How many times have you read in a fitness magazine or website that you should be loading up on protein in order to gain muscle mass and/or lose weight? Do you swear by your daily protein shake to carry you through your workouts? Are you worried that if you ate only real, wholesome food throughout the day and missed your protein bar that you would feel incomplete and your waistline would start expanding?
As I work with clients on weight loss and building lean muscle mass, I regularly come across many of the above attitudes about protein. We can’t read or talk enough about protein – how much we eat, how we like it prepared, which protein shake is the best, and how can we make it with just the right ingredients to make it delicious. Protein is all the rage in the fitness and weight loss worlds – and for good reason. It is one of the key nutrients in the diet. It helps us to move, build and repair muscle, stabilize blood sugar levels, and is a necessary component of enzymes and hormones in the body. But how much do you actually NEED? Keep in mind that any excess calories you consume will turn to fat. Therefore, if you take in more protein than your body needs, it will be stored as fat –defeating your weight loss and muscle-building efforts. Most people eat much more protein than their bodies require, even for an avid exerciser. So let’s take a minute to figure out how much you actually need.
Step 1 – Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 (your weight in kilograms).
Step 2 – Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8–1.2. This is the number of grams of protein your body requires each day. Non-exercisers or very casual exercisers can use the lower end of this range, while regular exercisers and athletes can use the higher end of the range. For example, a 150-pound person weighs 68 kilograms. 68 x 0.8 = 54.4 and 68 x 1.2 = 81.6, so the protein requirements are between 54–82 grams of protein per day.
How do these numbers translate into real food? Every ounce of animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef, etc) contains about 7 grams of protein. Therefore, 8 ounces of chicken has 56 grams of protein (8 ounces x 7 grams per ounce) and to reach the top end of the range above, 12 ounces of fish will do the trick (12 ounces x 7 grams per ounce). A typical restaurant portion of protein is at least 6–12 ounces, and most restaurant steaks are over 12 ounces! In addition, one egg has 7 grams, ¼ cup of cottage cheese has 7 grams, most 6-ounce yogurts have between 5–15 grams (greek yogurts tend to have more protein), and ½ cup of beans has 7 grams. Other foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, and soy products are also good sources of protein. The moral of the story: If you include a healthy protein source at most of your meals and snacks, it is quite simple to reach your daily protein requirements with wholesome and nutritious foods! There can be a place for protein shakes and bars in a healthy diet, however they are usually in excess of our needs. Save some calories and cash by making wise food choices instead!