There’s a lot of debate as to whether carbohydrates and fats should be increased or minimised for optimal health but one thing that remains fairly consistent across most modern diets, e.g. Mediterranean, low-fat, and low-carb, is the protein requirements.
Despite this, you will read conflicting information about the actual amount we should be consuming.
UK guidelines recommend that 15% of your calories should come from protein. This UK guideline also suggests calculating your individual requirement as follows:
your weight in kg x 0.75 = your daily requirement (1).
This means the ‘average’ 70kg woman would require just 52.5g protein daily. This 0.75 grams per kg body weight is the minimum required to avoid muscle loss. As with so many RDIs (recommended daily intake), the goal is to avoid disease rather than to achieve optimal health!
Amongst nutrition professionals this calculation is considered to indicate be the bare minimum required, rather than the optimal intake. Guidelines from Acceptable Macronutrient Depletion Range (AMDR) indicates that protein intake should be as much as double this.
Research that assessed the affects of protein intake on weight management, appetite suppression, healthy aging and athletic performance concluded that a protein intake of between 1.2-1.6g per kg of body weight is a far more suitable target intake (2).
Can you have too much protein?
A common misconception is that too much protein causes kidney damage. However, in healthy people a high protein intake has absolutely no negative impact on the kidneys. It’s true that a low protein diet is beneficial for those with kidney disease, however that doesn’t mean that a high protein diet causes kidney disease.
A higher protein intake seems to promote weight loss too. A review of the literature showed that a high protein intake (25-32% of daily calories as protein) led to weight loss and improved blood sugar regulation (3). A higher protein intake also regulates appetite and reduces leptin resistance.
It’s argued by many that too much protein will causes weight gain because any over-consumption of calories leads to weight gain. However, the ‘calories in VS calories out’ theory is massively flawed. Read more about that here. Furthr to this, theoretically, your body will produce 50g of glucose for every 100g of protein consumed, stimulating insulin release; a fat storage hormone. This process is known as gluconeogenesis. However, research has indicated that this glucose doesn’t enter circulation and therefore doesn’t impact fat storage. Research consistently proves that a higher protein intake promotes weight loss.
Ultimately, it’s pretty difficult to overeat when it comes to protein because it suppresses the appetite. How many times have you struggled to finish your dinner and then miraculously found room for dessert? You really have to force yourself to overdo the protein!
My Guidance For Optimal Protein Intake
To keep things simple, as a bare minimum I recommend having 20g of protein per meal plus an additional portion after a workout. Remember, that’s the minimum. Closer to 30g per meal plus more with a workout, is likely to be optimal.
A combination of quality animal protein (organic, free-range & pasture/grass-fed) and plant protein is recommended.
If you want to calculate your recommended intake use the following calculations:
- For athletes and the very active: 1.6 x your weight in kg
- For less active individuals: 1.2 x your weight in kg
If you have kidney disease seek advice from a qualified professional.
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What are healthy sources of protein?
The protein that makes up our bodies is not obtained directly from the foods that we eat. Dietary protein is broken down into its ‘building blocks’ amino acids, which the body can then use as it needs. Therefore, it is the amino acids that are essential rather than the protein. Protein is a constituent of every cell in the body, and next to water makes up the greatest proportion of body weight. It makes up hair, nails, ligaments, tendons, glands, organs, muscles, body fluids, enzymes and hormones.
- Red meat
- Dairy – full-fat yoghurt, cheese, cream, butter etc
- White fish, e.g. Coley, Cod, Haddock, Sole, Bass, Sole, Halibut, Whiting
- Oily fish, e.g. salmon, trout, herrings, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, fresh tuna
- Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas
- Full fat hummus (made from chickpeas and sesame seeds)
- Baked beans – check for the sugar content, choose organic unsweetened if possible
- Tofu – either plain that can be marinated or stir-fried, or as sausages or burgers
- Nuts and seeds– raw and unsalted and avoid peanuts
- Quorn (in moderation)
- Protein bars (sugar free)
- Whey, hemp or pea protein powders
- Amino acid formulas in tablets or capsules
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