Hardcore bodybuilders, powerlifters, weightlifters, and even most other athletes eat a ton of protein in a day. OK, they don’t eat a “ton”, but they do eat more than the average person. There are myths and stories about professional bodybuilders and strongmen who eat 300-500 grams of protein each day. Most of us can’t follow that prescription so we end up with the nagging question, “how much protein should I eat in a day?” This leaves us with a number of additional oft-debated questions, such as:
“How much protein do the professionals eat?”
“Exactly how much protein do I eat?”
“How much protein is appropriate for me?”
“Can I physically eat ‘too much’ protein?”
“If so, what are the side effects?”
“Exactly how much is ‘too much’?”
Let’s stop to consider all of the factors that go into determining how much protein we should eat.
What Determines How Much Protein I Should Eat?
- body size
- activity level
The recommended amount of protein for a healthy adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Since a kilogram is roughly equal to 2.2 pounds, that translates into .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
An exception to this rule is the recommended levels for pregnant women, which say that pregnant women should eat 10 grams more each day than the recommended amount. Lactating women require an additional 15 grams of protein during the first six months of nursing, and an additional 12 grams after that.
I firmly believe that this recommendation is grossly inadequate. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend any less than .8 grams of protein per pound (rather than per kilogram) of body weight, for people looking to maintain healthy body composition, and I wouldn’t recommend any less than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for people looking for food to gain muscle.
Males who participate in regular vigorous exercise typically will eat from 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This can be both positive and negative for the body. The additional protein will assist in muscle recovery and fat loss, but the effects of digesting the protein will place additional stress on the body.
Why Should I Limit My Protein Intake?
While protein is as vital to cellular metabolism as oxygen, there certainly lies a threshold for healthy and unhealthy consumption levels especially for those in poorer health. Processing protein requires a lot from the kidneys and liver which is why those with problems with either of those organs are often ordered by their physicians to eat a lower-protein diet.
An indirect drawback of excessive animal protein consumption is its effect on the cardiovascular system. Since many types of meat contain a fair amount of saturated fat, this can lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, as well as obesity.
For example, only 25% of a T-bone steak’s calories come from protein while the rest comes from saturated fat. Even a leaner cut of beef like a flank steak is still roughly 50% fat. The same holds true for eggs. Only 31% of eggs’ calories come from protein. Fish and chicken are certainly better sources of protein.
Remember when eating a diet higher in protein drink plenty of water in order to replenish the considerable amount lost during protein metabolism. Try and stay on the safe side by avoiding extreme high-protein diets full of saturated fats like the ketogenic diets (Atkins) and you will be in much better physical standing (read more).
To Gain Muscle:
I recommend 1 gram of protein per lb of lean body mass for males and females who exercise at least 3 times per week and are trying to gain muscle mass.
A 200 lb man with 10% body fat would aim to consume about 180 grams of protein in a day. That’s 6 meals with an average of 30 grams of protein per meal, and THAT, my friends, is quite doable.
If you have trouble consuming that much protein with food alone, I highly suggest you pick up some Optimum Nutrition Protein Powders, a source of inexpensive, high-quality protein. One extra protein shake each day could make all the difference in the world.
To Lose Fat:
I recommend .8 grams of protein per lb of lean body mass for males and females who exercise at least 3 times per week and are trying to lose body fat.
A 150 lb woman with 25% body fat would aim to consume about 90 grams of protein in a day. That’s 3 meals with 20 grams of protein per meal and 3 snacks with 10 grams of protein, and THAT, my friends, is also very doable.
More importantly, keeping your unhealthy fat consumption and processed carbohydrate consumption low will go a long way to preserve your health for the long haul.
For more information to help you decide how much protein should I eat, along with other macronutrient suggestions, check out these additional Project Swole resources:
- How many grams of fat should I eat?
- How many grams of carbs should I eat?
- What are the side effects of consuming too much protein?