As a health coach and nutritionist I get asked that question a lot from clients and friends, who just want to do the right thing and eat better. But with conflicting information about protein, majority of people don't know what to think. So in first place let's answer this question - why protein?
Protein is one of the three main macronutrients (together with carbohydrates and fats) that makes up the food we eat. It's made up of amino acids which are the building blocks for most cells in our bodies. Unlike extra fat we store, we can't get hold of lots extra amino acids. Protein is always getting used, recycled, and sometimes excreted and if we don’t get enough protein, our body will start to use it from parts that we need, such as our muscles. So we have to constantly top up protein by eating it and without it, we die or become seriously malnourished.
All our enzymes and cell transporters, 100 percent of our hair and fingernails, our muscle, bone, and internal organs and many hormones are made of mostly protein. As protein enables most of our bodies’ functions no protein basically means no you!
So how much protein do we really need depends of many factors.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) were originally developed as a way to prevent malnutrition— to represent the minimum amount of a nutrient we need to not die (or get sick). The current RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) — the more you weigh, the more protein you need. So for example a 150-lb (68 kg)person would need 68 x 0.8, or about 54 grams of protein a day.
Although the RDA for surviving may be different than what we need to optimal health.
The RDA is also a very general recommendation and it doesn’t take other things into account, such as how much total calories we eat or need, age, gender or how active we are.
So as there is a huge range in individual protein requirements the recommendations based on research are that up to about 35 percent of your calories coming from protein is safe.
This mean that an 150-lb active person with average calories requirements of 2000 kcal (to maintain their current weight) would be eating up to around 700 calories from protein each day which equals to 175 grams (1gram protein has 4 calories).
Since we need protein to grow, maintain, and repair our tissues, hormones and immune system, there are times we need more protein. The standard recommendations are great if you’re sedentary and not building or repairing your muscle mass. But you may need more protein if you are physically active, either through workouts or your job; injured or sick; pregnant / breastfeeding; younger (and growing); older (and potentially losing lean mass), etc.
Higher protein diets can also be beneficial in lowering blood pressure; improving glucose regulation and blood cholesterol and general cardiometabolic health.
What's most important for most of our clients here at VPT, protein is brilliant for losing fat, as :
1. When you eat more protein, you tend to feel fuller longer.
Protein stimulates the release of satiety (stop-eating) hormones in the gut. So when you eat protein, you naturally tend to eat less, without feeling hungry.
2. Protein makes your body work to digest it.
Not all nutrients take the same energy to digest. Fat and carbohydrates are pretty easy for your body to digest and absorb, but protein takes more energy to digest and absorb (thermic, or heat-producing, effect of protein digestion)
3. Protein also helps you hang on to lean mass while you’re losing fat.
When you’re in a significant energy deficit (i.e. eating less than you burn), your body tries to throw out everything — fat, muscle, bone, hormones, etc. — all the stuff you need. It doesn’t tend to burn just fat and keep muscle… unless you eat lots of protein!