Protein. With fat, carbohydrate and water, a macronutrient you (quite literally) can’t live without.
But the question I get a lot (really a lot!) is “how much?” It’s an important question that has had a lot of confusion built around it, mostly by the weight loss/muscle gain scammers in the fitness industry.
Whether you are an athlete trying to gain muscle and weight, someone seeking fat loss or even a woman trying to “tone up” (snicker), you need adequate protein to win the battle! By the way, all snickering aside, “toning” is simply the process of losing body fat while maintaining muscle. In other words, gaining muscle to lose fat.
While there isn’t, literally, one simple answer, the solution to the equation is simpler than you might think.
But before I just throw it out there, let’s look at the what, why and where of protein.
Protein is essential for muscle and other cell recovery. It’s comprised of amino acids, some of which are essential (meaning the body cannot synthesize it and it must be derived from food) and some non-essential (can be synthesized in the body).
A quality protein source is one which is complete, or containing all 9 essential amino acids. One of the reasons vegetarians have such a hard time getting sufficient protein is because they must carefully combine foods in order to complete the amino acid profile and be sure to get enough essential amino acids.
You’re probably not a vegetarian or a vegan (makes it harder, but not impossible, to get adequate protein for building muscle), but if you are, I still love you! There are plenty of plant-based food combinations that will meet that need, especially if you include eggs or fish as a vegetarian.
The rest of us have protein needs that fall into a range between 0.8 grams and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
If you do the math on your own body, you’ll likely realize you’re woefully underfed when it comes to protein!
Here’s some sample math. A 145 pound woman and a 200 pound man would have protein ranges like this:
145 lb. Woman
Low end – 145 lbs. X 0.8 = 116 grams of protein/day
High end – 145 lbs. X 1.2 = 174 grams of protein/day
200 lb. Man
Low end – 200 lbs. X 0.8 = 160 grams of protein/day
High end – 200 lbs. X 1.2 = 240 grams of protein/day
If you just said “wow!,” you’re probably not getting enough protein.
When you’ve done your personal math, we need to take one more more step. Divide the total number of grams of protein per day between the total number of meals you typically eat. Ideally, you’d be eating 5 times a day, but that isn’t feasible for everyone. If our woman and man are eating 5 times a day, their per-meal protein intake would look like this:
Woman – 116/5 = 23.2 grams/meal
174/5 = 34.8 grams/meal
Man – 160/5 = 32 grams/meal
240/5 = 48 grams/meal
This is a great way to estimate how close you are to ideal protein intake. How do you get to the ideal intake? Here are some of my favorite protein-dense foods:
- Grass-fed Beef
- Chicken, Turkey and Poultry
- Tuna, Salmon and other oily fish
- Shrimp, Scallops and shellfish
- Omega-3 eggs (get organic and eat the whole egg!)
- Protein powder (I’m a big fan of JayLab Pro Protein Powder.
If you’re struggling to get enough protein, adding a protein supplement in the evening or with breakfast will help.
Splitting your protein intake across multiple meals is far more manageable than leaving it uncounted and realizing you’re way short at day’s end.
Getting enough protein will insure that your muscles recover and your body is able to efficiently burn fat for fuel.
Now that you know your number, get to it!
Keep the faith and keep after it!