It can be difficult to understand how much protein you should be having per day. Is it better to go off your bodyweight in kilograms or pounds? Should it change depending on your exercise levels? Do men need more than women? All of the information available on the internet only seems to make people confused as opposed to helping them to understand what to do.
However, now there’s scientific evidence to help you to make better decisions about your diet. 11 respected researchers and authors have created a systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression on the effects of protein supplementation for those who regularly engage in resistance training. This simply means that they’ve looked at the research available and separated the facts from the fiction, creating an easy guide for protein recommendations and helping you to develop a healthier, stronger body.
The authors first took away every study that wasn’t a randomised controlled trial with individuals who had engaged in resistance training for longer than 6 weeks. Randomised controlled trials are the highest quality studies you can have and tend to give the most accurate results.
In the end, they looked at a total of 49 studies with 1863 participants.
Actual protein recommendations
The researchers concluded that dietary protein supplementation significantly enhanced changes in muscle strength and size during prolonged resistance training in healthy adults. As age increases, the efficacy of protein supplementation reduces whilst longer training experience increases the efficacy.
In terms of actual protein recommendations – interestingly, protein supplementation beyond 1.62 g per kilogram of bodyweight per day resulted in no further muscle gains. This suggests that protein intakes higher than this are unnecessary for maximal muscle gains.
Now, if you’ve spent any time looking at protein recommendations by the bodybuilding community, then you might have seen that most people suggest a protein intake of around 1g per pound of bodyweight per day or 2.2g per kilogram. As you can see, you can opt for a lower intake of 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight per day so that you can get more calories from fats and carbs which will better contribute to muscle gain.
Take home message:
“Our meta-analysis investigating the effects of protein supplementation on muscle strength and hypertrophy is officially published. It’s important to note that while 1.6 g/kg was found to be an average for maximizing gains, the spectrum of responses lead to our conclusion that it is “prudent to recommend ~2.2 g protein/kg/d for those seeking to maximize resistance training-induced gains in fat-free mass.”
Brad J. Schoenfeld, Ph.D
Protein amount for a cut
However, if you’re looking to lose fat or ‘cut’, then a higher protein recommendation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Protein is extremely satiating and can help stop you from overeating on other foods that are high in carbohydrates and fat. This is why it’s recommended to lower your protein intake on a bulk as the additional protein won’t help you to build muscle and instead will stop you from reaching your daily calorie target. Yet, on a cut you’re trying to keep calories down, and so a higher protein intake can help keep you full on a lower-energy intake.
Not only this, but protein isn’t converted well into fat and so excess protein is less likely to cause fat-gain compared to carbohydrates and fat. It’s also low-calorie at 4kcal per gram, the same as carbohydrate but under half that of fat at 9 calories per gram. So, if you’re cutting, then it might be a wise idea to stick to a higher protein intake of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight or 2.2 grams per kilogram or even more.
Protein meal ideas
Let’s take a look at a 75kg (165lb) individual. Going by what the research suggests, they would need 120 grams of protein per day. Split into four meals, that’s 30 grams per meal – around the amount you’d find in a protein shake or chicken breast plus a little extra. I would recommend including a substantial protein source with each meal (20-25g) as well as one shake. This can be eggs, meat, dairy, fish and anything that contains a high amount of protein. Vegetarians and vegans can opt for beans, soy, peas, peanut butter or vegan protein powders to get in their requirements.
For a 75kg individual who’s trying to cut, then you would need 160g of protein based upon my recommendations. This would mean including a substantial protein source at each meal (20-25g), assuming that you have four meals a day, as well as two extra protein shakes. For instance, you might have four scrambled eggs for breakfast (24g of protein), chicken breast salad for lunch (25g of protein, 49g daily total), a tuna sandwich between lunch and dinner (20g protein, 69g daily total), and then some sort of ground-beef cantered dinner (40g protein, 109g daily total). If you then throw on top of that a couple of protein shakes which contain 25g of protein each, that’s 159g of protein for the day. Not to mention all of the extra protein you’ll get from low-content protein sources such as bread, oats, nuts, seeds etc. In fact, those low protein sources will probably add up to a total of 20-25g of protein over the course of the day; therefore, eliminating one of the shakes.
Tracking your calories and macronutrient (fat, carbs and protein) intake isn’t necessary, but it’s extremely helpful. Try to track your food intake at least twice per week to make sure that you’re on the right path. After all, you don’t want to assume you’re eating 160g of protein and find out you’re only eating 90g. Tracking is a very useful tool for letting you know exactly what your diet looks like.
At the end of the day, you probably do not need as much protein as you once thought. However, understanding the benefits of protein can allow you to work out exactly how much you need for your personal goal. Try tracking your food for a little while and see how it affects you. Then adjust accordingly based upon your results. It really is that easy!