What do you hear most about in the health and fitness industry at the moment? Protein!
Want to lose weight… Eat more protein
Want to build muscle… Eat more protein
Stay the same weight…Eat more protein
Chill on the couch all day… Eat more protein
The typical protein Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) centre around 0.8-1.0g of protein per kg of bodyweight. For a typical 80kg male that is 64g-80g of protein per day, which is roughly 2 chicken breasts or 3 scoops of your favourite protein supplement.
However these recommendations are for your average person to simply meeting daily requirements to remain healthy.
Most fitness goals revolve around losing fat whilst maintaining lean mass or gaining muscle and these processes require increased levels of protein. But how much? One way to measure adequate protein intake is by measuring nitrogen balance. The goal is to achieve a positive nitrogen balance, meaning the amount of nitrogen you are consuming is more than is leaving your body. As it is a little complicated to individually measure your own nitrogen balance we can take data from studies to determine optimal protein intake ranges. For people that don’t work out and just want to stay healthy, an RDA of 0.8g per kg of bodyweight is fine. However when you add exercise into the mix things quickly change.
To lose body fat and preserve lean mass eating 1.6g-2.3g per kg of bodyweight has been proven to be the most effective range (if you are exercising). Even at the top end of this range research indicates subjects still lose some lean mass when losing body weight, just much less than on a lower protein diet. It’s imperative to preserve your lean mass as you lose body weight to avoid ending up with the same physique at a lower body weight or the ‘skinny fat’ look. Therefore alongside adequate protein levels, resistance training is a necessity in any weight loss program.
Surprisingly lower protein amounts are more favourable when trying to gain muscle than for weight loss counterparts. Almost all studies show similar muscle gaining improvements with protein consumption amounts from 1.2-2.2g per kg of bodyweight. Those that are more fit require amounts at the higher end of the range.
Can you have too much protein?
When you are trying to lose weight too much protein means less calories from the energy efficient carbs and fats. Therefore you will have less energy and it makes the nutrition plan harder to stick to as there is less room for carbs and fats, i.e more desirable foods. However if you enjoy eating higher than the recommended protein amounts – unless you have renal issues – eating more protein will have no effect on your kidneys. Studies have shown that people can get away with eating as much as 4.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight with no health issues.
If you want to track your protein intake the simplest free way to do this is by using a nutrition tracker app such as MyFitnessPal.
P.S Do not forget to implement a proper exercise program alongside your nutrition plan to lose body fat in a healthy sustainable way.