If you have been around the fitness world for any length of time, you have heard the wonders of protein preached on every corner. We are told that protein must be prioritized and consumed in relatively large amounts to achieve maximum results in our fitness and overall health. It seems to be the miracle macronutrient! This post will hopefully provide a bit of clarity on the role of protein in the body, how much you should actually be eating, and if you should be using a protein supplement.
The Role Of Protein
Of the three macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fat), protein is the one that is dedicated to building and repairing bodily tissue. Bodily tissue is not just muscle, but also includes organs, tendons and ligaments, hair, skin and nails. Protein is seen as a “last resort” fuel source for the body as it much prefers carbohydrates and even fats. It will use protein as energy only when carbs and fats are not available.
Protein is not stored by the body. Whatever is not used in tissue building is either removed as waste, or it is converted to fat and stored as fat. Protein is converted and stored as fat when too many calories are consumed.
Recommended Protein Intake
There are several schools of thought as to how much protein a person should consume:
|National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)||
|General Public||Athletes||Anyone Who Exercises|
.8 grams per kilogram of body weight
|1.4 – 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight||
1-2 grams per pound of body weight
Equivalent Protein Amounts For A 150 Pound Person
|54.5 grams||94 – 116 grams||
150 – 300 grams
Both the RDA and the NSCA make their recommendations based on kilograms, not pounds which, when calculated, makes their protein recommendations significantly lower than what the fitness media recommends**.
Protein needs can vary greatly based on individual size, body composition (amount of muscle vs fat), activity level and current health state. If you are active, or in any kind of tissue growth state (think growing children, pregnancy, muscle building), then you require more protein. You may also require more protein if you have any sort of chronic illness or degenerative disease. If you are a relatively healthy, yet not very active adult, you require less protein.
It is no coincidence that the fitness industry recommends more than double the amount of protein than either the RDA or the NSCA, as they are primarily the ones selling protein supplements. Why wouldn’t they recommend massive amounts of protein if it will get you to purchase more of their products? Fitness companies will argue that any amount of protein below one gram per pound of body weight is sub-optimal and will lead to your body eating its own muscle tissue. What they don’t tell you is that carbohydrates actually have a “protein sparing” effect. This means that for energy, your body will turn to the carbohydrates you consume and save the protein you eat for tissue repair and growth (See The Benefits Of Carbohydrates). Your body will only turn to its own tissue if there are not enough carbohydrates (or even fats) for it to maintain proper energy production. This makes these extremely high protein recommendations completely unnecessary and also makes carbohydrates something not to be feared.
Before investing in protein supplements, first confirm that you actually are lacking in your protein intake. Take time to track your protein and see where you are at based on the information above. Most protein needs can easily be met with whole natural foods without requiring additional supplementation. Remember also that protein is not a “free” macronutrient. If you are eating extra protein without counting those calories in your daily caloric intake, at least some of that protein will be stored as fat. Extra calories will always lead to weight gain whether that be from protein, carbohydrates, or fats.
If you are already eating high quality sources of animal products along with a well-rounded diet of primarily natural unprocessed foods, you are most likely meeting your protein needs. Vegetarians are one example of those who might struggle with meeting their required protein intake and could benefit from a high-quality, minimally processed protein powder.
In general, I would encourage you spend your money on high quality real foods and purchase protein supplements only when necessary. Protein powder is a processed form of protein. It should not be a replacement for whole foods, but should be used to supplement/fill in the cracks of an already healthy diet.
** One pound is equivalent to 2.2 kilograms. The equivalent numbers above are calculated by dividing weight in pounds by 2.2, then multiplying that number by the recommended amounts of protein.
The information found on this blog is based on my own personal thoughts and opinions. I am not a doctor or registered dietician. Please be sure to consult your health care professional before starting or changing any fitness or nutrition program.
Henriques, Tim. NPTI’s Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training. United States: Human Kinetics, 2015.
NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 4th Ed., Edited by Micheal A. Clark, Brian G. Sutton, Scott C. Lucett. United States: National Academy of Sports Medicine, 2014.
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