How much protein do you really need?
There's a whole world of information available when it comes to protein requirements. Some health and fitness professionals tell you that you don't really need much, recommending as little as 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. At the other extreme, some recommend up to 4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. As for protein timing, (when you should eat it over the course of the day), nobody seems to be able to agree! With so much contradictory information out there, it's hard to know what you should be aiming for, so let’s take a look at the evidence!
When it comes to the average adult, 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is generally considered enough. However many of us have goals to gain muscle or maintain our physique. In this case, it's best to aim for optimal protein intake rather than just adequate protein intake. The most recent studies suggest that 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, four times a day, is ideal. This is equivalent to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight, split into four separate meals or snacks, to make the most of your body’s absorption capabilities! If you don’t eat four times a day you can divide your 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight into 3, 5 or 6 meals, whatever works for you!
What about athletes? In terms of muscle gain and athletic improvement, there's very little evidence for consuming any more protein than the recommended 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, four times each day. Additional protein may help you to feel more full and satisfied, and a little more certainly won’t hurt, however excessive intake may be harmful so there’s no need to go overboard!
Now let's talk about timing. Splitting your protein intake over the day allows your body to properly digest and use everything you eat. When it comes to the actual time of day that you eat protein, it seems to be a little less important, and the evidence is still fairly limited. Although the 'window of opportunity' for eating protein after training is yet to be proven, it’s a good idea to have a meal after your workout anyway. This will help keep you fuelled and replenish the energy that you used during your session. Be sure to include a good serve of protein in your meal as this will ensure you hit all your requirements for both quantity and timing. It’s also a good idea to have a serve of protein in the morning as this helps to keep your hormones in check throughout the day, keeps you feeling full and sustains your energy.
Finally, where should you be getting your protein from? For some it can be difficult to consume enough protein, particularly vegetarians, vegans and those with other specific dietary requirements. Protein powders and shakes can be a particularly useful tool for these people. If you prefer to avoid these products, you should be aiming to have a complete protein source at each meal, such as meat, eggs, tofu or tempeh.
At the end of the day when it comes to achieving your goals, whether fitness, physique, or health focused, your overall energy intake and the quality of your food is the most important thing. It's best to eat whole foods with a balance of different macronutrients, vitamins and minerals to ensure you're consuming everything you need and not lacking in any essential nutrients! Exact protein numbers and timing are just the icing on the cake.
Aim to include a protein rich food at each of your meals!
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