Protein is perhaps one of the most controversial macronutrients known to man.
Since the rapid growth in popularity of protein-based supplements like whey protein powder, there has been a raging debate about the role protein plays in fat loss, muscle building and overall health maintenance.
There is a sizeable camp of nutritionists, trainers and conditioning coaches that preach the gospel of high protein consumption and supplementation to facilitate physique transformation.
Likewise, there are also a huge number of nutritionists, dietitians and other healthy eating advocates who believe a high amounts of protein consumption is highly unnecessary and leads to long-term negative health consequences.
In actuality, both camps of opinions hold a lot of merit and truth.
Medical research has long shown that protein plays a pivotal role in fat loss, muscle building and long-term positive changes in body composition.
However, improper usage of protein powders along with over-consumption of protein coming from other sources can lead to a variety of kidney and liver problems.
Our bodies are radically different from one person to the next.
Therefore, everyone will have different protein intake requirements.
Here is a comprehensive breakdown of how to gauge the appropriate amount of protein you should consume on a daily basis.
How much protein should I be consuming a day?
Most nutritionists and exercise physiologists argue that the average human being should ideally consume anywhere between 0.6 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
However, there are a lot of factors to consider when calculating the right amount of protein to ingest on a daily basis.
Critical factors that will affect protein intake include:
- Fitness Goals
- Exercise Intensity
Women’s bodies will arguably require less protein compared to men because they do not carry as much muscle mass.
A 155-lb moderately active woman would probably need only around 70 to 80 grams of protein a day while a man weighing exactly the same would need 100 grams or more.
This is due to the fact that women have higher body fat percentages then men and hence will a much lower lean body mass then men.
Age does not have a huge and pronounced effect on protein intake, but it should be noted that as individuals get older, one’s required protein intake will naturally decrease. As the body ages, lean body mass is expected to decrease over time due to muscular atrophy.
However, a moderately high protein intake combined with structured resistance training can stave off the effects of age-related muscular atrophy.
One’s fitness goals also play a huge role in protein intake requirements.
Moderately active individuals who exercise no more than three to four times a week using a variety of structured activities such as aerobics, weight training, martial arts, etc., will not need as much protein compared to someone engaged in a serious strength training program.
Individuals looking to increase their overall strength benchmarks, increase their lean body mass and have a “bodybuilder” look will need to eat closer to one to two grams on a daily basis.
Increase in muscular strength and size is correlated with the body’s ability to adapt to weight training exercise by repairing broken muscle tissue and subsequently growing new muscle. This process is known as hypertrophy.
Individuals who engage in hypertrophy-based weight training will obviously need a much higher protein intake to allow muscle groups to properly recover and grow..
What role does protein supplementation play in muscle building?
During the process of lifting weights, muscle fibers are torn apart and as a result, the body adapts to this “exercise-induced stress” by repairing broken muscle fibers and growing new muscle tissue to be able to carry heavier loads.
During the process of weightlifting, the endocrine system floods the body with muscle-building hormones such as testosterone, human growth hormone (HgH) and insulin growth-like factor one (IGF-1).
Individuals who consume fast-acting protein sources such as whey immediately after their workout see much greater gains in muscle and size and strength.
This is another compelling reason why eating higher amounts of protein while engaged in a strength training program is very necessary.
How does protein intake affect fat loss? (The road to lean body mass)
Weighlifting, especially if the weightlifting program is designed with the right training intensity parameters, can be very taxing to the body.
Muscle fibers are ripped apart and as a result, the body will now require higher amounts of energy to not only facilitate muscle repair but also growth.
Studies have shown that individuals that engage in strenuous weightlifting at least three to four times a week while on a high-protein diet will lose more weight compared to individuals with low to moderate protein intake levels.
Medical studies further suggest that weight training plays a critical role in long-term weight loss maintenance.
Weightlifting builds one’s lean body mass, which in turns improves one’s resting metabolic rate (RMR).
Intense resistance training combined with a high protein intake will not only help individuals scorch fat off their body, but will also help them keep the pounds off for good.
When individuals consume higher amounts of protein, especially whey protein, during and after an intense weightlifting session, the body produces higher amounts of the antioxidant glutathione.
This plays a critical role in muscle recovery, repair and synthesis – leading to long-term improved changes in body composition.
Does exercise affects my protein intake requirements? – Training smarter for quicker results!
As mentioned earlier, exercise definitely plays a huge role in protein intake requirements.
However, not all exercise is the same.
Exercises that are extremely taxing to the body’s metabolic processes will require individuals to consume more protein. Steady state aerobics, i.e. walking, jogging, jazzercise, etc., are all good as far as cardiovascular conditioning, but these forms of exercise are not shocking to the body’s metabolism.
Time has proven over and over again that weightlifting, especially training exclusively in heavy compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, power cleans, snatches and presses will have the biggest impact on your body’s metabolism, thus making your body demand more protein.
These compound lifts are multi-joint movements that rip apart large muscle groups of the body.
When should I be eating protein?
Timing of protein intake is usually the biggest question asked by people worried about their protein intake.
Indeed, the frequency and timing of protein consumption will have a definite impact on one’s body composition.
First, and foremost, the average individual is only able to consume anywhere between 20 to 30 grams of protein per hour.
After intense exercise, most exercise physiologists say the body can absorb up to 40 to 60 grams.
This will obviously depend on a person’s body type, exercise regimen and other metabolic factors.
Also, it should be noted that protein type is very important. Animal-based protein sources are slow digesting and the digestive system will have to work harder and longer to break down protein material derived directly from meat.
However, protein derived from processed sources, i.e. whey, casein, etc. are broken down at a much quicker rate.
Generally, most individuals, after an intense exercise session that is primarily structured around resistance training should consume anywhere between 30 to 60 grams of whey protein.
Final tips for success
It could seem highly confusing and overwhelming about how much protein one should be eating a day.
However, to make it as simple as possible, start off by consuming at least .5 to 1 gram of protein per pound that you weigh.
Eat high quality protein sources with each meal and spread out your protein intake throughout the day.
Finally and most important, eat from a variety of protein sources such as lean meats, legumes, dairy, nuts and processed sources such as whey.