A few days ago I shared with you “13 Real Life, Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein.” In it, I laid out the case for each of you to eat a higher protein diet. Today, I’m going to answer some more questions about protein and give you a few real world ways to increase your protein intake.
First, how much protein do you need each day? Like the answer to so many other questions in the fitness and nutrition world, the answer is a firm “it depends.”
Most nutritionists would tell you to eat between 20 and 35% of your calories as protein calories. They’ll tell you the most extreme athletes and fitness enthusiasts fall near the upper end of that range, with everyone else somewhere between 20 and 25%.
The US National Academy of Medicine recommends protein intake in the range of 10 – 35% of total calories. They also recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bodyweight. That equates to just over 7 grams per 20 pounds of bodyweight. (1)
I take a slightly different approach. I recommend between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. If that sounds like a lot, you might be right. But what happens for athletes is that protein gets used to repair muscle and fuel the body’s recovery. For everyone, the higher amount of protein usually replaces other calories, like those from processed pseudo-foods. This is a good thing if you’re watching your weight or trying to shed unwanted fat.
If you’re someone who hits the gym 3-4 days a week and you’re not in a job that keeps your stress levels at critical 24/7, shooting for about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day should do it. That’s 200 grams (800 calories) for a 200 pound man and 150 grams (600 calories) for a 150 pound woman.
When you see the calorie counts beside the gram counts, it suddenly doesn’t look like so much protein. Lots of people have no organized eating plan. This makes managing your protein intake virtually impossible.
For the average person who doesn’t work out regularly, compete in athletics, do extreme stuff, have stress in their life, work for a living or basically do anything at all, the basic recommendation of the National Academy of medicine is likely to work just fine. However, most people fail to get even that much protein in their diets. Taking into account that the optimal level of protein, based on all we know and have already covered, is much higher than the RDA, that’s definitely true.
So get your meal and nutrition plan together! Make sure your protein counts are adequate for your needs. Your brain, your strength, your organs, your stress levels and your physique will thank you for it!
Right now, some of you are thinking, “okay, Phil, I hear you. But won’t increasing my protein intake damage or at least put a strain on my kidneys?”
Many people believe that. Some doctors even still tell their patients that.
To put it respectfully, these people are misinformed and behind the science. This belief likely stems from a fairly narrow reality.
People with pre-existing kidney disease benefit from restricting their protein intake. In fact, too much protein can cause these people serious problems. (2)
For those with healthy kidneys, there is virtually no evidence that a high-protein diet will cause them kidney problems. There is a mounting body of research evidence that show no correlation between high-protein diets and kidney damage in people without kidney disease. (3, 4, 5)
Now that we’ve disposed with that particular piece of fiction, let’s talk about some various types of supplemental proteins. Ideally, it would be best to get all your protein from the food you eat, but for some people, that can be a challenge. For them, using supplements makes sense. They can also be handy when you travel and can’t predict the availability of clean, high quality protein sources.
First, let’s talk protein bars. They usually come in 2 varieties: delicious and full of sugar or low sugar and taste like cardboard. There are a few that fall somewhere in between, but that about covers it. For these reasons and because protein bar makers used to have to process proteins in ways that made the protein less bio-available, I use to steer my clients away from them. In large part, I still do.
There are a few exceptions. Clif Bars recently unveiled a line of protein bars with low sugar, very few sugar alcohols and no artificial sweeteners that taste great. The Clif Bar Whey Protein Salted Caramel Cashew is nutty and delicious!
If you prefer a plant-based protein bar that tastes great and has low sugar, No Cow Plant-based Protein bars are for you! The No Cow Protein Bar in Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip is delicious!
Protein bars use any of a variety of protein types – whey, soy, casein, egg and even animal proteins like beef. Several companies have even begun using cricket protein! The EXO Cricket Protein Bar is called a “sustainable” protein bar. I guess the assumption is that we’ll never run out of crickets! Mmmmm…crickets! Um, no thank you!
