How much protein do you really need?

Hello readers and friends!

It has been over a year since my last post and I have MISSED you. Blogging for the medical practice that I work for and other business and creative projects has really sapped my writing-time, but I am back! At least, I am going to try. 🙂

Today, I want to give a quick summary on how much protein is appropriate for an individual, as this is something that varies based on genetics, height and weight, body composition, goals, and activity level. After reading many studies, it is clear that while we do not know the exact amount or protein appropriate for everyone, the RDA underestimates our needs. The RDA says .8 grams per KILOGRAM of bodyweight is fine, but this quantity leads to negative nitrogen balance in multiple studies. Negative nitrogen balance means that the body is losing more nitrogen than gaining, aka losing muscle mass, which is rich in nitrogen-containing amino acids.

Assuming a person is does not have any confounding medical conditions (like kidney failure), here are the recommendations that the literature points to as the current best guess:

People engaging in strength training:  1.6 to 1.8 grams of protein per kg bodyweight daily. Note: It is important to get this amount even on days when you are not training, as those are the days that muscular repair is occurring.

People engaging in endurance training: 1.2 – 1.6 grams per kg bodyweight daily.

Non-exercising maintenance: 1.2 grams per kg bodyweight daily. For those who are inactive or taking an extended break from exercise.

Calories and protein have interesting relationship. You may be able to ‘get away with’ eating less protein if you eat more calories, and conversely, eating more protein at a lower calorie intake may spare muscle while losing weight. So, the lower you are on these ranges for protein, the more important overall calorie and macronutrient intake is.

How determine what these ranges mean for you: Take your weight in pounds and convert it to kilograms (multiply times 0.453). Then, multiply that number by the  low- and high-end factors to see what your daily range is.

Before weight training and interval training, it is best to get a small portion of carbohydrate in at least an hour beforehand. This will provide glycogen/glucose substrate for a better workout, as these more intense workouts tend to burn more glycogen than fat during the exercise session itself (and more fat in the hours following).

As far as protein timing, protein before a work out is fine, as it will still be digested during and after the workout. The key is to get enough protein each day, regardless of timing. However, there is some minor benefit to getting protein in within the 30 minute window after a workout. If you have muscle gain goals, having a protein shake (or protein rich meal) right after weight training could be beneficial. Protein powders are processed and are utilized more quickly than whole foods, so they are best used during or after workouts rather than before. Studies on supplements are pretty inconclusive or unconvincing, so they probably are not needed. If you really want to, branched chain amino acids have the most science to justify their use for muscular repair and reduced soreness.


Feed the lifts!!!! 

6 thoughts on “How much protein do you really need?

  1. All hail, Lauren is back!

    Great post – I’m actually getting back into strength training after having toned it down to train for a marathon and this is just what I was looking for. You make it so easy to break down and understand!

  2. haha of course you are back the day before I think, hmm now that I’ve been vegan for a month maybe I should decide if I’m doing this right, I bet Lauren knows whatsup! Gotta step up my protein level!

  3. No wonder that weight lifters need the most protein. Do you have to add the amounts together if you do cardio with strength training?

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