For a majority of people, a healthy diet consists of a mix of macronutrients including carbohydrates, protein and fat. While each macronutrient has a capacity to generate energy in the body, they each carry out slightly different roles at a cellular level. Perhaps the most sought-after macro in the fitness industry, protein receives much attention for its role in building muscle. But how much protein does the body actually need? Has the industry created a “protein-craze” resulting in an overestimation of healthy intake levels? Find out more below.
Protein’s role in the body
Protein has a wide range of functions in the body, but it is mostly known for its role in building muscle. Protein aids muscle growth by repairing and rebuilding broken down muscle fibers. Muscle tissue is comprised of two types of protein filaments, myosin and actin. Both filaments interact with each other to contract muscle tissue. The stress caused by repetitive contractions eventually damages myosin and actin filaments. Amino acids found in protein help repair damaged muscle tissue, which causes muscle growth.
In addition to muscle synthesis, protein plays an important part of supporting other necessary processes in the body from hormone health to immune system support. Enzymes, hormones and antibodies are formed by proteins, all which contribute to crucial processes within the body. Enzymes help catalyze reactions inside and outside of cells, regulating metabolic and digestive activity. Hormones serve as messengers between cells and tissues, and antibodies are important for immune system health. Protein also supports the immune system by creating antibodies that help fight infections, as well as reducing appetite and lowering blood pressure.
How much protein do you need?
There are 20 amino acids that build thousands of different types of proteins in the body. Nine of these amino acids are considered “essential,” meaning the body cannot make them on its own and they must be gotten through food. Depending on who you ask, daily protein needs can vary from person to person based on height, weight, body composition, health status and health goals. To maintain general good health and metabolic function, most people need to consume about 10-35% of their calories from a protein source, or 50-175g within a 2,000 calorie per day diet.1 In the case of building lean muscle mass, many fitness industry experts suggest that getting between 0.8-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight can help build lean muscle mass. However, it’s safe to say that is a wide range of intake.
Regardless of whether you wish to gain or maintain muscle mass, it is important to understand what amount of protein per day can help you reach your goal. By measuring your resting metabolic rate and assessing other lifestyle factors, you can begin to determine what proportion of your diet should consist of protein. Working with a nutrition expert can also help guide personalized meal planning and help you keep an eye on your progress towards your goal. It is important to remember that increasing protein consumption alone will not directly build muscle – consistent resistance training is needed to break muscle fibers down in order for muscle tissue to grow. Luckily, according to nutrition studies, protein intake was shown to “promote additional gains in lean body mass beyond those observed with resistance exercise alone.”1 It is clear that both efforts around nutrition and exercise are needed for adequate muscle gain.
The dangers of too much protein
Eating extra protein per day can sound like a win-win, but it is important to be cautious about overdoing your grams per day. Increasing protein intake, just like any other macronutrient, can mean an excess in calories consumed, which may lead to fat gain over time. Also, typically, the body cannot process and absorb much more than 30-40g of protein in one meal or it will convert and store excess protein into fat (the body cannot store protein in its original molecular form).2 Consuming too much protein can lead to a metabolic burden on the body, compromising bone, kidney and liver health. High protein diets may also contribute to the increase of meat intake, which can lead to health issues including cardiovascular disease and some cancers.3
Just like protein is a necessary macronutrient in a diet, so are carbohydrates and fats. Eating a diet that is well-balanced, or proportioned strategic to your goals, can help support healthy body composition and metabolic health. In addition, pairing a personalized nutrition plan with a consistent fitness routine that involves resistance training and cardiovascular activities can set you up for good long-term health and wellness.
Curious how personalized nutrition planning and lifestyle habit formation can support your health goals? Start working with a Nutrition Coach at a Composition ID location near you!