Happy Monday All!
Today, counting macros and flexible dieting is everywhere! There are hundred of different online calculators that will tell you how much protein, fats, and carbohydrates you should be eating to achieve your fitness goals. However, have you ever wondered what is too much or too little protein?
As a freshman in college, I took a nutrition class where I learned that everyone should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight unless you are an elite athlete. There was an exception for vegans and vegetarians as well. However, if you are not an olympian track runner or vegan, consuming extra protein was not going to benefit you.
Three years later, I am learning about protein intake in Exercise Physiology, and it seems my nutrition professor may not have been telling the whole truth. Protein intake above the 0.8g/kg/day is necessary if you are exercising at high intensities.
The truth is protein consumption is based on nitrogen balance. Nitrogen is just a chemical that makes up the protein we eat. If you are a healthy adult, you are most likely in nitrogen balance. This means that you are consuming enough protein to replace the protein that is being broken down by your body. If you are in negative nitrogen balance, you either are malnutrition or are in the first week of a new exercise regimen. This means that your body is breaking down proteins, and they aren’t being replaced. Finally, if you are in positive nitrogen balance, you are typically a growing child or performing intense weight lifting. This means you are consuming more protein than your body is breaking down, and that protein is being incorporated into your muscles to grow.
So, where should your protein intake be? Basically, you want to be in nitrogen balance. For this to occur, a healthy adult will want to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This includes people who perform light to moderate endurance exercise. My nutrition professor had this part correct. However, if you are starting a new exercise regimen, during the first week you will want to consume more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight to avoid excessive protein breakdown. Likewise, endurance athletes who exercise at high intensities also need more the the suggested 0.8 grams of protein per bodyweight! In fact, it is suggested they consume 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
Well, what about weightlifting? To maintain strength, a weightlifter needs 0.9 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. But, if you are trying to add muscle mass, you may need anywhere from 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily.
So, no, you do not have to be an elite cross country runner or vegan to need more protein than the recommended dietary allowance suggests. In fact, if you are working out at a high intensity, you need to consume more protein to remain in nitrogen balance.
How much protein do you consume a day?