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How Much Protein do I Need? When is it enough, and when should I stop?

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how much protein

There are three main questions people ask when they have an active lifestyle: How much water should I drink; how much weight should I life; and how much protein do I need? I have answered the water and weight question in previous posts, and now it is time to tackle protein. I think what you will discover is consuming the correct amount of protein is not as daunting as it sounds. This guide will guide you through understanding protein and your protein needs.

Protein 101

Let’s first answer one question: what is protein? Protein is a macronutrient.

A macronutrient is a substance that your body needs. The term “macro” tells you that your body needs large amounts of it. In fact, every living organism requires macronutrients. Macronutrients are a type of food, such as protein, that your body requires in significant amounts to remain healthy. Macronutrients also consist of chemicals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

The chemical composition of protein is amino acids.

Amino acids are the building blocks of creating muscle mass. Amino acids are organic compounds with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen. When you body breaks down protein, it boosts the metabolism, assists in muscle healing and recovery, helps you feel full, and boosts your body’s immunity.

Protein is typically found in animal meats. This is problematic for plant-based athletes, but most of the hype you hear about vegans and vegetarians not consuming enough protein is actually not at all accurate. Animal products are not the only sources of protein in the human diet. Nuts and legumes are excellent sources of protein as well.

In order for bodybuilders and others with active lifestyles to achieve significant muscle mass without bumps in body weight, your body must work optimally, consume the correct macronutrients in precise amounts, and do so at the right time. The three macronutrients on which people must focus to boost these processes are fats, carbs, and protein.

Macronutrients fuel the body by providing it with essential energy required to sustain a healthy and active life. A person’s body weight is about 15 percent protein. Every gram of protein is 4 calories.

Counting macronutrients may be the best way to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

How Much Protein Should I Consume?

As you can see, you must strike a balance with protein. If 1 gram of protein is 4 calories, too much protein can cause weight gain, correct? Yes and no. There are a couple factors that influence healthy weight gain in the form of increased muscle mass: physical activity and healthy diet.

Typically, the body uses about 210 grams of protein each day. Of course, you have to be aware of what those numbers mean. People consuming 210 grams per day are based on the “average.” You are not average if you have an active lifestyle, you are an athlete, or you are a bodybuilder. Your body demands more protein.

Bodybuilders and athletes require more protein because of workout intensity and frequency.  Protein requirements for the general public are as follows:

  • Under the age of 65: body weight x 0.4 = protein needs
  • Over the age of 65: body weight x 0.6 = protein needs

If you are an athlete or bodybuilder, your body requires at least 1 gram of protein per each pound of bodyweight.

How Much Protein is too Much?

Throughout this post, you will see me say “consume as much as your body can use.” That is important because it is possible to get too much protein. Americans have no problem meeting their daily protein needs, but finding the right balance for athletes and bodybuilders can be difficult. They require protein for building muscle, but they can also take too much if they are unaware of what they are consuming.

Recently, the news reported on a woman who consumed too much protein and died. When you consume too much protein, it takes a toll on your organs. The woman in Australia died after she had too much protein before participating in a competition. The mother of two had protein shakes and a protein-rich diet in the hours leading up to her death.

What is important to note about this case is that too much protein was not the whole story. After her death, doctors discovered that she had urea cycle disorder. The disease affected the body’s ability to break down protein. The un-diagnosed disorder combined with extra protein was a deadly combination because her body could not break it down. The disorder caused her to suffer from deadly levels of ammonia in her bloodstream, as well as fluid on her brain.

Symptoms of Too Much Protein

First, if you are going to start any new protein regimen or workout, please consult your doctor first. Rule out any conditions first.

If you are consuming too much protein, your body will likely tell you. Symptoms of too much protein are:

  • You are gaining too much weight, and we aren’t talking muscle
  • You constantly feel dehydrated
  • You are lethargic and tired more often than not
  • You are in the early stages of kidney disease
  • You are moody or in a brain fog

Always, always be aware of your intake and output. Don’t overdo protein for the sake of eating protein.

