How much Protein is Enough?
There has been much written about the amount of protein an athlete needs to build and maintain muscle, most of which recommends protein amounts way in excess of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). I believe in what Ellington Darden , Ph.D, has been preaching since the mid to late 1970’s that the RDA allowance for protein of 56 grams, for the average size (and weight) male or female adult, is enough, and can be increased some (about 10-20 grams) for average sized athletes (I spent two days with Dr. Darden at the Nautilus headquarters in 1979). That works out to be about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Since I’m not training any longer (but still very active) for me that works out to be about 62 grams of protein per day, and I find that just about right for me considering on average there’s about 6-7 grams of protein per ounce of meat or fish, so a 4 ounce piece of salmon has about 28 grams of protein. If I was training adding 10-20 grams of protein makes sense (72-82 grams of daily protein).
It should be noted that there is no recommended daily protein requirement for weight or strength training athletes and additionally, the daily requirements do not increase for people over their ideal body weight. This is because additional protein is not needed to support fat cells.
Here is the general thinking out there from the experts about Protein.
According to Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., who studies exercise and nutrition at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, highly trained athletes thrive on 0.77 gram of daily protein per pound of body weight. That’s 139 grams for a 180-pound man. However, there are numerous studies that report consuming more than 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight provides no additional benefit to the athlete.
Men who work out 5 or more days a week for an hour or longer need 0.55 gram per pound. And men who work out 3 to 5 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour need 0.45 gram per pound. So a 180-pound guy who works out regularly needs about 80 grams of protein a day.
Now, I found this bit of information crucial for weight cutting athletes like wrestlers and MMA fighters; the fewer calories consumed the more calories that should come from protein. To do this protein intake needs to increase to between 0.45 and 0.68 gram per pound to repair and preserve lean body mass or calorie-burning muscle mass (and not cannibalize lean body mass).
“At any given moment, even at rest, your body is breaking down and building protein,” says Jeffrey Volek, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition and exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut. Donald Layman, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois, says “every time you eat at least 30 grams of protein you trigger a burst of protein synthesis that lasts about 3 hours.”
Based on this says Layman, it seems that most athletes eat the most of their protein at the wrong time to do them the most good. Why? Because most athletes (and people in general) eat most of their protein at dinner and that means they are fueling muscle growth for only a few hours a day, and breaking down muscle the rest of the time. Instead Layman says, athletes should spread out their protein intake.
How much Protein can your body process in a single sitting?
Your body can process only so much protein in a single sitting. A recent study from the University of Texas found that consuming 90 grams of protein at one meal provides the same benefit as eating 30 grams. It’s like a gas tank, says study author Douglas Paddon-Jones, Ph.D., “There’s only so much you can put in to maximize performance; the rest is spillover.” A January 2009 study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that 20 grams of protein was an amount sufficient enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis post-exercise. I like this number better. So it appears from the literature there is no benefit to consume in excess of 20-30 grams of protein in one sitting.
So How much Protein is Enough?
Every serious athlete knows they should consume some protein after a workout. But how much, and when? “When you work out, your muscles are primed to respond to protein,” Volek says, “and you have a window of opportunity to promote muscle growth.”
Volek recommends splitting your dose of protein, eating half 30 minutes before the workout and the other half 30 minutes after. A total of 10 to 20 grams of protein is ideal, he says. And add some carbs with the protein, because carbs can raise insulin; this slows protein breakdown, which speeds muscle growth after your workout. Moreover, this way stored protein won’t be used for energy; the carbs will do that.
Volek goes on “resistance exercise breaks down muscle. This requires a fresh infusion of amino acids to repair and build it.” He goes on to say that not preparing the body with protein before and after workouts is “almost counterproductive”. Protein also helps build enzymes that allow the body to adapt to rigorous sports. Everyone, not just athletes, can benefit from the quick hit of protein provided by a protein supplement, like a fast-absorbing, high-quality whey protein powder. “It appears in your bloodstream 15 minutes after you consume it,” Volek says. This critical timing is a key reason for consuming a high quality whey protein supplement.
Whey protein is also the best source of leucine, an amino acid that behaves more like a hormone in your body: “It’s more than a building block of protein—it actually activates protein synthesis,” Volek says. Whey contains 10 percent leucine while other animal-based proteins have as little as 5 percent. This higher amount of leucine is another reason for consuming a high quality whey protein supplement.
Calculate your Daily Protein Needs by entering your Weight in the Chart Below.