By now I'm sure you know that if you're active, you need to pay attention and get a decent amount of protein in your diet.
But how much is enough?
As we talked in Protein Talk 1, the numbers suggested in the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) don't reflect the amount of protein that is enough to eat daily to feel great. The numbers indicate the bare minimum that you need to survive, but for most people, they're not enough to thrive.
However, the question remains: How much protein do you need?
If You're Training for Strength
I hope that you're doing some sort of strength training (remember, bodyweight training is strength training too). Why?
Being strong is extremely important for your health. It makes you feel good. You're able to pick up things with ease, you're able to take long and hilly hikes, and you don't get tired as easily. Your posture is better when your muscles are strong, and you won't get pains and aches that easily.
Strength training is necessary if you want to get stronger, but also to lose body fat and get more muscle definition. Some people use the word “toning” for this. Honestly, I'm not a fan of this word, it seems too careful, almost like “let's all be afraid of muscle because it's ugly, but just a little bit of “toning” my arms / legs / butt is okay.” But the bottom line is, when most people are using this word, they mean less body fat and more muscle definition.
If you're serious about strength training, your daily goal should be to get 1.5 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day.
If you're not familiar with metric system, you can calculate your bodyweight in kilograms here.
If You're an Endurance Athlete
Endurance is equally as important as strength. I don't like how running is being beat up all the time! Good endurance allows you to do so much more, like go out for hours long walks and hikes and it allows you to do longer workouts.
When I used to do CrossFit, my running background turned out to be very useful–in longer workouts, I could still keep going even when many other people were getting exhausted.
If you're an endurance athlete, you can get away with little less protein than people who are doing mostly strength training, because your muscle's protein demand is not as high. But to fuel your workouts, recover quickly and feel good in general, you should aim for about 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day.
If you're training for both endurance and strength, don't overthink it. It's not that if you ran today, you should eat like endurance athlete today, and you lift tomorrow, you should add 0.6 grams of protein to your plate or else…
No need to get too extreme. Navigate somewhere in between and you'll be fine.
Can You Get Even Better Results when Eating Even More Protein?
So, if you're active, you should get 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This is where we can start talking about thriving, not just surviving! (Of course, we can talk about thriving only if your food is coming mostly from healthy sources and your other macronutrients and vitamins and minerals are balanced as well).
But could you eat even more protein to feel even more awesome? It seems that it doesn't work exactly that way. It's been shown that more than 2 grams of protein per bodyweight doesn't really make any difference anymore, so there's no need to push it too far.
But, as I've mentioned before, I hardly ever see anyone eating too much protein. The problem seems to be opposite.
Where to Get Your Protein From?
Last week, we talked about complete and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins should be your main source of protein, as they provide you with all amino acids that your body can't make by itself and therefore has to get from food.
Here's how much protein you get by eating the most dense foods of complete proteins:
Meat, Poultry and Fish
- Steak, lean, cooked 4 oz* – 30 grams
- Ground beef, lean, 4 oz – 30 grams
- Shrimp, steamed, 4 oz* – 27 grams
- Chicken breast, 4 oz – 26 grams
- Tuna, raw, 4 oz – 26 grams of protein
- Salmon, raw, 4 oz – 21 grams of protein
- Turkey breast, 4 oz – 20 grams of protein
*4 oz of meat and fish is about one palm size.
*4 oz shrimp is 6-7 average-size pieces.
- Whole Milk Greek yogurt, plain, 5.3 oz container (150 grams) – 15 grams of protein
- Greek yogurt, plain, 2%, 1 cup (this is my favorite) – 21 grams of protein
- Cottage cheese, 2% milk fat, 1 cup – 26 grams of protein
- Parmesan cheese, 1 oz (28 grams)* – 11 grams of protein
- Goat cheese, hard, 1 oz (28 grams) – 9 grams of protein
*1 oz hard cheese is about two dice size.
- Eggs, one average – 6 grams of protein
- Egg whites, 1 cup – 26 grams of protein
Vegetarian / Vegan sources
- Quinoa, 1 cup cooked – 8 grams of protein
- Amaranth, 1 cup – 9 grams of protein
- Edamame, 1/2 cup – 8.5 grams of protein
- Chia seeds, 2 tbsp – 4.7 grams of protein
- Hemp seeds, 2 tbsp – 10 grams of protein
- Tofu, 1/2 cup – 10 grams of protein
Should You Weigh and Measure Your Protein?
In general, I'm not a fan of counting and measuring food. Been there, done that. I let my Weigh Watcher points and calories take over my life for too long, and I don't want anyone else to get stuck in the same trap.
That doesn't mean that I don't look at food labels or ever think about macronutrients in my diet. But by now, I know what the best sources for macros are, and I know roughly how much protein I get from these foods.
If you have no idea how much protein there is in various foods, use this information above and see how your diet looks like in terms of getting enough protein. You may find that you only get a gram of protein it per kilogram of bodyweight, which for most of us is not enough.
Once you figure out how much protein you get from foods, you'll quickly learn to eyeball it, and this is where I want you to be. Figure out the basics and then stop weighing and measuring. Missing or adding a few grams of chicken breast is not going to ruin or make an extreme change in your health.
Things to Keep in Mind When Eating Out
When you cook at home, you probably keep your meals pretty clean from vegetable oils and margarines (download my SMART fats book if you don't have it yet, to learn more about healthy fats!), but things are not that easy when you're eating out.
You may have all the best intentions when eating out, so you order chicken or fish to take care of your protein intake. But if this food comes with tons of breading and is deep-fried, it's not really better than eating any other junk food.
By eating fried chicken, chicken nuggets and deep-fried fish soaked in sauce made with lots of sugar and preservatives, you zero out most of the nutritional value this chicken and fish originally had. On top of all that, you'll likely feel like crap once you've finished it.
Of course, you can eat your fried foods once in a while if you really want it, but you should try to avoid them 90% of the time. Get your food broiled, steamed or grilled and in some cases, even raw (like tuna in sushi or poke).
If you're not sure how much protein you get with your diet, you can take a look at your menu for few days, using the information above.
Focus on complete proteins (or find your way to combine various sources of incomplete proteins) to make sure to provide your body with all amino acids you need. If you're an endurance athlete, try to get at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. If you're focusing mostly on strength training, this number should be at least 1.5.
Extremely accurate weighing and measuring may work for some, but I believe that for most of us, it will end up causing us too much stress. You can't keep weighing and measuring for the rest of your life. Once you've learned the basics, you should get used to eyeballing the amounts of food you should have to cover your protein needs.