How Much Protein Should We Be Having Every Day?

By Francesca Cappozzo

After water, do you know what the main constituent of our body is?

Protein!

Protein has such important roles in the body, ranging from muscle growth and repair to creating hormones and enzymes that regulate the metabolism, support the immune system and much else. If, while reading that, you felt as though you need more protein than you are eating at the moment, then you are probably right.

An increasing number of studies suggests that increasing the amount of protein that we eat every day is the correct approach to improving our health. If you are sedentary (i.e. your job has you sitting for hours on end each day), then 0.8g per kg of body weight is generally enough. But most of us now participate in sports and physical activities, which is great! This means that to improve training adaptations, we need more.

If you run, cycle, swim or take part in endurance types of sports, then you should aim to have 1.2-1.4g per kilograms of body weight. For example, if you are a 60kg runner, that means circa 84g of protein per day. Strength- and power-based workouts such as bodybuilding, Muai Thai and Crossfit require even more protein, because the stress they place on muscles is higher and to heighten your power and get those ‘gainz’, you will need about 1.6-2g per kilograms of body weight per day. For mixed exercises, such as Pilates and yoga, I would stay on the upper end of 1.4 g.kg.bw per day. Also, if you are ‘older and wiser’, you will already be eating more protein to prevent sarcopenia, a very common phenomenon that occurs with ageing and increases the breakdown of protein, making you frailer. In these cases, at least 1.2g.kg.bw is key! And no; so far, there is no substantial evidence that too much protein can cause kidney problems.

Of course, I wouldn’t suggest you eat 90g of proteins in one sitting. Bear in mind that timing and quality are essential to getting all the benefits from proteins. Our bodies can absorb and use only about 20-25g every 2-3 hours, so spread these out throughout your meals and snacks. 20g of protein can be found in:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 600ml skimmed milk
  • 400g yoghurt
  • 70-100g meat, fish or chicken
  • 200g cottage cheese
  • 120g nuts – any unsalted, almonds contain the most
  • 70g crunchy peanut/almond butter
  • 1 x 240g (drained weight) canned chickpeas/kidney beans/lentils
  • 400g canned baked beans in tomato sauce
  • 60g halloumi/feta/mozzarella
  • 25-30g protein powder

Quality is important too. If you are thinking about increasing lean mass, then eating more absorbable protein with high leucine content (one of the famous BCAA, branch-chained amino acids) highly activates MTORC1, a gene regulator that triggers muscle growth. The highest leucine content can be found in whey (a milk protein), lean meat and eggs; and lower levels can be found in plant and nut proteins.

Protein = muscle? Yes; but it also equals brain function and support for the rest of your body, so keep ’em on your plate!

If you would like to know more about the latest studies on protein, many journals are available on the ISSN (International Society of Sports Nutrition) website. Otherwise, come and have a chat with me at Maître of Thyme!

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