On the topic of nutrients, protein is probably the most adored. At least it never received the hate that carbs and fats got over the years.
But there are still those who still think only bodybuilders should worry about eating a lot of protein. I hope those days come to an end, as more than ever we have evidence on the benefits of protein for other goals.
General protein intake recommendation
The WHO recommends 0.83 g per kilogram of body weight per day for adults.
Example: A 60kg female must eat at least 49.8 g of protein per day.
But what does that even mean? Well, its roughly a chicken breast! (considering 200g of it)
I hope you agree it’s not difficult to achieve the indicated amount. What about exceeding it? Can or should we do it? According to the same source, no upper limit has been identified. The WHO adds that the double of the amount is probably safe and raises only the concern regarding exceeding it by 3 or 4 times, but without indicating any specific consequence – only that we cannot say its “risk free”.
But we have some room to work with. Let’s see:
Increasing protein to lose weight
The title of this part might seem contradictory. Increasing to lose? Say what?!
There are many diets and many ways to lose weight. You can eat only donuts and lose weight (but we do not want that!).
The main benefits of high protein diets for weight loss are hunger reduction and the metabolic boost generated by the actual digestion of proteins. So, eating less on one side and expending more calories on the other (calories in, calories out, once again).
Try for yourself, the effect can be felt right after one meal. But is even more evident as the days pass if you keep the intake high. For some lucky ones, doing only this change in their diets is sufficient to start losing weight.
But how much is a high intake for somebody that is trying to lose weight? Some studies refer 30% of daily calories.
If we consider again an example of a 60kg female. Let’s assume she has 27 years, 160cm and a sedentary job but exercises a bit (we need this to calculate her needs, check here to learn how to calculate calorie intake). Her maintenance calories would be around 1800 kcal per day. Let’s say she wants to lose some weight and decides to reduce 300 kcal per day, giving us 1500 kcal. As for protein, 30% of 1500kcal is 500kcal, and because protein has 4 kcal per gram, we will end up with about 125g protein.
It’s 2.5 times the WHO recommendation (+2g per kg of bodyweight) and a lot more than 200g of chicken breast. If she ate 400g of lean meat during the day (200g each main meal, for example) she would still need to get 25g of protein from other sources, like milk, cheese, beans…
Role of protein in gaining muscle
Protein is the body building blocks. Protein builds muscle. And it is essential for being heathy.
However, the exact amount of protein one needs to build muscle is not something written in stone. As a rule of thumb there is some agreement on something between 1.2g and 1.7g of protein per kg of body weight. The right amount for each person and how the body puts that protein to good use depends on several factors:
- Amount of lean mass of the person (the more muscle, the more protein the body consumes)
- The person activity level (the more active ones will also need more protein)
- The type of protein consumed (depending of the source protein can be absorbed faster or slower)
If our lady from the example above wants to gain muscle, and aims for the higher end of the interval, 1.7g per kg, she will need to consume 102g of protein per day.
What surprises most people is that losing weight and gaining muscle can be quite similar in the amount of protein one can opt to eat. The main difference is one requires fewer daily calories and the other a surplus.