Whether you’re an omnivore or strictly plant-based with your food choices, you need protein.  And maybe more than you’re eating now.

If you’re having a strong reaction to reading that, I get it.  But this is an important thing to get right nutritionally.

Foods are some combination of 3 macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

If we purposely avoid one of the macronutrients, and it turns out that your body needs more of that particular macronutrient than you’re getting, you could be setting yourself up for a health issue later.

That said, there seems to be a fear of protein out there lately. Or at least some misconceptions.

I’m not getting into food preferences because I strongly believe food preferences need to be personal. 

Sustainability is about flexibility and awareness of what our bodies need to thrive.

Humans run on calories.  And we need them from proteins, carbs, and fats in some combination for optimal recovery, energy, hormone health, and mood regulation.

People need micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) from those foods for optimal functioning of – well – everything inside our bodies that has a function.

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Protein and the Immune System

I’m a retired teacher.  Before I started lifting, I could count on getting sick at least once, usually 2 or 3 times during the cold and flu season every year.

After I started lifting, I noticed that I didn’t get sick anymore.

Asked around at the gym and the guys said they didn’t catch many colds.

Why?

One reason may be dietary.  Lifters usually get enough protein.  Another reason may be related to the amount of muscle we have on our frame.

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 “We’ve known for a long time that protein malnutrition increases the likelihood of infectious diseases”.

 ~ Dietary protein intake and human health

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How Much Protein Do You Need?

Just so you know, minimum intake recommendations given on government websites are to prevent illness – not levels for optimum results.  Most of us would like to thrive, not just survive.  Here are reccomendations based on activity level.

Completely Sedentary

If you are completely sedentary, the recommendation is 0.8 g per kg of body weight.  That’s about 0.4 g of protein per pound.   

So, a 150-pound person who is completely sedentary will still need about 60 grams of protein to avoid health issues.

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Most people who don’t try to eliminate protein sources from their food choices probably eat enough without trying.

  • 2 large eggs = 12 grams of protein
  • The peanut butter on two slices of toast = 7 grams of protein
  • Fast food chicken sandwich = 36 grams of protein
  • One slice of pepperoni pizza = 16 grams of protein

Total = 71 grams of protein

(This isn’t a suggested food list, but just examples for a frame of reference.  The typical American diet, even in a high school cafeteria, probably has enough protein for a completely sedentary human.)

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Not Exercising, But Not Completely Sedentary

However, if you get up and go to work or school,  walk a bit, do chores around the house, go to the gym a couple times a week – you need more.

If you’re not exercising, but aren’t completely sedentary, I’d suggest 0.6 grams times your body weight. 

That same 150-pound person would want 90 grams, or only 20% of intake from protein. 

Some will argue, cite sources, get all upset with me – which is fine.  Really, it’s OK.  What you eat is your choice.  If I’m not your coach, your personal protein philosophy is none of my business. 

But…

  • if your appetite is out-of-control
  • if you get hurt frequently
  • have issues with recovery from your workouts
  • catch every bug that comes floating by

…I’d encourage you to reflect on whether your body is actually on the same page as your opinion about how much protein you need.  Just sayin’.

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Do You Exercise or Are You Over 40?

If you lift or exercise regularly with a favorite activity, go for something in the range of 0.8 g to 1.2 g per pound of body weight if you’re not over weight.

The same recommendation is made for ANYONE over 40, regardless of activity level, to help prevent muscle loss as we age.

NOTE: If you’re an overweight lifter, that using your scale weight might be too much. 

In that case, estimate your lean body mass and then multiply that by 0.8 to 1.2 per pound of lean body mass.

For example, if body fat is estimated to be 40%,  that means lean mass is 60% of total body weight.  Multiply scale weight by 0.6 to estimate lean body mass in pounds.

Then, then take that number times 0.8 for a minimum protein intake or 1.2 for a maximum protein intake.

To make it really easy – use 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.  Since 1 is between 0.8 and 1.2, that’s right in the middle of the recommended range.

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If you’re not giving your body the amount of protein it needs, you may start to feel beat up by your workouts

If you’re not recovering, look at that protein intake.  That might not be the reason, but it’s a variable that needs to be considered.

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Protein and Fat-Loss

If you are in a fat-loss phase, those calories from protein are helpful. 

Protein helps regulate hunger.  After eating protein, you may feel fuller longer, which is nice when you’re living in a caloric deficit.

When you exercise, you want to burn fat, right?  

If there is sufficient protein in your diet, the body is more likely to use stored fat as an energy source. 

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “muscle-sparing”, that’s what they mean.  When protein intake is high, the body won’t metabolize muscle for energy instead of fat.

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Balance First

Science over hype in all things.  Each person needs a certain amount of protein, carbs, and fats for health, energy, moods, and recovery.  And, those amounts might change over time for that same person.  A good approach is to learn the science, pay attention to how you’re feeling, and make adjustments if necessary.

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