How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

Hello everyone! The topic today is protein. Yes, this macro nutrient is often the main focus of our western diets but should it get all the attention?

Most of us have been raised in a protein-centered culture. One where the main focus of most meals will be the protein on the plate, right? The center piece is always the steak or chicken or fish. Some vegetables for garnish and maybe a tiny side salad. Don’t get me wrong, protein is an essential nutrient and one can’t be healthy without it but just how much do we really need? How much do athletes need?

…they found that even vegans were getting 70% more protein than the RDA! 

The recommended amount of daily protein is around .36 grams per pound of body weight. So, if you’re 150lbs that is 56 grams per day, for a man and slightly less for a woman (not pregnant). WebMD recommends 46 grams of protein per day for woman. That’s not a lot of protein when you consider that just 4 ounces of chicken has about 36 grams! This study examined the nutrient profiles of vegetarians and non-vegetarians and they found that even vegans were getting 70% more protein than the RDA! So, I really cringe now when people ask me where I get my protein upon hearing that I’m a vegetarian.

97% of Americans aren’t getting the recommended minimum amount of fiber which has serious health consequences.

In fact, this other study found that only 3% of Americans weren’t getting enough protein and that was due to not eating enough calories in total. So, basically, if you’re eating enough food, you’re getting enough protein without even thinking about it. The one nutrient that non-vegetarians aren’t getting enough of is fiber. 97% of Americans aren’t getting the recommended minimum amount of fiber which has serious health consequences. You are at a much higher risk for disease (cancer, heart disease, diabetes) from a lack of fiber than a lack of protein, in the US. The recommended minimum of daily fiber intake is 31.5 grams. The average American is only getting about 15g per day. Less than half! Now, even semi-vegetarians meet the minimum of fiber intake and vegans triple the number. So, my new response to the “where do you get your protein” question will be “Where do you get your fiber?”

What about athletes?

Don’t athletes require lots of meat or mega doses of whey protein to perform? Yes, athletes do require more protein than a sedentary individual. Studies of vegan and non-vegan athletes (both endurance and strength) show they do require more protein and it ranges from 1.0-2.0 grams per kg of body weight, with strength athletes being on the higher end. So, a 150lb endurance athlete may need 120g of protein daily. Let’s be honest with ourselves, here. Taking our 1hr spin class 3x per week doesn’t put us in the same category as the full-time athletes in the studies. So we may want to tone down the protein-to-kg ratio a bit. The average was 6 hours of training, daily, for the athletes studied. Just saying. This amount of protein is easily met with a healthy, nutrient-dense vegan diet. Also, studies found that there was little difference between vegetarian/vegan athletes and non-vegetarian athletes, when it came to performance.

There are problems with getting too much protein, too. We are much more likely to fall into this category as Americans. Too much protein may negatively affect the following:

  • kidney function
  • calcium stores
  • bone health
  • cardiovascular health

In addition to the above, too much animal protein may increase your cancer risk due to the increase in IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor).

Good plant-based sources of protein (with a healthy amount of fiber):

  • Hemp seeds: 10 grams or protein for 2 tablespoons
  • Almonds: 6.1 g for 1 ounce
  • Quinoa: 8g for 1 cup (cooked)
  • Chia Seeds: 4g for 2 tablespoons
  • Rice & Beans: 7g for 1 cup

To sum it all up, don’t stress about protein. You’re getting enough of it. Even if you’re a competitive athlete that trains 6 hours per day, you’re most likely getting enough protein eating the typical American diet. I do like to take my Zenberry or any high quality vegan, organic protein, after hard workouts. They make it easy to get that immediate recovery nutrition to replenish my body. The rest of the day I’m eating whole foods.

Thank you for reading.

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