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How Much Protein Do You NEED?

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world … if I’m talking nutrition, people always ask how much protein they should be eating.

And it happened again.  I’m in Singapore teaching and I was once again asked how much protein a person should be eating daily. 

I’ve been guilty as the next guy to get boxed into an answer to that question.  But, to be honest, it’s almost an impossible question to answer and you’ll never box me in again!

Because there are so many variables.

Here are my questions back to you.

What is your total calorie intake?

How about your carb intake? 

Are you training?  How often?  What type of training.  Are you new to training or have you been at it for awhile. 

What type of protein are you eating?

And the list can go on.

But you know what single factor, in my opinion, is more important than any of these questions above?

How frequently are you eating protein?  Protein timing completely trumps total protein intake.

Let’s say, for example, my answer for “how much protein per day” was 100 grams for simple math.  Considering research suggests most people eat 80% of their protein at dinner, with just 10% at breakfast and 10% at lunch, that means 80 grams of that example are coming at night, yet very little throughout the day.

We can’t store protein, though, like we can carbs and fat.  We store carbs in our muscles and liver.  We store fat, well, unfortunately everywhere.  But protein isn’t stored.  So when it’s eaten in a bolus at dinner like it is with most people, it can’t be used as effectively as we’d all like.  Instead, protein is  broken down into individual amino acids and then we use those amino acids as we need them and excrete the excess.

While there’s no ‘set’ number of grams that can be digested each meal, most research suggests we should instead eat a fairly equal amount of protein each meal and snack.

Back to the 100 grams example above, what if instead that was distributed over 3 meals — 25 grams at breakfast, lunch and dinner and 10 or 15 grams for snacks?

Your muscles would appreciate the consistent doses of amino acids…

Your energy levels would appreciate it since protein helps slow digestion of food …

And so would your afternoon hunger pangs because you’d be more full than if you simply loaded up with carbs.

The question then turns from how much protein should I eat to “what should I eat if trying to get protein throughout the day?  It’s easy at night, but harder for earlier meals.”

It’s a mindset shift for a lot of people. 

Ready?

Your plain bagel for breakfast is gone.  Your bag of chips or piece of fruit for a snack is too.  And that frozen meal for lunch that’s basically all carbs, little protein?  Yup, toss that one as well. 

Instead, replace breakfast with some hardboiled eggs and fruit.  According to research at the University of Connecticut, swapping a bagel with eggs for breakfast helps you eat less later in the day.  Remember, protein helps fill you.

Snacks?  Try a SOYJOY bar that provides a combination of protein and carbohydrates.  Maybe have that with a little cottage cheese and fruit.  Carbs, protein, fiber among that trio of snacks … voila!  Or try a Greek yogurt.  Higher protein.  Half the sugar of normal yogurt.  Top it with berries and some nuts.  Perfecto.

For lunch try some canned salmon or a packet of salmon if it’s not convenient to open and drain a can.  Add this to a salad, mix it with some avocado to make “salmon salad” and have that on a sprouted grain wrap, or maybe if you’re in a pinch, make your own smoothie with a scoop of whey protein, some fruit, even a handful of spinach for added veggies!

The key to consistency and eating protein throughout the day vs. a protein bomb all at once is planning ahead.  Plan some of the meals I talked about.  Pack them the night before. 

And you can then eat a high quality, consistent dose of protein throughout the day vs. waiting to eat it all at once in the evening.

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6 Responses to How Much Protein Do You NEED?

  1. Melissa May 16, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    This article makes so much sense.. I do try to eat protein with every meal now and my energy levels have increased.

  2. Jeff May 17, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    As always, great stuff Chris. Very practical and in terms most people should grasp if they have yet to do so. The spectrum runs from those that either eat little to no protein to those that are constantly looking for where they can get the most, whether they’re aware or not how much they waste. Hope your trip was an adventure for the taste buds!

  3. Kelly Schaffrick May 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    What kind of whey protein do you recommend or should I say…do you use?

  4. Jim May 18, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    As always superb articles looking at nutrition from a complete new angel. Keep up with the good stuff :-)

    When buying protein shakes on-the-go how many grams of protein do you recommend for a serving?

  5. donnaandtora June 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Very informative post. Everyone knows that protein can help you shed those unwanted pounds. But it’s important to eat the right amount and the right kind of protein to get the health benefits. Thanks for taking the time to share your view with us.

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