How much protein should I eat?

Protein can be a confusing subject. Some diets, and the government, advocate a fairly moderate consumption of protein (56 grams per day for the average guy, 46 grams for the average female). Other diets promote much higher protein intakes, up to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight (more than triple the government recommendation).

Too Little Protein

It’s very important to make sure you’re consuming enough protein. Symptoms of protein deficiency can include:

  • Cravings for carbs, especially sweets
  • Neurological symptoms like brain fog, moodiness, and anxiety
  • Thinning hair, hair that falls out
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep, lack of deep sleep

Even if you’re fairly sedentary, the low end of recommended protein intake might not be enough. From personal experience, increasing animal protein intake has significantly changed the amount of food I ingest (especially carbohydrate), and has led to satiation I had not experienced before.

To put it in an evolutionary perspective, naturally humans are meat eaters. We have the teeth, the jaw strength, and the enzymes needed to break meat down. Meat contains the fat and cholesterol that is hypothesized to have created our larger brains, and thus higher cognition. We NEED protein, it is an essential nutrient for survival.

In today’s world of food abundance, it is possible to create a protein rich diet without animal products. Vegetarians and vegans just need to make sure they are eating enough varied plant protein, since plant based proteins can sometimes pack a lighter punch than lean animal based proteins. (One strip streak contains 49 grams of protein. Roughly the same amount of tofu contains 20 grams.)

Too Much Protein

On the other hand, there is such a thing as consuming too much protein. Some side effects of consuming too much protein can include:

  • Intestinal irritation (constipation, diarrhea, and gas)
  • Dehydration
  • Exacerbate existing kidney issues (not a concern for healthy individuals)

It’s still up for debate whether over consumption of protein can contribute to weight gain via gluconeogenesis. Typically though, if you’re eating a whole foods diet, you’re probably not going to overdo it on protein. Unprocessed natural sources of animal protein typically trigger satiety when you’ve had enough. Grilled chicken breast just doesn’t have the same crack out affect on the brain as a bag of Cheetos. But super yummy jerky, or artificially flavored protein drinks can, so use sparingly. And if you’re including nutrient dense live food (fresh veggies) with your protein, the nutrients will help trigger satiety as well.

How much protein should I eat daily?

Numbers will differ for individuals, depending on activity, health needs, and weight goals. Just a reminder, I’m not a certified expert in nutrition, I just love health sciences and sharing the information I find. The best way to figure out your personal protein needs are to consult with your doc or a nutritionist. But as far as I can discern, Here are a few different daily protein thresholds:

  • For weight loss – 0.6 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass*
  • Maintenance/average – 0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight
  • Endurance athlete – 0.8 grams per pound of body weight
  • Body building – 1.5 grams per pound of body weight

* If you’re obese, consuming 1 gram of protein per actual pound of body weight would be a lot of protein. Typically the suggestion for overweight individuals is to base protein intake on LEAN body mass, so during the weight loss cycle you are keeping your lean protein (muscles) nourished.

Protein Cycling or Fasting

Autophagy, the process by which our bodies recycle dead organelles, damaged proteins and oxidized particles, can be triggered by dramatically decreasing protein for a period of time (like 24 hours). Autopaghy is the process your body would use to keep you alive should your food source run out for a while. Essentially, your body starts to eat itself. I know, doesn’t sound pretty, but it’s actually a critical process to “cleaning house”, getting rid of the debris inside cells that can gum up the works and cause dysfunction.

For a more detailed look at how to induce short term autophagy, check out this article from The Bulletproof Exec.

Final Thoughts

If you have any type of hormonal imbalance, which typically if you’re carrying extra weight on your body you might, then work with a doctor, nutritionist, or do some hard-core self investigation to figure out how much protein you should be consuming, and be diligent in meeting those requirements daily (unless you incorporate a protein fast day on a regular basis). An easy way to track your protein consumption is by using a site or app like My Fitness Pal.

Here’s to strong, nourished muscles!


featured photo credit: stu_spivack via flickr

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