Our bodies are in a continuous cycle of change. New cells replace old ones as our bodies adapt to our environment and the challenges we face each day. Good nutrition is important as it fuels these processes and provides the building blocks for new cells. For active individuals, protein is an important nutrient that needs to be addressed in one’s diet because of the demands of hard working muscles (i.e. during the exercise, repair and recovery). The question then becomes … “How much protein do I need to consume each day for optimum results?”.
The Importance of Protein
Proteins are necessary for tissue repair and for the construction of new tissue. Every cell needs protein to maintain its life. Protein is also the primary substance used to replace exhausted cells. Below are a few examples of the lifecycle of cells in the body:
- Most white blood cells are replaced every 10 days.
- The cells in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and blood platelets are replaced every 4 days.
- Skin cells are replaced every 24 days.
- More than 98 percent of the cells in the body are completely replaced each year.
When you are physically active (regardless of type of activity you do) your body breaks down protein (in the form of muscles) more often than those who are not active. To maintain good health and body function, people who are physically active need to include more quality protein into their daily nutrition.
Meat, fish, poultry and dairy are among the most common sources of dietary protein, though tofu other plant sources can provide sufficient protein as well. The recommended serving size for meat and the animal sources is 3 ounces (approximately 21 grams of protein). A standard serving of dairy products, such as milk or yogurt, is one cup (approximately 9 grams of protein). A serving of tofu or tempeh is one cup (approximately 9 grams of protein).
Good sources of quality protein include:
- Beef (grass-fed)
- Chicken (organic)
- Salmon (wild caught)
- Tuna fish
- Eggs (organic DHA-enhanced)
- Greek yogurt (organic)
- Almonds/Almond butter (natural)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese)
How Much Protein is Enough?
Determining the amount of protein a person needs to consume each day is a fairly straightforward equation (depending how much physical activity you do). All you need to know is how much activity you do and how much you weigh (in kilograms).
- Not Physically Active – 0.8 grams/kilogram/day
- Strength Training (increasing muscle mass) – 1.7 to 1.8 grams/kilogram/day)
- Endurance Training (marathons, triathlons) – 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram/day)
Individuals who aren’t physically active (primarily walking around the house and light lifting, pushing or pulling) require 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. Even though the body is not engaging in strenuous muscular work it still requires protein to build new cells throughout the body (i.e. skin, hair, nails, tissues and organs). Below is a sample equation using a person weighing 165 pounds (75 kilograms).
- Protein Requirements = 75 kg. x 0.8 g/kg/day
- Protein Requirements = 60 grams/day
For active individuals, it is important to recognize that different types of activity use stored protein in different ways. For those of you looking to increase muscle mass, you not only have to work harder to build muscle, you also need more building blocks of muscle (amino acids) to ensure your hard work doesn’t go to waste. Individuals including resistance training to your workout program (to increase muscle mass and size) should include 1.7 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Below is a sample equation using a person weighing 200 pounds (91 kilograms).
- Protein Requirements = 91 kg. x 1.8 g/kg/day
- Protein Requirements = 164 grams/day
Endurance training (i.e. long distance running, cycling or swimming) uses stored protein as a source of fuel for the body. As the body’s primary fuel stores are depleted, the body turns to fat stores in the muscle and protein. Protein may contribute up to 15 percent of the energy needs in endurance exercise, particularly when someone is carbohydrate depleted. The recommended amount of protein to include in an endurance athlete’s diet is 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Below is a sample equation using a person weighing 135 pounds (61 kilograms).
- Protein Requirements = 61 kg. x 1.2 g/kg/day
- Protein Requirements = 73 grams/day
For more information on the protein recommendations listed above click here.