. and Phillips, S.M. (2009). Exercise training and protein metabolism: influences of contraction, protein intake and sex-based differences, Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(5), 1692-1701.
- Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017).
- Trommelen, J., Betz, M.W. & van Loon, L.J.C. Sports Med (2019). The Muscle Protein Synthetic Response to Meal Ingestion Following Resistance-Type Exercise. Sports Medicine 49: 185.
- Childs, Calder and Miles, 2019. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients, 11(8), p.1933.