How Much Protein Should I Eat?

If you come to me and say “I need to lose inches” “I need to gain muscle”  “I need to lose weight” or “I need to tone up” there is one piece of advice I will give you.

You need to eat more protein.  

As a Personal Trainer I say this so frequently I'm thinking of getting it tattooed on my forehead.

Protein is necessary to build and maintain muscle.  This is of extra importance if you are aiming to lose weight, inches or reshape your body.

Adequate protein intake while eating a caloric deficit will expedite the fat loss process.

Many people do not eat enough protein for their body or their goals, especially women.

A recent study has shown that total calories and the amount of protein within those calories are the only two contributing dietary factors in reshaping your body.  

You need to eat a significant amount of protein.  That does not mean every meal needs to be 3 steaks washed down with a protein shake.  

It just means you need to prioritize protein in your diet and eat more than you are currently eating.

The amount of protein you need to consume will depend on a couple different factors.

First it will depend on your size.  Obviously an NFL defensive end has different protein demands than a Ballerina. Larger people need more protein, more muscled people need more protein.

The second factor you need to consider is your goal.

If you are eating to lose weight you actually need to eat MORE protein than you would if you were eating to gain weight, or maintain weight.  

Why is Protein so Important?

Protein has a higher Thermic effect than the other macronutrients.  It requires more calories to digest protein than it does carbs or fat.  In plain speak, that means that protein will keep you feeling satiated for longer.  If you prioritize protein in your diet you will not physically be as hungry as often.  Obviously psychological factors play into hunger and cravings, but I am only an armchair psychologist who is not licensed to give advice.

Protein also will negate most of the muscle wasting that happens when you are eating in a caloric deficit.

Metabolisms do not work as we want them to.  When you are dieting to lose weight you are inevitably going to lose some muscle along with fat.  However, if you increase your protein intake you can minimize muscle loss.

Protein contains the amino acids necessary to build muscle, more so than carbs or fat.  Keeping a steady supply of these amino acids (from food, not from supplements) will allow muscle to retain its size.

Combating hunger and maintaining muscle mass are very important while losing weight.  They will make the diet easier, and more successful. If you can control your hunger by consuming the appropriate amount of protein you will enjoy the diet more, and if you can maintain muscle mass after the conclusion of the diet you will look better.  You might even looked ripped.

So How Much Protein Should I Eat?

There are plenty of places you can find recommendations for protein intake. The FDA’s Recommended Daily Allowance is incredibly low.

Their recommendation is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds you should only eat around 54 grams of protein.

That’s great, if your goal is to not die.

However the FDA’s RDA is only put in place to ensure that people do not suffer from malnutrition. They want people to merely survive, if you’re training hard your goal should not be to survive. It should be to thrive. That number is NOT for anyone who is trying to build a better body.

A better body requires more protein.

There is no formula that is 100% accurate due to metabolic differences between individuals.  But here is how you start:

Pick your ideal body weight.  It might 150 pounds, it might be 185 pounds.  You will eat that many grams of protein.

If you are trying to lose weight that is your daily protein intake.  For example: if you weigh 200 pounds but you are trying to diet down to 150 pounds you will eat 150 grams of protein per day.

If you are trying to gain weight you will add 25 grams of protein to your ideal bodyweight.  If you weigh 150 pounds but are trying to diet up to 200 pounds you will eat 225 grams of protein.

Protein intake beyond acceptable levels is highly individual.  You might find that your body functions well on a very high protein diet so you need to add a couple grams on top of the recommended amount- that’s perfectly fine.  

All successful diets require some individual tweaking. You might find that you maintain muscle with exactly these recommended numbers, that’s awesome. You might also find that you lose a little bit of muscle with these recommended numbers. Just add 20 grams of protein for the next 2 weeks. If you notice your muscle is staying, then you’ve found your proper intake number.

We all have different metabolisms with different nutrient requirements. For that reason we all need to own our diets and experiment until we find exactly what works for us.

One caveat is that increased protein intake ALWAYS means a decrease in carbohydrate and fat intake in order to stay at your prescribed caloric total.  You cannot add protein without subtracting something else. That would put you over your caloric total and into a caloric surplus.

Successful diets all have one thing in common: an adequate amount of protein. There is no point busting your ass in the gym only to lose your muscles due to laziness in the kitchen. Prioritize your protein intake and your body will start to change for the better.

Get Stronger.

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Patrick Henigan