A common sight in weight rooms is observing people drinking protein shakes or talking endlessly about eating or supplementing more protein in order to build muscle.
But do weightlifters need all that much protein?
What about the rest of us – are we getting enough?
Protein is an important nutrient required for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues in the body. When we exercise, we break down the protein in our muscles and what we eat is synthesized to replace, or even build more muscle.
Lifting weights breaks down our muscles to a high degree.
Endurance athletes break down more protein than we used to think, but weight lifting and high resistance training breaks it down the most.
But the body seems to have a maximum rate of protein synthesis, no matter how hard we exercise.
Studies over the past 20 years have consistently shown that average, sedentary people only need to eat about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.
When weight lifters and body builders exercise to the peak of their ability, they can only make use and process about 1.8 grams of protein per kg body weight per day.
We seem to top-out at this mark, no matter how the workout varies or how the diet is manipulated.
OK, let’s do some math. A 165-pound person weighs 75 kg. The recommended dietary allowance for protein for the average adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. That means that a 75 kg non-exerciser would require 60 grams of protein.
How much actual food is that?
A three ounce chicken breast, which is about the size of the palm of an average person’s hand, contains 26 grams of protein. A cup of milk contains eight grams of protein. A bowl of cereal for breakfast and a latte coffee each day is 16-25 grams of protein from milk alone.
That means that a chicken breast for lunch and dinner and a cup of milk during the day will more than cover your protein needs.
And that doesn’t include all the other protein in all the other foods we eat during a typical day.
But even if you are an avid weight lifter, your body won’t process and convert more than 1.8 g per kg of body weight per day. That means that, at most, you will need to eat 135 grams of protein in a day.
Keep in mind, though, that as we age, our protein needs decrease, so the older you get the less protein a weight lifter can process.
Even the younger weight lifter who has gained a great deal of muscle will need less total protein as they reach their genetic muscular potential.
People who lift weights and exercise at high intensities on a regular basis require more calories than non-exercisers. Sometimes the difference can be around 1,000 calories more for the serious exerciser.
Everyone is slightly different, but, on average, most people are easily getting enough protein and, in many cases, may be over-eating the amount of protein they need, which may have health consequences for some.
Supplementation can temporarily help if the diet can’t provide optimal nutrients, but it is always recommended to eat real food.
Besides, you are paying much more for the same nutrients by buying supplements.
– Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology.