How much protein is enough?

How much protein is enough?

Protein is an essential macronutrient for our survival, yet it is almost universally under-eaten in our current society. One of three macronutrients, the other two being carbohydrates and fat, protein takes the lead in terms of importance. Made up of 20 different amino acids — a series of molecules needed to make protein — protein is vital to our existence. Without it, we would not be able to make enzymes, hormones, or antibodies, build muscle or provide structure for our cells.

What remains to be a hotly debated topic is “how much protein is the right amount?” The Recommend Daily Allowance (RDA) is set at 0.8g/kg of body weight, certainly enough to keep us from being malnourished, but is it optimal? Did you know the RDA was established during the Great Depression and in anticipation of the second world war? A time when access to food was scarce and nutrition research was focused on avoiding deficiency-based diseases (Mozaffarian, Rosenberg & Uauy, 2018). Today, this is no longer a valid recommendation and in fact, may be detrimental to our health.

Our protein requirements change throughout the various stages of life. Infants and children require more than sedentary adults, while the elderly require more protein to protect them from other ailments such as sarcopenia and osteoporosis. These devastating conditions can lead to regressive muscle deterioration and bone loss over time. Individuals who undergo surgery or who are recovering from an illness also require more protein during their convalescence than they would otherwise need during normal output. While male bodies have higher requirements for protein than women, I ensure that my active adult female clients focus on adequate intake to avoid the very real risk of developing sarcopenia and osteoporosis later in life. Individuals looking to lose weight, increase muscle mass, and who are strength training will require higher protein amounts than sedentary folk.

So, at the end of the day, how much protein is enough? While protein requirements continue to be debated, we must all agree that it is a vital macronutrient and should be prioritized when considering optimizing our health and nutrition. With the recommendations ranging from 0.8g/kg up to and beyond 2g/kg, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. For my less active female clients, I would want them to get a minimum of 1.2g/kg of lean body mass, since current research suggests this being an optimal minimum. While my ladies who are in the gym lifting weights to achieve body recomposition and muscle mass for longevity, they might trend more towards the 1.8g/kg on days they are training. Finding the right balance of protein is essential but subjective. Don’t worry about what works for everyone else — figure out what works for you and start implementing these changes in your diet and workout routine.

Check back in the coming weeks for more on my research and opinions on how protein affects your body.

Research:

Mozaffarian, D., Rosenberg, I., & Uauy, R. (2018). History of modern nutrition science—implications for current research, dietary guidelines, and food policy. Bmj, 361.

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