Getting Protein in Your Diet

There are two ways to get more protein daily: diet and supplements. We will take a look at both.

Meat Eaters

As I said before, animal products are the most common ways you can add more protein to your diet. It is your diet any way where you get most of the protein your body uses. To add more protein to your diet, focus on healthy foods and lean proteins.

Don’t fire up the grill and slap a fatty meat on it in the name of protein.

Foods that have protein:

  • Eggs
  • Chicken breast
  • Tuna and salmon
  • Dairy products such as greek yogurt, cheese, milk, and cottage cheese
  • Lean beef cuts such as top sirloin, top round roast, top round steak, eye of round roast, eye of round steak, bottom round roast, bottom round steak

Lean vs. Extra Lean Beef

When you are at the grocery store, look for meats that are labeled lean or extra lean. The USDA regulates what types of meats and cuts can be labeled as either one. Lean and extra lean are labeled according to their fat content and cholesterol. Beef grading and lean ratings are two different things. Beef grading is a voluntary labeling system that is not regulated by the USDA.

A lean cut of beef has no more than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol. Extra lean beef cuts have 5 grams of fat or fewer, maximum of 2 grams of saturated fat, and max 95 mg of cholesterol. Ratings are based on a 3.5-ounce serving of beef. When you buy beef, go for low fat to get more benefit from the protein instead of worrying about extra fat and heart-related issues.

Vegans/Vegetarians

Contrary to popular belief, vegans and vegetarians are NOT lacking protein. Plant-based athletes can do everything meat eaters can. They even have options for choosing powdered proteins that don’t have animal products in them.

Now that we have put that rumor to bed, let’s explore the wide variety of options vegans and vegetarians have for upping protein in their diets:

  • Tofu (that one seems like it makes every vegan/vegetarian list, but its versatility makes it a great food source)
  • Beans, legumes, lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Tempeh
  • Soy milk and almond milk
  • Peas
  • Artichokes
  • Green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Amaranth
  • Oatmeal
  • Hemp and hemp milk
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Tahini
  • Edamame aka soybean
  • Broccoli

If you are a lacto-ovo, lacto-, or octo-vegetarian, you know which protein options from the list best fit your nutritional needs and dietary restrictions.

leftoversProtein Supplements

When you buy protein supplements, the first thing you notice is all the options. There are so many. Here is a quick breakdown of the types of protein powders for sale online and in stores.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is perhaps the most common type of protein for sale in the US market. Whey protein is a milk protein that is loaded with necessary amino acids for building healthy muscle. Whey protein can be mixed with water or milk and consumed before an intense workout so your body has what it needs to sustain a vigorous workout.

 

Benefits of using a QUALITY whey protein powder are:

  • Immune support
  • Appetite suppression
  • Increase in anabolic activity (without the anabolic steroid aftermath)
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Healthy blood sugar levels (as long as you don’t mix your whey protein with juice or other sugary drinks)
  • Rich in calcium because it is a milk product.

Vaxxen’s WheyXX is a quality whey protein that fuels your body with 8% of your body’s daily calcium needs. There’s more good news: if you are lactose intolerant, you can still get the benefits of whey protein and its calcium boost because the filtration process removes lactose.

Egg Protein

I mentioned before that eggs are an excellent source of protein. You can get the benefits of egg protein without making a scramble. Egg protein is usually made from egg whites because the amino acids are high and the cholesterol is lower. Egg protein is an eggcellent choice for ovo-vegetarians; however, those who have an egg allergy should consider other options.

Pea Protein

Vegans and vegetarians can rejoice that there is a protein powder made from pea protein. Earlier, I listed peas as a great source of protein, now you can enjoy the benefits of pea protein on the go. Pea protein is made from the yellow split pea. It is a legume that is high in protein and amino acids. Pea protein is a great option for vegans, vegetarians, and those with certain food allergies. Vaxxen’s Leftovers meal replacement is made from pea protein isolate, berries, pomegranate, carrot powder, broccoli extract and more. One serving, which is one scoop, has 15 grams of protein and 8% of your daily calcium needs.

