It seems like messages about protein bombard us everyday. Protein bars and powders abound. Likewise, many food labels boast a certain number of grams of protein, alluring us to believe “well, then it must be healthy . . . “
Are we really lacking in protein?
Actually, most of us are not deficient in protein. The US recommended daily allowance for protein is 46g for women and 56g for men (This is roughly .8g per kg of body weight– in common terms, about 1/3 of a gram per pound of body weight). Since many foods that we eat (including vegetarians and vegans) contain protein, those grams add up fairly quickly. For example, a yogurt has 11 grams of protein, and a serving of meat has over 20. Dairy products, tofu, eggs, beans and rice are other common sources.
Do we all have the same requirements for protein?
Of course not. Because each of us have different diets, exercise routines and health histories, we each have different nutritional demands. Various factors about an individual do influence how much protein they should consume – just as many factors determine what our vitamin needs are (Click here to take our vitamin survey and get a custom all in one vitamin).
As outlined above, men and women have slightly different baseline protein requirements. It is generally felt that those in extreme training situations (e.g., marathon running, competitive swimming, etc.) require more protein in their diets. Similarly, someone who is recovering from protein deprivation due to illness or a severe burn also needs more protein to replenish their stores. However, the vast majority of us (even those who exercise with intensity) are actually getting or exceeding the recommended daily intake.
If you wish to build your muscles by consuming protein there is a clearly a point of diminishing returns. Increasing your protein if you are falling short of your training demands is only worth it to a point. It appears that anything beyond 1.8 g/ kg of body weight per day (so roughly twice the listed usual RDA for protein) is no more beneficial for those looking to gain strength or body mass. Sorry to break it to all of you body builders out there who are putting down gallons of protein drinks everyday. It’s probably not doing much for you.
So, even 2/3 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is a very high goal and not necessarily beneficial for building big muscles (if that is even your goal).
Is eating too much protein harmful?
There is conflicting data on this. Some have suggested that diets excessive in protein can be harmful to the kidneys. We do know this to be true in those with existing kidney disease. However, it has not been proven to be so in those with heatlhy kidneys. It is however, important to consume enough fluids with protein because excess protein can deplete one of fluids and this can put stress on the kidneys.
There is some data to suggest that too much protein intake is associated with higher risks of cancer. However the study also found this reversed in older age. It also is unclear if the protein itself is raising the cancer risk or if it’s the associated animal fat consumption that could be causing the negative affect.
But doesn’t protein help with weight loss?
Actually, protein can impede weight loss because of its high caloric content. Foods high in protein are rich in calories. This is a natural function of protein being a great source of energy. However, it also is the case that many artificial vehicles for protein (bars, powers, gels, shakes, etc.) have lots of additives which add further to the caloric content. Therefore, do not assume that more protein is always better when you are trying to trim down. More on weight loss tips here.
There are some reasons that protein is still very important, even if you are not looking to win the Mr. or Miss Universe competition. Foods high in protein (and fats) tend to be satisfying. They are digested less rapidly than those with lots of carbs and they do not produce the natural insulin rush that sugary foods do. Therefore, they do not cause major drops in blood levels a few hours later. In other words, proteins hold your appetite for longer. Eating protein based meals and snacks tends to minimize the ravenous hunger that follows eating a quick carb.
For this reason, try to balance your snacks and meals so they contain at least some protein (and remember that doesn’t have to be a burger). If you are in intense training, recovering from illness or you want muscles that Popeye would envy, then push up to twice the RDA for protein (in addition to the actual work that goes into building those muscles). One rule to live by is to aim to get 20-30% of your calories from protein. You can calculate the protein calories in something by looking at the grams of protein and multiplying them times 4 (i.e., each gram of protein has 4 calories, while fats have 9 calories per gram, carbs have 4). The goal is to then find a balance between the three.
Chances are, that if you do the math, protein is abundant in your diet. If it is not, look for some natural ways to add it in via eggs, dairy, lean meats or legumes, rather than artificially produced products. These may have the cache of “protein,” but they may come with other undesirable additives.
While focusing on your diet, don’t forget to look at your nutritional needs as a whole and what vitamins you need. Take our vitamin quiz to get an all in one vitamin that is a custom supplement for you.
Romy Block specializes in Endocrinology and Metabolism and is mother to three active adolescent boys. Arielle Levitan is a Doctor of Internal Medicine with a special interest in Preventive Medicine and Women’s Health. She is a mother of three teen agers. As professional women with active family lives, they recognize that people often neglect their own health needs and are uncertain about what vitamins to take. Each person is different in her diet, exercise and health history, and will benefit from different nutrients. After years of advising their patients about the proper vitamins to take, Drs. Block and Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins that are suited to their individual needs. They are authors of the award winning The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health (She Writes Press, 2015). Take your vitamin survey now to get exactly the right vitamins for your needs.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Nothing contained herein is intended to be a diagnosis or constitute medical advice. The symptoms described in this Blog may be a result of a serious medical condition which requires medical treatment. You should consult with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this Blog and before beginning any vitamin or supplement regimen.