Americans, as well as people in many other wealthy, developed countries, have made an idol of protein. Particularly in fitness circles, the idea that you need to consume huge amounts of protein is taken as gospel and with easy access to a variety of protein powders, bars, and shakes, even those who never set foot in a gym have gotten on board.
Are we eating too much protein, though? As it turns out, the answer is almost always yes – and eating too much protein can have a negative impact on your health. It’s time for us to reevaluate our relationship to protein and adjust our diets accordingly.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
If you’re worried about getting enough protein, here’s a simple bit of wisdom: the people who are most concerned are almost always already getting enough, or more than enough.
That’s because, the average young person only needs to get about 10-35% of their calories from protein, depending on activity and body mass; that’s approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, with that value increasing to about 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight after age 40, as we tend to lose muscle mass as we age.
Of course, highly active individuals, especially those who are trying to boost their muscle mass, do need more protein, but even that increase is fairly modest. Those who engage in regular, moderate exercise need about 1.1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 1.2-1.7 grams for serious weightlifters, runners, and cyclists, especially those in training for competition.
Regardless of activity level, intake of 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight or more is considered excessive, and that’s when you begin running into trouble. But what do all these numbers look like, practically speaking?
Setting Your Serving Sizes
It’s all well and good to tell people how many grams per kilogram of bodyweight they need when describing protein intake needs, but that doesn’t really mean a whole lot to the average person who doesn’t weigh their food or fuss about macros.What the average person really needs to know is what healthy servings of protein look like on the plate, and you may be surprised to find it’s a lot less than you think.
Let’s begin with a conservative metric. In the somewhat confusing conversation about protein needs, one amount you’ll regularly hear quoted is an intake of 46 grams of protein per day for a relatively small woman and 56 grams for men. These are the USDA guidelines and in practice that looks like:
- A bowl of cereal with skim milk
- A serving of low-fat Greek yogurt
- 4 oz of chicken breast
That’s it. This may seem like very little, but for a small (approximately 125 lbs), only modestly active woman, it’s actually sufficient – but barely so. If you’re a larger person or exercise intensively, though, it would be a little skimpy. A more practical way of breaking down intake, then, might be simply to model serving sizes for different protein sources.
Remember, for those under 40, your body can’t use more than about 30 grams of protein per meal at rest, or up to 40 grams immediately after a workout. Those aged 40 and up should aim for 40 grams of protein per meal.
There are a lot of different ways experts calculate protein intake needs, so it’s important to try a few different approaches to see what makes you feel best and optimizes your performance.
This guide can help you understand how much protein is in your meals, allowing you to build a balanced day:
- 3 oz cooked chicken breast = 26 grams of protein
- 4 oz of cooked salmon = 27 grams of protein
- 1 large egg = 6 grams of protein
- 1 cup of oats = 11 grams of protein
- ½ cup of tofu = 11 grams of protein
- 1 cup of yogurt = 12 grams of protein
- 1 cup boiled lentils = 18 grams of protein
- 1 oz of peanuts = 7 grams of protein
It’s important to get your protein from a variety of sources in order to ensure you’re getting a balanced assortment of nutrients. You’ll also find negligible amounts of protein in many other foods, ranging from broccoli to putting a sprinkling of nuts on your salad, but it’s your primary protein sources that will make or break your numbers.
The Risks Of Too Much Protein
What happens if you eat too much protein? While there are certainly some nutrients you can overdose on relatively harmlessly – typically water soluble vitamins that will simply be excreted in your urine – getting too much protein can have some troublesome side effects.
Some indications that your protein intake is out of balance include dehydration, poor physical performance, constipation, bad breath, and even kidney stones. While it’s quite easy for the body to break down carbohydrates, even when consumed in excess, protein can present some serious challenges, especially for your kidneys, so it’s important that you keep an eye out for these symptoms.
Get Your Diet On Track
If you’re physically active, it’s easy to understand how you would end up consuming too much protein. The practice is ingrained in our culture, especially in the fitness world. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s actually beneficial or even safe, and that’s what none of the trendy diets or protein-driven products will ever tell you.
At Demetz Online Personal Training, we recognize the importance of protein, especially for those trying to reach ambitious fitness goals. That’s why our Nutrition Coaching Program considers your individual activity level, along with your body composition and other factors, to ensure that you meet all your daily dietary needs in an appropriate manner.
Contact us today to learn more about our Nutrition Coaching Program and how the Demetz Online Personal Training approach can help you meet your goals. Our individualized approach means you can be sure you’re getting what you need, not what someone else needs. One size, fits all is a contradiction in terms. The only approach that will ever work is one based on your body and lifestyle – and that’s what Demetz delivers.