If you’re going to use protein bars as a source of protein, be sure to fully read the nutrition label. Check for excess sugars, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. There are plenty of reasons to do so and better choices are readily available. Understand that the protein bars with the best sugar and ingredient profile often have relatively low amounts of protein, generally 10-15 grams. If you’re active or an athlete, you probably need more than that in each serving.
Soy protein has been under fire in recent years. One of the reasons is that soy has high levels of phytates, in the form of phytic acid, which impedes or prevents the uptake of nutrients and minerals found in plant-based foods. Studies have shown the relationship between eating soy protein and soy products and impaired cognition and memory, early onset of dementia, thyroid issues, asthma and reproductive disorders. (6, 7, 8)
All that being said, these studies largely looked at a slightly broader base of soy-based foods and not only soy protein isolate. Still, it’s worth noting the potential risks. The benefit of soy protein for exercisers is that it can be digested pretty fast and may increase nitric oxide levels and improve muscle recovery after workouts. (9)
It’s been suggested that using a mixture of whey and soy proteins may have some benefit to exercisers. One study concluded just that, saying “that the increase in post-exercise phenylalanine net balance across the leg (an indicator of muscle protein anabolism) was prolonged with ingestion of a protein blend compared with whey protein.” (10) In other words, using a blend of proteins instead of just whey improved muscle recovery.
In the end, it really is a risk/reward decision regarding soy protein.
Casein protein is a good choice when you want a slower absorbing protein. For example, if you’re taking a protein supplement before bed (as I recommend to my athletes) to aid muscle repair and recovery, casein is a good choice. This is a common practice among athletes who are either trying to gain weight or who just want to recover faster in order to get more frequent and/or more intense training sessions done.
The slower absorption rate gives your body a steady supply of amino acids. Since you essentially fast while sleeping, you won’t be resupplying those aminos with more frequent meals. Hence, the value of slower absorption. If you use casein protein, choose a protein powder with micellar casein protein. It’s hydrophobic nature assures that it remains in a suspension longer in the body. This slows digestion to prevent any of those precious amino acids from going to “waste.”
Egg white protein has a speed of digestion right in between whey, which is very fast (more on that shortly,) and casein. Medium speed probably best describes this one. It’s a high-quality protein made by processing the whites of the eggs, which are almost all protein.
Milk protein is a blend of about 20% whey and 80% casein. This makes it a relatively slowly absorbed protein. It’s produced by removing the fat and carbohydrates from milk. If you use this type, choose milk protein isolate, as it has been shown to be the most effective type.
Whey protein is kind of like the “Holy Grail” of proteins, at least as far as the bodybuilding crowd is concerned. Research has shown that it’s incredibly effective at stimulating muscle growth when taken right after your workout, within about 45-60 minutes. However, it also stimulates muscle growth all day, as long as you’re putting in the reps.
Whey is very quickly absorbed and most brands mix easily with just about any liquid. Water and milk tend to be the most common choices. It comes in 2 basic forms, concentrate and isolate. Isolate is absorbed faster and generally has a little less fat and carbohydrates.
The brand I recommend to my athletes and clients is JayLab Pro Protein Powder. Highest quality, great taste and a fantastic company.
You can find cheap protein powder in your local nutrition store or even at your gym, but you need to know that the protein you’re putting in your body is of the highest quality and has been produced under the best possible conditions. Both of those things are true of JayLab Pro.
If you have questions regarding this or any other exercise, fitness or nutrition topic, feel free to reach out to me. Leave a comment below or send me a DM on Instagram @coachphilhueston!
Keep the faith and keep after it!
6. Hogervorst, E., et al., High Tofu Intake Is Associated with Worse Memory in Elderly Indonesian Men and Women, Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders 2008
7. Conrad, S., et al., Soy formula complicates management of congenital hypothyroidism; Archives of Disease in Childhood 2004
8. Strom, BL., et al., Exposure to soy-based formula in infancy and endocrinological and reproductive outcomes in young adulthood. JAMA 2001