I have some bad news.
You are probably not getting enough protein.
Whether you’re trying to build muscle to create a more toned physique, lose weight, get stronger, or just function better from day to day, you need it.
If you don’t get enough, your results and even your health may suffer.
In the same way you use bricks to build a house, your body uses protein to build muscle. If you don’t eat an adequate amount, not only will you not be able to build more muscle, but you won’t be able to maintain the muscle you have.
If you’re young and trying to build muscle for the sake of looking more toned, you’re going to need protein to support that.
If you’re trying to get stronger, you’re going to need protein to support that.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re going to need protein to help you maintain muscle as you lose fat.
But, from a longevity perspective, I think one of the most important reasons to consume enough protein is to stave off age-related muscle loss which can result in decreased strength and function. This problem, called sarcopenia, can be an issue in seniors leading to less independence and a greater risk of falls.
If you’re not a senior yet, you will be one day. So, if you’re not already, I would urge you to strongly consider doing some form of weight training and getting in adequate protein now as it is much easier to build muscle while you’re young and maintain it than it is to gain it back later.
How much protein?
The recommended daily amount (RDA) for protein in North America is often cited as being as low as 0.4 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kilogram).
However, more recent research suggests that the amount of protein needed to build or maintain muscle is actually between 0.7 to 1.0 grams per pound of body weight (1.5 to 2.2 grams per kilogram).
So, for a 150-pound person, the necessary amount of protein would be somewhere between 105 to 150 grams per day.
Is there such a thing as too much protein?
Generally speaking, there are no adverse effects from consuming a moderate to high amount of protein. The only exception to this is if you happen to have any ongoing kidney issues. If that’s the case, you’ll want to consult your doctor regarding an appropriate protein intake for you.
As a general rule, protein is anything that has a face or comes from something that has a face. Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are all good examples. Consider the list below:
If you happen to be vegan, you can acquire protein through other foods, but you have to be more diligent to ensure you’re getting enough. Here are just a few suggestions:
Nuts & seeds*
* Most people mistakenly assume that peanut butter is a great source of protein, but it is actually primarily a fat. While it does contain some protein, the fat in peanut butter can pack a wallop in terms of calories. For example, 4 tablespoons of peanut butter would provide 15 grams of protein but would also contain 400 calories. Of course, this doesn’t make protein a “bad” food. It just means that we do need to be mindful about how much of it we consume and perhaps consider other protein options more often.
** There is nothing inherently magical about protein powder, no matter what the marketing hype on the label tells you. It just happens to be a convenient and cost-effective option to get in a decent amount of protein.
An example of a day for the 150-pound person above might look something like this:
3/4 cup Greek yogurt with berries
(17 grams protein)
4oz chicken breast with rice, peppers, and onions - packed from dinner the night before
(35 grams protein)
4oz steak with roasted potatoes and asparagus
(35 grams protein)
Protein shake with an apple
(25 grams protein)
Baby steps to success
If you’ve been thinking about your current intake and realizing that there seems to be an enormous gap between the amount of protein you’re currently eating and the amount you should be eating, it can be disheartening. It can even leave you feeling as though there is such a huge difference that you’ll never be able to hit that target.
However, instead of looking at how far you have to go, I would encourage you to think of one small step you CAN do to move you in the direction of consuming more protein.
Can you make a more diligent effort to consume a little protein at breakfast? Maybe some Greek yogurt with berries or a couple eggs?
Can you slightly increase the size of the protein portions at your existing meals?
Can you add a protein shake at some point to add a few extra grams?
Find one step.
Do it for a while.
And then, if it is manageable, consider adding another.
That might not get you all the way to where you would like to be, but it will be infinitely better than not making a change at all. Whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose weight, get stronger, or become more functional in life, a little more protein may be just the difference your body needs.
Mark Young, BKin, is Head Personal Trainer at Heron Creek Yoga & Fitness, a locally-owned health facility located in the Ancaster Rotary Centre at 385 Jerseyville Rd W. Contact us for top quality professional care at our 10,000 sq ft facility which has plenty of equipment, a dedicated Yoga studio, and much more.