How much Protein do you need?
Updated: Mar 23
We are often asked about protein requirements by a range of clients, from teenagers to older adults. Some underestimate their requirements and some wildly overestimate them. The answer? Well, it depends. But that's what we're here for - to sort the fact from the fiction.
Recommendations vary widely. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that average-weight men need around 56g/day of protein and approximately 45g/day for women. Multiple papers have suggested that 20-25g of fast digesting, high quality protein per meal or snack in young adults was the maximum required for building muscle and that anything else would be used for energy or come out in the urine. Even Professor Kevin Tipton et al's landmark paper (hidden in The Journal of Gerontology) found that older men may require no more than 30-35g per sitting to maximally stimulate muscle synthesis (which is important to maintain balance and reduce the risk of falls in older people).
Then there are the athletes. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published Schoenfeld and Aragon's study "How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution." It concludes that the ideal amount of protein for maximum muscle building/strength is a somewhat complex recommendation of 0.4 - 0.55g/ kg/body weight per meal, 4 x day, to reach an overall minimum of 1.6 g/kg/day. That means athletes should look to eat at least 1.6g of protein for every kilogram (kg) they weigh, split into 4 meals a day. So if s/he weighed 100kg they'd eat 40g of protein four times a day (100kg x 1.6g of protein = 160g divided into four meals = 40g per meal). It gets a bit more complex if you consider that fat mass should be taken out of the equation, your stage of life changes protein requirements, as does whether or not you're physically active, but - again - we're here to translate the science into protein on a plate.But remember that this means a huge 40-55g of protein per sitting for a 100kg athlete ...
Why do I need protein?
Repair and Maintenance Protein is needed to maintain body tissue, including development and repair. Our hair, skin, eyes, muscles and organs are all made from protein. Energy Protein is a major source of energy after it has been used in tissue maintenance and other necessary functions. Hormones Protein plays a role in the body's manufacturing of hormones including Insulin, Oestrogen and Testosterone. These help control body functions. Enzymes Enzymes speed up important chemical reactions in the body and are built from protein. Multiple enzymes help to breakdown food for energy. Transportation and Storage Protein enables the transportation of key substances. For example, Haemoglobin is a protein that transports oxygen through the body, whilst Ferritin is a protein that combines with iron for future use by the body. Antibodies Protein helps to manufacture antibodies which help prevent infection, illness and disease by destroying bacteria and viruses.
The good news is that you do not have to rely on protein supplements
It takes planning but if you want to take a Food First approach as opposed to supplementation (taste, long list of unpronounceable ingredients, possibility of contamination and inadvertent doping) then we'd like to give you some suggestions, concentrating on protein pulsing (regularly feeding yourself over the course of the day). It IS a high protein intake so let's assume that you do not have any kidney problems. All of these suggestions provide around 40g protein so you can scale them down if you wish.
3 egg omelette plus 150g low fat plain Greek yogurt topped with 25g of pumpkin seeds and 25g unsalted mixed nuts
100g smoked salmon with 3 scrambled eggs
1 tin reduced sugar Heinz baked beans on 2 slices wholemeal toast topped with 25g grated cheddar cheese
150g tinned tuna, 200g tin of drained chickpeas plus cherry tomatoes, salad leaves and a few slices of red onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice
150g grilled chicken breast with 125g microwaveable brown rice and 80g steamed green veg e.g. broccoli, string beans, asparagus
2 x 80g smoked mackerel fillets (skin removed and flaked), drizzled with lemon juice and stuffed into a warm wholemeal pitta bread - smear one side of the inner pitta with some low fat cream cheese - and add watercress, rocket, sliced avocado and some seeds (pumpkin are ideal) for extra crunch
150g tofu cut into cubes, stir fried with 25g cashew nuts, 100g frozen edamame beans - use soya sauce or tamari, crushed garlic and ginger plus sliced chilli for flavour. Serve with extra stir fried veg (red or yellow peppers, courgettes, broccoli, onions, baby sweetcorn) of your choosing and some wholewheat noodles on the side
1 x 200g tub cottage cheese plus 75g of mixed unsalted nuts
100g pack beef jerky
Whether you eat meat and dairy, are vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, the key is to plan your weekly shop so that you have a wide range of protein you enjoy in the cupboard and freezer as well as the fridge. It doesn't need to be about protein powders, beef steaks or pricey snack bars that advertise they have 10g of protein. Just follow us on Instagram or check back here for simple recipe ideas!