Did you know that proteins are the second-most prevalent substance in your body? Second only to water, proteins make up 20% of your body weight and are a primary component of your muscles, hair, skin, nails, internal organs, brain, and connective tissue. They also help with cell signalling, form enzymes to spark our metabolism, and make hormones that help regulate our body chemistry.
Protein is also extremely helpful from a fat loss perspective. Firstly, it increases levels of satiety and reduces hunger through increasing the release of hormones like cholecystokinin and ghrelin, respectively. It also takes a lot of energy to digest proteins—much more than carbohydrates and fats—meaning that we burn calories simply through the digestion process.
It’s also needed to build and repair muscle, which burns far more calories at rest than fat. By adding more protein to your diet, you’ll help reduce muscle loss and be sure that your metabolism won’t slow down.
What Happens If I Don’t Eat Enough Protein?
The truth is, many people aren’t getting enough protein at all. Instead, many of us reach for carbs or sugars when we need a pick-me-up. The trouble is, there are a number of problems associated with protein deficiency.
The first sign is muscle wasting. Proteins contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle in your body. Without those much-needed amino acids, your muscles will simply not have the proper fuel. And if you’re trying out a restrictive diet as an attempt to lose weight, this only adds salt to the wounds. In need of energy and proteins to carry out bodily functions, your body will leech those amino acids from your muscles. The result: a slower metabolism and feeling weak all the time.
Protein is also needed to build the components of our immune system, so if you’re someone who’s getting sick all the time it could very well be due to a protein deficiency. Other signs of protein deficiency include sugar cravings, thinning hair, and brain fog.
So the question is: How much protein does your body need?
It Depends Who You Ask…
There are a million different schools of thought when it comes to how much protein one should consume in a day, but here are some common recommendations:
Opt for 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
This amounts to about 56g per day for the average sedentary man or 46g of protein per day for the average sedentary woman.
FYI: 56g of protein is equal to about an egg, 1 cup of chickpeas, and a chicken breast.
2. Have 1g of protein per pound of body weight.
This is a common perspective among hardcore athletes and body builders who are trying to build a lot of muscle and lean down. Under this view, a 125-pound woman would have 125g of protein per day, equal to about 3 eggs, 2 chicken breasts, and 2 cups of chickpeas (just as an example).
3. Do the math.
Some people suggest different calculations based on how much you exercise. Supporters of this view tend to recommend that:
Athletes on a fat loss program consume about 1.6 - 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight
Athletes on weight gain programs consume 1.8 - 2.0g of protein per kilogram of body weigh
Endurance athletes consume 1.2 - 1.4g of protein per kilogram of body weight
Strength and power athletes get 1.4 - 1.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight
NOTE: To convert kilograms to pounds, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.
4. The 30% rule.
A common calculation that exists is to make sure that 30% of your daily caloric intake comes from protein.
To do this calculation, here are the steps you need to take:
Divide your daily caloric intake by 0.3. As an example, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, you’d multiply 2,000 by 0.3, which gives you 600. This is the number of calories you need to get from protein per day.
Divide that number by 4. In this case, we would divide 600 by 4 to give us 150. This gives you the number of grams of protein you need per day as there are 4 calories per gram.
I like this calculation because it’s a bit more individualized given that many of us consume a different amount of calories per day.
What Does That Mean For Me?
So now we know all of the different theories out there about how many grams of protein you need per day, but what does this mean for you?
Well, there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to how much protein you should include in your diet:
What are your goals?
Are you trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight? Depending on what your goals are, your protein needs will vary drastically. Individuals who just want to maintain where they’re at might not need as much protein and might be perfectly fine going with option #1 from the list above. However, if you’re trying to build muscle and significantly lean down, your protein needs will increase. Remember, protein can be a great helper when it comes to weight loss so more protein can be of a huge help in this aspect.
2. How much do you exercise?
If you’re someone who’s rather sedentary, your protein needs will be lower than someone who is hitting the gym every day. But for people who are pumping iron regularly, protein needs will certainly go up to repair the muscle fibres that are constantly being torn during your workouts. If you aren’t providing these overworked muscles with amino acids—the building blocks of protein—they’re simply not going to be able to grow. The more you exercise, the more protein you need, especially if you’re weight training.
3. Do you like protein? How does it make you feel?
This is a question that no body builder or hardcore gym rat would ever ask. Yes, it’s true that protein is needed for muscle gains but I also am a firm believer that you should really like the food you’re eating if you want to adopt a healthier lifestyle. As an example, my friend who’s a personal trainer will wake up in the morning and have chicken and brown rice for breakfast. Does he have one of the best bodies I’ve ever seen? 100% yes. But even though I know those are the things he did to become so muscular, I’m just not someone who wants chicken in the A.M.
The Bottom Line
I suspect that the majority of you who are reading this aren't consuming enough protein in a day. Instead, many of us gravitate towards carbs for energy most of the time. Use the question and calculations above to figure out how much you need a day and commit yourself to ingesting that amount. For example, if you’re someone who wants to lean out, exercises quite frequently, and likes the taste of protein, you’re likely going to benefit from choosing option 2 or 3. If you’re someone who is wanting to gain weight and isn’t exercising very much, you’ll likely want to go with option 3 or 4. And if you’re feeling extra lazy, check out online calculators like this one. Just keep in mind that they’ll all have their own philosophies about this… a body building website, for example, would likely recommend a lot more protein than a vegan one, for example.
You Tell Me!
Do you have a calculation you rely on to figure out how much protein you need? Let me know in the comments below!