Protein Requirements for Active People

Protein Requirements for Active People - How much protein do you actually need in a day? And how can you be sure to get it? 

So, you've started working out regularly and now you are starving all the time, right? When it comes to figuring out what to eat when you get hangry (or rungry) you probably are having a hard time figuring out whether you should be eating more protein, fat, or carbs. Or maybe you've never thought about this but you can't figure out why you are still hungry even though you've been eating twice as much since you started a training plan. 

Whether you are a runner, group fitness class aficionado, or you sometimes workout more than once a week, it's important to know what to fuel your body with so you can meet your goals and not starve to death in the process.

What is protein?

Protein is a macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) that is essential to building muscle. It is most commonly found in meat and animal products, but is also found in smaller amounts in foods such as nuts.

Protein contains 4 calories per gram.

How much protein do you need?

The Institute of Medicine recommends 10% to 35% of total daily calories come from protein. As far as actual grams are concerned, that depends on the individual caloric requirements of an individual. 

Depending on your activity level multiple sources recommend 0.8-2.2g per kilogram of body weight. For endurance athletes, the recommendation is 1.2-1.4g/kg/day. For those who mainly participate in resistance or strength training, the recommendation is 1.4-1.7g/kg/day. Requirements are also difference for men and women, but since these requirements are based on body weight, there is no need to alter these calculations for most people. 

Is more protein better?

Not really. When looking at the bigger picture, it's better to eat "too much" protein vs eating too much fat or carbs. However, it's important to balance your diet and know what your fueling needs are. 

You may have heard that your body can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein at a time, which is kind of true, but it's much more complicated than that. That being said, I think it's much more important to consider where your protein is coming from. Eating 50 gram of protein in protein powder compared to 50 grams of protein from chicken can have a different overall effect on your body, the most notable of which is you'll probably be full for longer from the chicken than the protein powder. 

When should I eat protein?

The general recommendation (from multiple sources) is that you should consume protein 30-60 minutes after your workout. This helps your body not break down muscle in order to fuel your workout. 

Eating 20-30 grams of protein at each meal makes reaching your daily protein recommendation fairly easy. An endurance athlete who weighs 150 pounds should be consuming between 80g and 90g of protein per day. Eating 20-30 grams at each meal (and adding a protein snack if you are eating 20 grams per meal) would get you to that goal very nicely at the end of the day. 

Many people also think that they have to get their post workout protein via protein powder, which is not true. It can be a very convenient and quick way to get protein and some carbs into your body post-workout, especially if you don't feel like eating which is what sometimes to happens to me when I do a longer run or harder workout. If you have some chicken or other meat in the fridge, you can just as easily snack on that after your workout!

Protein powder is also useful if you are having trouble meeting your protein requirement, it can be a good way to boost your intake but should not be your main source. 

Here's an example of how the 150 pound runner could get their recommended protein requirement in a day:

Breakfast
2 egg 12g
2 slices bacon 6g
Lunch
Large romaine salad with ½ can tuna 21g
Apple with 2 tbsp peanut butter 8g
Snack
1/4 cup trail mix 3g
Dinner
75g chicken breast 25g
½ sweet potato 1g
1 cup broccoli 2g
Snack
3/4 cup yogurt 7g
¼ cup almonds 8g
TOTAL 93g

Remember, it's best to focus your protein eating efforts on a variety of whole food sources, but protein powder has its place and is a good option when you are short on time or having trouble meeting your daily requirement. 

Do you think you are meeting your daily protein requirements? 

I challenge you to track your food for a day and let me know how you did!