How Much Protein Per Day?
Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. They are a great source of energy, and while this can be also be had from, say carbohydrates and fats, proteins differ in the sense that they also contain amino acids; making them essential nutrients. Amino acids are the building blocks of life - amino acids form RNA, which in turn forms DNA. Amino acids build tissue and have a host of associated health benefits. While some amino acids are naturally produced by the human body, some cannot and need to be introduced into the body as part of the diet. This can be done only by ensuring that proteins make up a vital part of one's diet.
The word protein is derived from the Greek word ‘protos’, meaning first. This is how important it is. In fact, protein is considered the king of nutrients.
How much of protein?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Now, one kilogram is 2.2 pounds, so for someone who weighs 70 kg or 154 pounds, he/she would require 56 grams of protein every day.
This is also where it gets confusing. This is only a general rule of thumb, and it may go up according to one's activity level. The RDA also varies by country, as people in colder countries spend more energy trying to keep warm, even without actually doing any exercise. Professor Nancy Rodrigues, who teaches nutritional science at the University of Connecticut-Storrs, believes double the RDA should be good and do no harm. Going by the RDA, a lot of people may actually be consuming lesser protein than what they actually require.
A standard recommendation does not hold good for both physically active and sedentary individuals, and a better outline of a person's protein requirements can be had from the below chart.
Type of person Daily Protein Intake
Sedentary male or female individual who does not work out at all. 0.5 – 0.7 grams per pound of body weight
Male or female individual who does some form of non-strenuous exercise, with the intention of losing weight or preventing weight gain. 0.8 – 1.0 grams per pound of body weight
Healthy female who engages in strenuous exercise with the intention of increasing lean muscle, strength et al; or in other words, is trying for that ‘toned body’ look. 1.0 – 1.2 grams per pound of body weight
Healthy male who engages in strenuous exercise like weight/resistance training with the intention of building muscle and strength; such as bodybuilders. 1.0 – 1.5 grams per pound of body weight
How increases in strenuous activity require additional protein
Milo of Croton, a sixth century champion wrestler, was able to lift a bull entirely, using nothing but his bare hands. He achieved this feat through practice – he started lifting the animal when it was just a calf. He would do this with every passing day, and as the calf grew in stature, Milo’s protein intake also increased correspondingly. By the time he was lifting a fully-grown bull, his diet had expanded to include 20 pounds of meat every single day.
Sources of protein
If you find from the table above that what you are consuming isn’t enough, additional protein can be had as part of one’s diet. There is no need to start taking nutritional protein supplements immediately.
Here are some sample values as per the US Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database, 2015
Food Protein in grams
3 ounces cooked chicken or turkey 19
½ cup cottage cheese 14
6 ounces Greek yogurt 17
1 cup of milk 8
½ cup cooked beans 8
3 ounces salmon, tuna, haddock 21
1 cup cooked pasta 8
¼ cup or 1 ounce of nuts (all types) 7
1 egg 6
So now you know where to add that additional protein to your diet.
Too much of protein can never be bad
Again, there may be instances where people don’t get enough exercise, but are engaged in physically strenuous jobs. Those who are recovering also need more protein in their diet. Because there are no hard and fast rules, it safer to err on the side of caution and consume more protein that what you may require (as indicated by the charts).
That brings up the question of whether there are any side effects to too much protein. Since they contain amino acids that are vital for life processes, consuming more protein than what one may actually require is likely to increase in improved health. There are various health benefits associated with protein.
One of them is weight loss. Proteins help an overweight individual lose weight by increasing metabolism (converting fat into energy) and satiety, so they are compelled to eat lesser. Proteins do not have any effect on those who are of normal weight, except it keeps them from gaining weight. This is how with protein, it is a win-win situation for all those concerned.
Even if you consume more protein that your body can actually use up, it just gets converted into energy.
Will any protein do?
There are different types of protein. Animal protein and plant protein, for starters. They are not the same. Even among them, there are several sub-types.
Whole eggs, for example, were awarded a perfect value of 100 for their nutritional content. With this as the parameter, cow milk scores only 91, egg whites 88, fish 83, beef 80 and chicken 79. These actually contain a variety of proteins. But because some proteins are more beneficial to the human body than others, there are now specialized protein supplements. Among them are whey protein, casein and soy protein. The latter two rank lesser than whole eggs at 77 and 74 respectively. However, whey protein outranks whole eggs – whey concentrate, which is 80% protein, secures a score of 104, while whey isolate (90% protein) tops the list with a whopping 140 score. Both whey concentrate and whey isolate are obtained from milk/cheese.
Whey protein and casein are also more easily absorbed by the body, and whey protein has additional health benefits in the form of lower blood pressure as well as lower total and bad cholesterol. It also helps fight against diabetes mellitus, and goes a long way towards ensuring better immunity and lower stress levels.
So can I take protein supplements alone instead of food for my protein intake, after calculating my protein requirements?
This is generally a bad idea, as these are intended as ‘supplements’ to one’s diet and not the diet itself. Your diet also contains other nutrients and minerals that are as important as proteins. So protein supplements are to be taken only if your diet cannot meet your body’s protein requirements. Before you arrive to that stage, you must make all attempts to modify your diet so that it meets your protein requirement goals. Only if you fail here should you be considering protein supplements.
So how much is your body’s protein requirement? This is best known to you alone. It might be worth checking out how much protein is provided by your existing diet (there are several sources of information online that provide protein values by food item) and whether it is generally sufficient. After all, you have nothing to lose – only to gain!