How Much Protein Should I Eat for Optimal Fitness?

It Does More than Maintain Muscle

Protein is Essential for Optimal Fitness. Knauer/Johnston/Getty Images

Don't run to the store for buckets of protein powder or fill the fridge with mountains of lean meats just yet. Let's consider all macronutrients essential for optimal fitness and review what protein is and how much we need. Protein is a macronutrient which means the body requires a large quantity and provides a powerhouse of health benefits. That doesn't mean an overabundance of protein is needed to maintain the human body.

Unfortunately, protein marketing has caused many bodybuilders, athletes, and occasional exerciser to gobble down more than the necessary requirement to sustain a healthy body. 

Protein is made up of a chain of amino acids with numerous health benefits for our body. Each protein molecule has a specific inside job and responsible for the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and organs.  It's easy to understand the excitement surrounding the power of protein and the temptation to believe that more is better. Protein is an important component in every cell of the human body. Our hair and nails are mostly comprised of the macronutrient, and our bodies not only use protein to build and repair tissue, but also to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein plays an important role as a building block to our bones, blood, skin, cartilage, and muscle. It's not stored by the body and can’t be drawn from as an energy source, unlike the other necessary macronutrients carbohydrates and fats.

This fact alone has some believing that consuming protein all day long is the solution.

The truth is we don't require as much protein as is marketed today to maintain bulging muscles and tight bodies. The focus should be placed on the quality and quantity of protein consumed. Protein intake above the recommended daily allowance remains a controversial subject and under constant review.

The position stand of The Committee of the International Society of Sports Nutrition is that “protein intakes of 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg/day for physically active individuals is not only safe, but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training.” The emphasis for this statement is based on those who engage in regular exercise training and eat a balanced diet that includes the other macronutrients carbohydrates and fats. Also supported is “while it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through a varied, regular diet, supplemental protein in various forms are a practical way of ensuring adequate and quality protein intake for athletes.”

The requirements for protein intake will vary for each person taking into consideration a sedentary lifestyle, regularly active, to the hardcore athlete. Everyone wants to believe eating tons of chicken, drinking daily protein shakes, and eating scores of protein bars is going to deliver the goods. Resistance training creates lean muscle and protein has the job of repairing the damage.

It's the symphony of exercise and protein intake combined that makes muscle growth happen. Each of us has a different lifestyle when it comes to physical activity, whether we are a child, or elderly and that will dictate the recommended daily allowance for protein. Currently and according to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance for protein is calculated using .8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. An adult non-active male weighing 160lbs would require 58 grams of protein per day for example. The RDAs for children are 1.5grams of protein, .8 to 1.5grams for the elderly, and 1.2 to 2.0 for athletes per kilogram of bodyweight.  


US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of HealthTop of Form,  Effect of Protein Intake on Strength, Body Composition and Endocrine Changes in Strength/Power Athletes,, Jay R Hoffman, 12-13-06

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Protein and the Athlete - How Much Do You Need?, Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD, 12-10-14

International Society of Sports Nutrition, position stand: protein and exercise, Bill Campbell, Richard B Kreider, 9-26-07

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