Proteins are vital nutrients in our diet. Regardless of your body weight, training goals or nutrition preferences, it is essential to get enough protein to allow for growth and rebuilding of muscle, bone and connective tissues. But the question of how much protein you should really be eating is something that confuses many people. Here are some tips to ensure you meet your protein needs, allowing you to get the most out of your nutrition and training.
Most guys aim to consume protein based on a ratio of total energy requirements. For example, they will shoot for 30% total energy from protein. But if you want to get really specific, base your protein needs on your body weight. Specifically calculate protein requirements in grams/kg body weight.
Your next question is probably how do I determine what my grams/kg requirement is? This will be dictated by your health and training goals. For general, healthy eating the recommendations are 0.75-1g/kg body weight. For an 80kg guy this equates to 60-80g per day. If your goal is to build muscle tissue the magic number is around the 1.7g/kg mark.
For an 80kg guy this equates to 136g per day. If you are performing extremely high volumes of exercise, whether it be training for a long distance event, in a heavy training load period of lifting, or working hard to lose excess body fat, the requirements go up to the 2g/kg level. Again for our 80kg guy this is 160g per day.
Wondering about bodybuilders who eat hundreds of grams of protein per day? The science at this stage shows the extra protein they consume does not benefit them in gaining extra muscle mass.
Once you determine your protein requirements, it is then vital to plan how you will meet them. Historically, evening meals are usually protein rich, while earlier meals are lower in protein. However, recent research has proven that a more even distribution of protein throughout the day actually improves protein synthesis. This means spreading your protein intake over 3-6 meals will help build more muscle tissue, rather than relying on one large protein meal each day.
A general rule of thumb to follow is unprocessed animal products are good sources of high quality protein. They not only provide a large amount of protein, they also provide a complete amino acid profile, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Beef, chicken, pork and salmon are all excellent sources of protein, containing between 25-35g per 100g cooked. Eggs are a great source, with two small eggs providing 10g of protein. Dairy is another source of complete protein, with milk and yoghurt ranging from 4-6g protein per 100g.
There are also plant-based foods that are considered high in protein. Great examples are legumes, such as chickpeas, which contain 5-10g of protein per 100g. Soy bean curd, commonly known as tofu, is a popular meat alternative, providing 12g of protein per 100g. Quinoa has become a popular cereal alternative, providing 6g of protein per cup cooked. You should aim to consume at least half of your protein from complete sources, such as meats, dairy, or soy and rely on your non-complete sources to meet the remainder of your requirements.
Here’s an example of how a healthy and 80kg active guy could meet his nutritional needs with high-quality protein in a day.