Nutrition

Protein 101: How much protein a day do you really need?

Siddharth
April 27, 2022

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Conventional Indian diets are notoriously infamous for their low-protein content. Especially if you have been brought up in a pure vegetarian family. Chances are you too haven’t given a serious thought to how much protein a day is vital for your health.

Just to put things in perspective, it’s not just your muscles that need protein for maintenance and growth. Talk about the building blocks of tendons, organs, and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, strong bones, and healthy hair, nails, and whatnot!

Protein is one nutrient that our body needs to manufacture almost everything. Because your body is constantly growing and repairing tissues and cells, the body has certain daily protein needs just to keep the lights on.

But come on! Who cares about protein intake?


I get it. There are other major problems in life (like where to get good torrents from), and protein intake is the last one of them.

If most people don’t care, it’s fair to say that most people are not in their best health or shape either. They might be doing okay, but they can certainly do a lot better in terms of their body composition and overall health.

Our body is the just the smartest thing we know of. It’s just incredible how it works to keep you fine and dandy regardless of whether you care about it or not! Natural Intelligence is galaxies ahead of Artificial Intelligence.

Well, as it turns out most well to do people even if they do not care, do manage to eat just the bare minimum amount of protein their body needs daily to keep the lights on. (on an average basis)


How much protein a day people eat in negligence (on an average)

Even if they don’t eat adequate protein for some days, the body is smart enough to allocate resources to fulfill its protein requirements in the order of importance to keep the major functional wheels rolling!

What happens if you do not consume protein at all? (In case you are wondering.)

Although this is practically not possible in the real world, since almost everything we eat has at least some protein content, and it all adds up to save our ass. But theoretically, what if?

The body knows all too well that your hair and your biceps are less important than your heart. It is more important to be alive than to have a good head of hair or to look good naked.

Without enough protein in the diet, the body will have no choice but to break down the muscle fibers to release the protein it needs to survive.

Next thing you know, your skin goes pale and hair starts to thin out and fall.

Your heart is a big muscle too, but the body is smart enough to figure out that the heart should be the last place to go for sourcing protein in case the guy has gone nuts.

Do this long enough, and you will start having cardiac issues.

It is estimated that we can’t survive more than 70 days with absolute zero protein intake. Mind = Blown?

Long story short, Protein is the one macro-nutrient that we absolutely must eat regularly in order to just survive.

Well, since you are reading Hypertroph, it seems to me that you are interested in doing a lot better than just survive. 🙂

Enough has been said on the internet about the importance of protein. So, I would now cut to the chase.

So, how much protein a day do you really need?

The daily protein requirement depends on several factors such as your age, weight, your goal (weight maintenance, muscle gain, or fat loss), the kind and level of your physical activity, and some other special cases like pregnancy and injury.

People in the 21st century live a sedentary lifestyle for the most part. I think it is safe to say that most people fall into one of the 3 categories.

  1. No physical activity
  2. Endurance training
  3. Resistance training (If you lift weights, this is what you might be interested in.)

Without further ado, lets jump right in !

1. No physical activity

You belong to this category if you are not physically active and are not trying to lose weight. You basically want to live a normal healthy life and don’t want any troubles.

Assuming the person is under sufficient calorie intake, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) by WHO/IMO for daily protein intake is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

However, RDA is the bare minimum amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements to keep you from downright deficiency.

Certainly, a bare minimum should not be the ideal choice if you are looking for optimum overall health.

Subsequent studies [1] have further established that a daily protein intake in the range of  0.9 – 1.2 gm/Kg is a much better estimate of the true protein requirements for healthy adults [2].

To conclude, a safe protein recommendation for people looking to lead a normal healthy life seems to be –

Daily Protein intake ~ 1 gm/Kg of body-weight

So if you weigh 60 Kg, you need at least around 60 grams of protein each day  (on an average) to support all the bodily functions.

Back in college, when I first sat down to roughly count how much protein a day I was having, I realized I was eating less than 50 gms per day when the minimum protein I should have been eating just for a good health was 65 gms.

On top of that, I was going to the gym and hoping to get results. I sure wasted a lot of time.

Here’s some perspective on the amount of protein in the most common food items –

How much protein a day you need and protein content in common food items

2. Endurance activity

People who are physically active certainly have higher protein needs than people who are completely sedentary. [3]

You belong to this category if you are into any kind of sports or endurance training be it running, swimming, badminton or football. Any sport barring lifting weights will fall under this category.

The recommended protein intake for endurance athletes seems to be in the range of 1.2 – 1.6 gm/Kg [4].

Daily Protein Intake = 1.2 – 1.6 gm/Kg

For a person weighing 60 Kgs, that boils down to a protein intake of 72-96 gms each day.

As a general rule of thumb, more protein is always better than less protein. So when in doubt, err on the side of eating more protein, not less.

3. Resistance Training (lifting weights)

If your goal is to lose weight or gain weight, resistance training plays a pivotal role in your training plan.

On a very basic level, a resistance training session puts micro-tears on your muscle fibers, and tells your body out loud that it needs stronger muscles to adapt to the workload!