Casein Protein

The name is a dead giveaway. Casein protein is an animal protein. Casein protein is also a protein found in milk. It is different from whey protein in the way that it is digested. The body digests casein slower, allowing the body to absorb the protein slower. Casein protein allows for a gradual muscle exposure to the amino acids. The cuts the rate at which the body undergoes muscle-protein breakdown.

Again, if you have a milk allergy or intolerance, move on to non-milk proteins.

Hemp Protein

The uses for hemp have been widely known for generations, and the bodybuilding community has caught on. Hemp protein is another vegan-friendly, vegetarian-friendly, and allergy-friendly option. Hemp is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids.

Hemp is  the result of growing the cannabis plant for its fiber. Hemp is not marijuana. I repeat: hemp is not weed.

Hemp has completely different uses than its psychoactive relative. Even though both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis plant, plant gender is what sets them apart. Weed comes from “female” cannabis plants. These plants make buds and flowers. That is where the term “bud” comes from. Hemp is the fiber extracted from the seeds. The only thing you will be high on with hemp protein is your protein intake.  

Brown Rice Protein

Another option for all uses, whether meat-eaters or not, is a brown rice protein. This protein is low in lysine, so it is not considered a complete protein.

You need a complete protein

Not all proteins are created equal. You must understand why before you start mixing up your drinks. A complete protein is also called a whole protein. These proteins have two main features that are critical for bodybuilding: meet necessary dietary needs and contain high amounts of all 9 essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids are acids that cannot be made by the body, but your body requires. Essential amino acids must come from food. The nine amino acids in a complete protein are: valine, isoleucine, histidine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, leucine, lysine, and threonine. Types of proteins that are complete proteins include lamb, beef, milk and milk proteins, fish, chicken, and pork. That means whey protein and casein are both complete proteins.

Proteins that are not considered “complete proteins” are yogurt, legumes, grains, seeds, brown rice and green peas. Incomplete protein supplements are pea proteins, brown rice protein, and hemp proteins.

Brown rice protein is considered an incomplete protein because it is low in lysine. Hemp protein lacks the amounts of leucine and lysine it needs to be considered a complete protein. Pea protein is low in methionine. Don’t let those technical terms bother you. If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or you have a food allergy, you are not only consuming these protein supplements. You still eat food, right?

Sure, learning the levels of amino acids in your foods is helpful, but obsessing about them is not. You don’t need every single amino acid all the time. Plus, your plant-rich diet picks up what very little a protein supplement may or may not have. If you have a vibrant and rich diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, you are guaranteed to get all the amino acids you need.

protein energyMore Uses For Protein

When you think of protein supplements, you think shakes. Yes, shakes are one of the best methods for getting more protein in your diet, outside of whole foods, but thinking outside the shake makes getting protein a lot more fun. Shake it up, without drinking a shake all the time.  Protein shakes and foods can be used in other ways as well so you don’t get bored and burned out.

If you drink the same shake every day, you will get tired of it quickly. Don’t resent the protein shake. Rethink it.

  • Make protein cookies
  • Sprinkle seeds on  your meals
  • Make your morning oatmeal with nut butter and berries
  • Make protein bark
  • Scoop your whey protein into your pancakes
  • Make protein energy bites

For these recipes: click here.

How much protein do you think your body needs? Consider your age, weight, sex, activity levels, and workout goals. To help you meet your body’s protein demands, add a Vaxxen protein supplement to your routine.

SR Content Strategist.

Matt Weik, the owner of Weik Fitness, LLC, is a well-respected fitness expert/author/podcaster with a global following. His work has been featured in nearly 100 fitness magazines (Flex Magazine, Men’s Muscle & Health Magazine, Oxygen Magazine), 2,000+ websites, as well as having numerous books and audiobooks that are published.  Matt Weik graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Kinesiology. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, personal trainer, and sports nutritionist. Matt is a member of the supplement expert panel at the Bodybuilding.com Awards 2018.

You can contact Matt via www.weikfitness.com or on social media links below.

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