Pump It Up: How Much Protein Do You Need?

Pump It Up: How Much Protein Do You Need?


First, a quick apology for technical difficulties earlier this week.  The blog that went out on Monday was not from me (As you may have guessed when you got to the end and saw “Mary Kay” mentioned.  Makeup is not exactly my thing).  That was actually a post from our Personal Training and Athletic Conditioning Director Chris Weiler.  But if you received the post in your email you did not get to see that heading.

And then the computer sent out a random post that I wrote back in August on Tuesday….No idea why.

So – with that out of the way: Down to Business!

You may think that only Hanz and Franz (the grey sweat suit clad meat heads form Saturday Night Live that want to PUMP – YOU UP!)  need to think about eating extra protein.  After all, the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is only 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.  If you weigh 150 pounds that’s only 54 grams of protein.  Ideally this protein is spread throughout the day, so maybe 20 or so grams at each meal.  A palm sized serving of chicken breast is about 29 grams of protein.  Some people will say you can only absorb 20 to 30 grams of protein at a time – not really true.  You will totally digest all that protein.  You just won’t use it to build or maintain muscle.  You might use it for other body structures, or you might just use the calories for energy (or store them for later).That doesn’t sound so bad – a cup of greek yogurt at breakfast, a cup of lentils and black beans at lunch, a chicken breast at dinner.

But recent research suggests that RDA only cuts it if you are young and sedentary…

We always knew that heavy strength training resulted in greater protein requirements.  Hanz and Franz appear to have built their muscles out of helium balloons, but real muscles are made mostly of protein.  When you do resistance training exercises, you cause microscopic damage to your muscle tissue.  But this is a good thing!  As your body repairs and rebuilds this tissue it makes it stronger… If it has the necessary building materials available when it needs them.  Hence the recommendation for spreading your protein intake throughout the day so your body always has the raw materials ready to make muscle.  So you might need 0.6 to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day if you are strength training.

What about if you are a little older and you’re just doing a light conditioning class here and there?

If you are over 55, you are probably losing muscle.  It becomes harder and harder to maintain muscle mass as you age.  And as you lose muscle your metabolism goes down – even if you exercise.  And if your metabolism goes down and you keep eating the same number of calories – you gain fat.  A very convincing research paper in Frontiers of Nutrition this past May suggests that people over 55 may need as much as 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day to prevent muscle wasting, particularly if you are strength training.  That’s 102 grams of protein if you weight 150 pounds!

And endurance athletes are not off the hook either – a study in PLOS One last year found that 0.63 grams of protein per pound of body weight was required to prevent muscle wasting in this population.

For a lot of people I talk to – this is a LOT more protein then they are currently eating.  Some people turn to supplements, but I still really recommend whole foods as much as possible. You should also be aware of the bioavailability of different proteins.  Black beans for example have 24 grams of protein per serving.  Which sounds great except that you really only absorb about 50% of that.  So you have to eat twice as much.  And it’s not a complete protein.  I myself try to limit my consumption of meat because of my high risk for colon cancer.  But getting your protein from plant sources takes a little more effort, AND it can mean a lot more calories to get the same amount of protein.

Take peanut butter.  This is everyone’s “go to” when I tell them they are not getting enough protein. “But I had some peanut butter!”  Yes, peanut butter is actually pretty good for you.  Its fats and protein are enough to increase feelings of fullness.  It has lots of other nutrients going for it. Great snack. It would take about a half a cup of peanut butter to get 25 grams of protein for muscle building.  Oh, and did I mention it has pretty low bioavailability?  Make that a cup.

It DOES take some planning.  You are going to have to explore different protein sources, do some meal and snack prep ahead of time, and experiment to find what works and what you like.  And planning.  Seriously.  Planning.  Did I mention planning?  But eventually what used to take lots of work and planning just becomes “what you do”.  Eezy Peezy Protein Squeezy.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!



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