The body then needs adequate protein to repair back these muscle fibers and makes them even stronger.

Depending on your goals you might fall in one of the 2 categories –

A. You are training to lose fat

First things first, the key driver of fat loss is eating at a calorie deficit. [5]

Your body under an energy deficit is on a hunt to eat its own mass for completing the energy needs.

Under such circumstances, daily protein intake becomes particularly important for the preservation of lean muscle mass.

A number of studies have clearly shown that a higher protein intake significantly promotes preservation of lean muscle mass during a calorie deficit than a lower protein intake.[6]

To sum up, current research suggests  that a reliable protein intake recommendation for a fat loss diet is in the range of 0.9-1.1 gms per pound of body weight. [7] [6]

 Daily Protein intake ~ 1 gm / lb of Body Weight

So if you weigh 60 Kgs (132 lbs) and are training to lose fat, your daily protein intake should be around ~130 gms to preserve your muscle mass.

B. You are training to build muscle

Eating in a moderate calorie surplus along with adequate protein is necessary to optimize muscle hypertrophy (growth).

To be fair, in a state of calorie surplus your protein needs are not as high as they are in a calorie deficit.

A daily protein intake of 0.7 gm/lb has been shown [8] to promote optimal muscle gains under a moderate calorie surplus.

However, some subjects did continue to benefit from a protein intake up to 1 gm/lb. [9]

Most experts suggest, and I agree, that since there is nothing to lose by eating a slightly higher protein and only a potential upside as demonstrated by studies[9], one should eat at least 1gm/lb of protein to make sure they are not leaving any gains on the table.

Hence, a reliable recommendation of daily protein intake for optimizing your gains is again –

Daily Protein Intake ~ 1 gm/lb of body weight

So if you weigh 60 Kgs (132 lbs) and are training to gain lean muscle mass, your daily protein intake should be around ~130 gms to optimize muscle growth (gains).

2 general guidelines:

1. When in doubt, eat more protein.
Given that there is no evidence at all of any negative effects from higher protein intake and a significant evidence of potential benefit, it’s likely much better for you to err on the side of more protein rather than less, to remove the element of doubt.

2. On a high protein diet, drink enough water, stay hydrated.
A good indicator of whether your water intake is sufficient is that your urine should be clear, or slightly yellow at the most.

Practical Takeaways:

To sum up everything, here are the 4 key takeaways from this post –

How much protein a day do you really need depending on your lifestyle and activity level

1. For people involved in no physical activity,
Protein ~ 1 gm/Kg = 0.45 gms/lb

2. If you are involved in endurance training (sports barring weightlifting)
Protein ~ 1.3 – 1.6 gm/Kg

3. For people going to the gym and doing resistance training, regardless of whether they are training for fat loss or muscle gain, an optimal recommendation is –
Protein ~ 1 gm/lb  (1 Kg = 2.2 lbs)

4. Drink enough water! Your urine should be clear or slightly yellow.

That’s it folks!

Also below, I have quickly answered the top 3 most common concerns among people regarding protein intake. Make sure you check them out. Chances are you too have had at least one of these 3 protein concerns!

I hope this gives you a ballpark idea of how much protein a day you need to be having to achieve your fitness goals.

Hey, I can totally relate if right now you are feeling like, “Damn! That seems like a lot of freakin protein. I have never done that before.”

I don’t know a person who didn’t feel like that in the start of their fitness journey. It only gets easier with time.

What is your favourite source of protein? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

If you find the information helpful, share it with your friends to help them out!


Best,
Siddharth

References:

[1] Elango, R., Humayun, M. A., Ball, R. O., & Pencharz, P. B. (2010). Evidence that protein requirements have been significantly underestimated. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 13(1), 52-57.

[2] Humayun, M. A., Elango, R., Ball, R. O., & Pencharz, P. B. (2007). Reevaluation of the protein requirement in young men with the indicator amino acid oxidation technique–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 86(4), 995-1002.

[3] Tarnopolsky, M. (2004). Protein requirements for endurance athletes. European Journal of Sport Science, 4(1), 1-15.

[4] Phillips, S. M. (2006). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to metabolic advantage. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 31(6), 647-654.

[5] Strasser, B., Spreitzer, A., & Haber, P. (2007). Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 51(5), 428-432.

[6] Mettler, S., Mitchell, N., & Tipton, K. D. (2010). Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(2), 326-337.

[7] Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences, 29(sup1), S29-S38.

[8] Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., … & Phillips, S. M. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2017.

[9] Schoenfeld, B. J., & Aragon, A. A. (2018). How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 10.

[10] Tipton, K. D., & Wolfe, R. R. (2001). Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 11(1), 109-132.

[11] Antonio, J., Peacock, C. A., Ellerbroek, A., Fromhoff, B., & Silver, T. (2014). The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 19.

[12] Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Vargas, L., Tamayo, A., Buehn, R., & Peacock, C. A. (2016). A high protein diet has no harmful effects: A one-year crossover study in resistance-trained males. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2016.