Portobello Mushroom Burger!

Protein Requirements!

Now that you have a decent understanding of how to figure out your calorie needs for the day, we can finally focus on the big question, “How much protein do I need”?

To start off with, it varies.  And before you go banging your head against the wall at the ambiguity of that answer, give me a chance to clarify.  It only varies based on your level of activity, and there’s a lot of leeway.

First, let’s start off with the low end of protein requirements.  Keep in mind that these requirements have been set as the highest amount potentially needed rather than a lower limit.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that the general public only needs 0.8g/kg (0.36g/lb) tops.  However, they also state that strength and endurance athletes can need up to 2.0g/kg (0.91g/lb).  Keep in mind that these strength and endurance athletes are working out almost every day at a high intensity.  So, if you’re honestly doing that, then your maximum protein need for the day will be 0.91g/lb of body weight.

For me, I train more or less like a strength athlete, and I train almost every day.  It’s just what I love.  As a result, I keep the 0.91g/lb as my upper limit.  Since I’m about 190lbs, that turns out to be 173g of protein (and since I eat about 4,000 calories total, that’s less than one fifth of my caloric intake).  I get 56g of that from egg whites because I’m a cheapskate and eggs are cheap.  The rest of my 117g comes from plant-based sources…. mainly grits and rice because they’re carb-rich (and, you guessed it, cheap).  They compose about 90g of the 117g that come from plant sources.  The rest comes from the fruits and veggies that Lisa forces me to eat.  It’s tough love, I guess. 🙂

The only note of caution here is that if you choose to go an entirely vegan route, you will have to research to make sure that you understand how to combine plant-based foods in a way that lets you eat all of the essential amino acids.  While animal proteins always have all of the essential amino acids, the plant-based sources need to be understood and combined intelligently because each individual plant doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids.  For instance, if you only eat rice all day, you will be deficient in several essential amino acids.  However, if you combine your rice with beans, then the two will complement each other with the amino acids that the other plant is missing.  So, with the rice and beans combined, you would be able to get all of the essential amino acids.  There’s nothing wrong with getting all of your protein from plant sources, but you must be educated on how to do it.  Otherwise, there’s a potential for malnutrition.

In all honesty, I don’t truly know how many grams of protein I eat now.  I have a good guess, and I know that I’m close to what the AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) says is the maximum amount for strength athletes, but it’s just not that big of a deal to me anymore.  I know that I’m getting enough because I’m over what the AND recommends as a max for the general public, and I know that I’m not eating too much excess since I’m close to what the AND recommends as a max for strength athletes.

But it all comes down to the amount of calories you eat and making sure that you eat enough carbohydrates.  Carbs are your body’s favorite energy source, so if you eat plenty of them, you give yourself the best chance to perform well during exercise in order to stimulate more muscle mass gain and cardiovascular benefits.  If your body is carb deficient and starts using protein as an energy source, you’re going to drag in the gym and not be able to perform well.  This lack of performance will guarantee a lack of results because you simply aren’t able to work hard enough to make the positive health and fitness changes that only come through hard work.

How many carbs do you need?  Well, after you get your recommended amount of protein in, your carbs will fill in the majority of however many calories you need after you account for your protein needs.  So, make sure you get your protein, then fill in the rest of your calories with something around 70 – 80% carbs and 20 – 30% fat.  This will ensure that your body has the protein, carbs, and fat it needs for optimal health and fitness (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually).