How Much Protein Should I Eat for Optimal Fitness?

Protein powder and black plastic container
Protein Requirements Vary per Individual. Jorge Gonzalez / Getty Images

Protein is a macronutrient which means the body requires a large quantity. It also provides a powerhouse of health benefits. This doesn't mean we are to purchase buckets of protein powder or fill the fridge with pounds of lean meat. Protein intake is different for everyone based on age and intensity of daily physical activity for example.  

More is not always better when it comes to protein intake.

An overabundance is typically unnecessary to maintain a healthy body. Unfortunately, protein marketing has caused many bodybuilders, athletes, and active individuals to gobble down more than the daily requirement. Although all macronutrients need to be considered for optimal fitness, it's important to understand protein intake and its function. 

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. Protein is 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 temptation to believe 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. Protein is required to build and repair tissue, regulates enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals.

Protein plays an important role as a building block to our bones, blood, skin, cartilage, and muscle.

Protein isn't stored by the body and can’t be drawn from as an energy source. The other essential macronutrients carbohydrates and fats provide the energy required for life and exercise. Because protein is primarily obtained from the food we eat, many believe consuming large amounts all day long is the solution for optimal fitness.

This is simply not true. 

Protein requirements are often misunderstood due to successful marketing claims of its ability to create lean muscle mass. That's all well and good, but the focus should be placed on the quality and quantity of protein consumed on an individual basis.

Protein intake above the recommended daily allowance remains a controversial subject and under constant review. The position stand from the Committee of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends “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 individuals engaging in regular exercise and eating a nutrient dense balanced diet. Research also indicates active individuals and athletes may benefit from additional protein supplement to meet daily protein requirements. 

Protein requirements 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, downing protein shakes, and eating protein bars is going to magically put muscle on their body. Resistance training is what 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 from child to elderly. Varied age and physical activity help define 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 recommended daily allowance (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. 

Sources:

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

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, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Jay R Hoffman, 12-13-06

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