Today we’re going to talk about how much protein you need per day. There are so many different ways that this comes to people. You have people who are vegetarian or vegan, the big bodybuilders, you have the average day person, you have the athletes, etc. What is kind of a good guideline to go with for protein needs? A good one if you’re just like “hey I just want the quick answer”, just go with a gram per pound of bodyweight. Now, this can be adjusted for and should be adjusted for people who are larger. So somebody who is 300 plus pounds is not going to need 300 grams of protein right? So once the body fat starts to be higher, then you want to go with more of a lean body mass. So taking that overall body weight, subtracting your fat mass from your fat-free mass, right? So at that point, you’ll have a pretty good estimation and there’s photos and stuff online that you can check out.
From there, you get your one gram per pound of body weight. In this case, you get lean body mass which is actually a pretty good formula. A lot of the research will show that you need about 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight on the low end and upwards of 1.5 on the higher end. I personally have had really good success with about 1.6 grams per pound of body weight. Now again, I’m sitting anywhere between probably 6 to 10 percent body fat on average. So I’m already a pretty high level of body composition. The leaner you are, the more protein that you want to have in your diet simply to sustain your lean body mass.
The other scenarios where you want to have higher amounts of protein are going to be when you are in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is going to encourage the body to use amino acids for caloric energy. When the body is looking for energy, it will look to use whatever it can find. This may be glucose which is then broken down form of carbohydrates, fatty acids which is fat broken down (and may also be broken down into ketone bodies as well), and protein broken down into amino acids. Being in the calorie deficit your body is naturally going to burn whatever it has available. In many cases, unfortunately, it’s going to use your own lean body mass if you don’t have enough protein in your diet. Having that increased amount of protein in your diet is really going to make for sustaining your lean body mass.
Depending on the amount of the calorie deficit that you’re in, you might actually be able to build muscle. Now, this level of caloric intake is going to be closer to what would be considered a maintenance level (but just a little less). At this point, you’re just doing a very slow body re-composition, which is ideal. In this phase, you’re losing body fat, and you’re slowly gaining muscle. The downside to doing something like that is that you don’t really take off in either direction rapidly. You’re not going to lose body fat really quick and you’re not going to gain muscle really quick either. You’re just going to have a slow kind of transition. Over time you’ll be good with ideal body composition or lean body mass to fat mass.
Another issue is the myth out there that you can only digest 30 grams of protein. If that was the case, we’d be in big trouble as a species, especially way back in the day with the cavemen. If they, unfortunately, could only eat one big meal after a week, because they had to kill an animal they hunted, and could only utilize 30 grams at a time, we would not have made it as a species. The body will make do with a large meal. It may not be able to use all of it optimally, but it’ll do its best to make the most use of it. So, maybe in one sitting you have 100 grams of protein. The body will slow down the digestion and absorption of those amino acids and we’ll say you get 80% of that. So it puts you at about 160 grams of absorption from that 200 grams of protein.
It’s not really going to be ideal. What we want is the optimal absorption of protein. The other way you know that you’re using it is because you’re not passing things along in their entirety. You’re not having loose stools. So what is optimal is really more the question than can it be absorbed. It can be absorbed, but it’s not optimal when you have it all in one bolus amount. So How much protein do you need per day to be optimal? The answer is about a three and a half to four and a half-hour of spacing which comes out to about four or five meals a day in even amounts. The more you can keep that at an even level, an even amount of protein per meal, the better. Your body only needs so much of a threshold to start that process of making new proteins, making new muscle tissue, and new connective tissue.
When you have an adequate amount of protein available, you’re good. Anything else is just extra, you don’t really need it. It’s like you’re building a house, you have one ton of bricks to make this portion of it and you have a load delivered to place for twenty-five hundred pounds (for anybody that’s metrically challenged like I used to be, that is five hundred pounds too much. One metric ton is going to be two thousand pounds). So we have five hundred extra pounds of this brick, that unfortunately, you can’t really use until later for like repairs or something. The body is kind of the same way, except we can’t store it. The only way that we store protein is our muscle tissue. By having that extra protein, you’re not really doing yourself justice. If anything, your body’s going to say “okay, well we’ve met our protein needs, let’s try and make as much energy from this as we can now.
It’s very very difficult for the body to make energy from protein. To break down that protein into ATP essentially at the molecular level, it requires a lot of energy to break it down. This is an extremely inefficient system of doing things and so it’s just kind of this extra task that the body has to do that it doesn’t really need. It could be doing other metabolic processes, such as using the protein it had that was sufficient to build muscle tissue, to get rid of any kind of bacteria or virus via the immune system. To give you energy neurologically, all those other facets are going to be taken away as the body has to do something else. This is to say that your cognitive ability won’t be at its peak because the body is diverting efforts towards this extra excess protein.
So make sure you’re getting anywhere from .8. I don’t really recommend that, but from the research, .8 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight is optimal. This is as accurate as we can get to answering the question “How much protein do you need per day”? Again, 1.5 is very high. I have done as high as 1.6. The other aspect that I’ll say here at the end is that if you go too high and you’re in a caloric restriction, you only have so many calories that you can allot for your carbohydrates and fats. If your protein is too high, your carbs and fats are going to be very low. If your fats are too low, then you’re not going to have enough fat to make hormones or make them in an efficient amount that you need. If you have too little carbohydrates, your workouts are not going to be as good as they could be with carbs. You’re not going to be able to benchpress as much, squat as much, you’re going to get tired faster, your overall performance is going to drop, and because the stimulus on the muscle tissue isn’t there, then you’re going to lose muscle. It’s a catch-22 to some extent because if you go too high then everything else has to drop and you’re not going to have the energy to sustain the muscle even though the protein is there in a sufficient amount.
For somebody who is trying to lose body fat, this is bad as well. You will want to stick anywhere from 1.1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you are carrying more body fat stick closer to that 1.1, maybe even that 1 gram. If you are in a deficit and you’re somebody who’s already very lean and seeing single-digit body fat, then you want to be closer to that 1.5 grams per pound of body weight.
I hope you enjoyed this post. if you have any questions or anything that you’re like I’m not really sure that you want some research proof of it anything like that go ahead and send me an email via the contact page here. I’m trying to give you guys the best information that I’ve learned both from an experience standpoint doing personal training both online and in-person and also what I’ve learned getting a degree in exercise science and as a certified personal trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine. So those are kind of my quick credentials where I get my information, my experience, my background, and have been doing this for about nine years. Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in doing online personal training with me check out the website home page here and take care!