How Much Protein is Too Much?
Would you like to see an interesting debate? Gather a strength and conditioning coach, registered dietician, and a medical doctor in a room and bring up various topics: like interval training, whether or not squats are bad for your knees, carbohydrate intake, and how many calories you should eat. It doesn’t matter how much time you give them or how you sort out the debate, I’ll bet the house on the fact that no one will agree on anything. That much I can guarantee.
Believe it or not, but no one is really wrong in their points. It’s just that they usually don’t have the experience to carry over their knowledge to different populations. For instance, doctors work with sick people and strength coaches work with athletes who are trying to support sports performance. One thing we do here ate UEFP is to tailor your nutrition to what you’re currently doing. Training for a marathon? Food intake goes up. Taking a week off from training? Food intake – and more importantly carbohydrate intake – goes down.
These respected professionals aren’t going to agree on much, and the issue of your daily protein intake is only going to stir the pot more. In most cases it’s just a good idea to not even bring it up. It’s like when you have that best friend of yours who’s recovering from a bad breakup and you have to walk on eggshells to make sure you never bring the ex up. In fact, I’d much rather be in the same room with a squabbling couple then deal with a doctor trying to rationalize with a personal trainer on how everyone has the same protein needs.
Protein intake is very confusing, mostly because those making the recommendations don’t understand how to make the material subjective to the individual. An endurance athlete is going to have a different protein intake than someone recovering from a major accident. (Here’s a hint though: they both need a lot of protein).
So consider this your introduction on how to calculate protein intake. We’ll walk you through a couple of different scenarios so you can grasp a good understanding of how much protein you should be taking in.
Scenario 1: You Do Nothing…All Day
Here’s the thing about food: once you start getting active, you need more food. If you don’t really do anything all day, then you can usually get away with following the normal standards of protein intake, which is defined as .8 g/kg/bw (1). If you don’t dig the metric system, then you could use .36 g/lb/bw. Keep in mind that your individual needs may require slightly more protein intake based on your body type and hormone profile.
Scenario 2: You Like to Run – a Lot!
Endurance athletes need protein just as much as any other athlete. Runners and cyclists are in love with their carbs, but carbs and protein differ in their roles and what they do for the body. In a nutshell, carbs are going to be used as energy for your runs while the protein will repair damaged muscle. After all, pounding the pavement can take its toll on your body. Sport scientists won’t agree on the exact amount of protein intake for an endurance athlete, but they will concur on the fact that runners simply need more. Recommendations vary from anywhere between 1.2 to 1.8 g/kg/bw (2). You could take things a step further and conclude that research shows it’s beneficial to ingest protein during exercise (3).
Scenario 3: You Want to Lose Weight
If you want to drop some pounds, then you need to monitor your protein intake. It’s tough to lose weight on a low protein diet, and it’s recommended that protein make up 35% of your caloric intake (4). Part of your metabolism relies on protein intake, and you obviously want a fast metabolism to lose weight. So if you’re putting two and two together, then it’s safe to say that the body is going to rely on protein heavily during the weight loss process. There’s a mountain of research that shows higher protein intake usually results in more weight loss than diets composed of lower protein intakes. This is especially true if you want to low carb; as carb intake goes down, then protein and fat intake needs to skyrocket up.
So if you want to drop down a pant size, fire up the grill and cook yourself a rib eye.
Scenario 4: You’re Building Muscle or Want to Get Strong
If your goal is to build muscle, train for an event, or strength train, then protein intake needs to increase above everything else previously mentioned. The more you train, the more protein that you need. Olympic weightlifters often train 3 times a day, and need insane amounts of protein. If you’re going to attack the barbell, sprint, and circuit train regularly, then it’s recommended that you get a minimum of 1.33 g/kg/bw (5). However, some studies have even tested up to 3.1 g/kg/bw (2). Bottom line: if you’re going to train hard to change your body, then stock that fridge up with protein.
See, it’s not as confusing as you thought. Just kidding – your relationship with protein can be a complex one, much more complex than the love triangle between Zack Morris, AC Slater, and Kelly Kapowski. Hopefully though you realize that protein intake depends a lot on the person, their individual goals, and their current training regimen. As with anything else, learning your body is all about experimentation, and this form of self-testing might earn you a seat at the debate table.
1. Williams, Melvin H. Nutrition for Health, Fitness, and Sport 8th ed. McGraw Hill; Baltimore. 2007. Pp 196
2. McLain, T.A., Escobar, K.A., et al. “Protein Applications in Sports Nutrition-Part I: Requirements, Quality, Source, and Optimal Dose.” (2015) Strength and Conditioning Journal 37;2, 61-71
3. Loon, Luc J.C. “Is There a Need for Protein Ingestion During Exercise” (2013) Sports Science Exchange 26; 108, 1-6
4. Phillips, Stuart M. “Dietary Protein for Athletes: From Requirements to Metabolic Advantage” (2006)Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism 31, 647-654
5. Phillips, Stuart M. “Protein Requirements and Supplementation in Strength Sports.” (2004) Nutrition 20; 689-695