Nutrition can be a controversial topic in the fitness industry. Crazy diets come and go, but there are two main factors to consider when considering overall health, weight, and nutrition: Our bodies require protein to complete various functions, and more calories will do in return for weight gain.
The following information provides an overview of why and how to add protein to a balanced diet of whole, minimally processed foods (along with plenty of water to stay hydrated). For more personalized recommendations, consult a registered dietitian, especially if you have underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or kidney dysfunction.
Why is protein important?
Proteins are made up of different groups of amino acids, which are the building blocks of different parts of the body including the skin, muscles, hair, nails, blood, and internal organs. On a larger level, protein is one of three macronutrients (along with fats and carbohydrates), and an essential component of eating a healthy calorie-balanced diet. Protein is an essential component of proper recovery and helps us feel full for longer than any other type of calorie. Exercise, especially strength exercises, breaks down muscles by making tiny tears in the tissue. Protein helps rebuild those ruptures, which is why muscles grow back stronger after a series of workouts with adequate rest, recovery and nutrition.
How much protein do I need to eat?
Everyone’s protein needs vary, with athletes needing more than others because of the demands of their sport, but in general, you can use your body weight to determine the range of protein you need to eat each day. To do this, convert your weight into kilograms: take your total weight and divide it by 2.2 (eg 200 lbs / 2.2 = 90.9 kg). Next, use the chart below as a guideline for how much protein you need.
Those who want to be healthy, maintain a stable weight, and avoid muscle loss due to aging (sarcopenia) should focus on getting 1.2 grams to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
- Average weight for a 200lb/91kg man: 109-145g of protein per day
- Suitable range for a 150lb/55kg woman: 66-88g of protein per day
For those who want to gain lean mass (muscle), stay healthy, and make small, safe changes to their body composition, focus on getting 1.6g to 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight. The range can be lowered to 1g of protein per kilogram if calories from other macronutrients are restricted. Individuals in this group are more likely to be active throughout the day, which means that total caloric intake should also be increased to ensure muscle breakdown does not override muscle repair.
- Average man weighing 200 lbs / 91 kg: 145-200 g of protein per day
- Suitable range for a 150lb/55kg woman: 88-121g of protein per day
A good rule of thumb is to eat 20-30 grams of protein with each meal, and possibly an extra snack, to make sure you’re eating enough protein throughout the day.
Protein-rich foods help your body recover, provide fuel to keep moving, and help you feel more satisfied after eating. Animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy products are easily accessible. Here are some of my favorite options:
- Lean meat: Whether you exercise like an athlete or are a regular gym goer, lean cuts of meat provide the highest amount of protein per gram than most other sources. Chicken, turkey, and fish breasts tend to be less fat (the least amount of fat, the most amount of protein). Cuts of red meat such as sirloin, top round, and tenderloin are the least fat in this category. Fatty cuts of meat, fish, and chicken can make it difficult to stay within a certain calorie range.
- eggA staple at breakfast, eggs are a low-fat, versatile, and relatively inexpensive protein source. They also contain many important micronutrients such as vitamin D and iron.
- dairyCheese and Greek yogurt are great options (if you don’t have a dairy allergy) because they both contain high amounts of protein. Two types of protein are included in dairy products: whey and casein. Whey is digested quickly and is best consumed immediately after a workout. Casein is digested more slowly, which helps if you need to stay satiated for longer periods of time, such as between meals and overnight.
- vegetarianQuinoa, soybeans, nuts, lentils, tofu and tempeh are all sources of protein that come straight from the earth. Although they are high in carbohydrates, these are great options for vegetarians and vegans to make sure they are still getting some of the essential amino acids (EAA) found in meat-based proteins. Soy is one of the few plant proteins that contain all the essential amino acids.
- extra proteinTypically sold in bulk, protein supplements are meant to help you cross the finish line of protein intake if you can get enough in your diet from whole food sources. Whey protein powders are the most common and can be found at your local grocery or supplement store. Not sure where to start? Check out our favorite list! Protein powders can be mixed with water or milk or blended into a smoothie to enjoy during the day as a meal, snack, or post-workout recovery tool.
Balance activity and nutrition
Total calorie balance is key to maintaining weight, losing fat, and/or gaining muscle. Eating too much and moving too little is a health concern as much as eating too little and moving too much. When determining your protein needs, be sure to use one of the above guidelines for grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and fill in the rest of your calories with carbohydrates and fats. The InBody . scale Your local VASA can show you what your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is, which is how much energy (calories) your body would burn if you were to lie awake for an entire day. Adding extra calories to support your exercise goals will give you an idea of how much you need to consume each day to ensure your muscles and other tissues get enough fuel to repair themselves. Diving below your BMR for total calories can have a detrimental effect on your body’s ability to function, energy, and mood. Eating enough food is essential to perform well in the gym and in your daily life.
Nutrition can be a scary part of making sure your performance continues to improve in the gym. Understanding the role protein plays in strength training and recovery from resistance training and cardio will help you make better decisions when thinking about properly fueling your body.