MOST PEOPLE WAY UNDER-CONSUME PROTEIN
When most people think of someone with a high protein diet, they think of a big bodybuilding bro....
On the other hand, when women think of who they want to look like it’s often not the person they’re imagining makes sure they’re getting 4-6 servings of protein throughout the day.
RDA AND AVERAGE AMERICAN DIET
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is only 0.8g/kilogram of bodyweight (To find your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2)
For a 150 pound person that means the RDA is 54g of protein per day.
That’s insanely low, especially compared to our recommendations (more on those in a bit.)
The average American eats around 100g of protein per day in the context of a calorie intake of over 3600 calories per day.
The average body weight of Americans is 170 lbs (female) to 200 lbs (male), meaning we’re eating roughly 19.5x bodyweight in calories, and .5x bodyweight in grams of protein.
Over 42% of Americans are obese, and 70% are overweight. Of those who aren’t overweight or obese, the Mayo clinic says only 2.7% live a healthy lifestyle.
If we are taking into account the average American diet or the RDA, I don't think this is the gauge we want to be basing our decisions on.
WHY IS THE RDA SO LOW?
The RDA values are not to optimize your body composition, your performance, your bone health, or your resistance training recovery...they’re to keep you alive. That’s a pretty low bar.
We want to be optimizing our diets and thriving, not just “not dying” from our protein intake.
Our recommendation, based on research, is 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight or goal body weight per day.
That means a 150 pound person would bring their protein intake up to 120-180 grams per day. That probably sounds pretty high, and if you haven’t been eating a protein-focused diet it will be a lot higher than your current intake.
You may have heard that eating too much protein is bad for your kidneys, or that eating too much meat is bad for heart health. There’s no evidence that eating a high protein diet has any negative side effects to anyone without a pre-existing kidney condition.
Anyone with impaired kidney function should of-course listen to their doctor’s advice on protein intake.
The issue of meat being a cause for cardiovascular disease is a bit more complicated. The meat is not necessarily the cause for issues so much as an abundance of saturated fat combined with a prolonged calorie surplus.
To minimize saturated fats in your diet, keep things like butter, cured meats, cheese, sausages, and baked goods to a minimum and get most of your protein from non-fat dairy, lean meats, whey, and plant sources.
THE BENEFITS OF HIGH PROTEIN
Keeping your protein intake around 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight has a ton of benefits regardless of the phase of dieting you’re in.
1. A HIGHER PROTEIN DIET REDUCES HUNGER, APPETITE, AND CRAVINGS
This is one big reason why we place a big emphasis on keeping protein high throughout a fat loss phase.
In this study obese women took their protein from 15% of total daily calories up to 30% of total daily calories, and ended up consuming 441 calories less per day without intentionally cutting anything.
The researchers concluded this was from the decrease in ghrelin, a hunger hormone.
The same was found in overweight men in this study, where study participants who ate a high protein diet had less cravings and less desire for late-night eating.
2. HIGHER THERMIC EFFECT
Your burns about 25% of calories from protein through digestion which is called the thermic effect of food, or TEF.
The TEF of carbohydrates is about 5-15%, and the TEF of fat is about 0-5%.
It’s a small but still significant difference in calorie output, especially when you also consider all the other positive implications of taking protein up from say 55 grams per day to 150g per day.
That would mean your calories burned from TEF would go up by about 95 calories per day.
3. INCREASES MUSCLE MASS AND STRENGTH, AND HELPS YOU REPAIR AND RECOVER FROM RESISTANCE TRAINING
Skeletal muscle is made from the amino acids that make up dietary protein. Some protein you eat needs to be used for other tissues like organs, bones, skin, nails, etc.
If you’re eating bare minimum (close to the RDA), the protein will get used for those things preferentially, which is part of why you’ll need to go above and beyond the minimum protein number in order to use some protein for muscle repair and growth.
These reasons combined means that a high protein diet is good for improving body composition, allowing you to diet on more calories, grow more muscle mass, maintain a higher metabolic rate, and keep bones strong and stave off osteoporosis.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT MUSCLE MASS
You might read all that and think “yeah, but I don’t want to get muscular…”
Even so, here’s why you should care about increasing the amount of muscle mass on your frame:
BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE
First, more muscle often means more strength. We’re thinking about health, longevity, and quality of life, not just aesthetics.
Being stronger means:
-You can live independently to an older age
-You can lift your own bag into the overhead bin
-You will have less likelihood of falling, and if you do you’ll have less likelihood of breaking a bone.
Muscle means more carbs without negative health outcomes.
Think of your muscles as a big storage vessel for carbohydrates. The more muscle you have, the more carbs can be stored without overflowing that vessel.
That means more carbs get stored as glycogen to be used as energy rather than floating around as circulating blood glucose or being stored as body fat.
Muscle mass with a relatively low body fat percentage is what results in looking “toned.”
Most of the time when someone says they’re too bulky it’s actually from having more body fat than they’d need for the look they want.
The shape you want is a result of having muscle mass, and anyone you’ve looked at as “goals” has probably lifted hard for a few years.
Also, it’s pretty easy to pare muscle down if you ever did end up with too much somehow.
More muscle means a higher metabolic rate.
Each pound of muscle mass added means you’ll burn a few more calories per day, but the metabolic advantage goes a bit deeper than that.
Training for adding muscle mass sends a muscle-building signal to your body that is metabolically expensive (burns a lot of calories.)
You’ll end up with a more dense body, which is heavier than a body at the same size with less muscle, and a heavier body burns more calories at rest and during activity.
You’ll burn more calories just going through life with more muscle, whereas someone who does only cardio for their exercise will burn more calories during the training session, but less throughout the rest of the day.
PROTEIN SOURCES AND TIMING
In order to get in a large amount of protein per day, you’ll need to have plenty of high-quality sources.
High quality typically means the protein has a complete amino acid profile and plenty of leucine, which is the amino acid that is most responsible for spiking muscle protein synthesis.
These will usually be things like meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and vegan sources like quorn, tofu, or seitan.
Here’s a list of a few favorites:
→ Chicken Breast
→ Lean Steak Cuts
→ Turkey Breast
→ Ground Turkey
→ Pork Tenderloin
→ Low-Fat & Non-fat Dairy
→ Egg Whites
→ Protein Powder
→ Fatty fish
→ Whole Eggs
→ Fattier Steak Cuts
→ Grass-Fed Beef
You’ll also want to decide on the best protein timing and spacing for you. Here’s a breakdown of how to decide that for yourself, from our blog post Building Muscle For Women
“Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the process of repairing and building your muscle tissue and is triggered by a dose of amino acids in your protein, and notably leucine.
This ties into an important concept called "the muscle full effect".
The muscle full effect is the observation that there is a period of time where amino acids spike MPS fully, then there is a necessary period of time where they fall back to baseline before you can maximally stimulate MPS again with another meal.