So, just how much protein do you really need? Type that question into a search engine and you get a wide variety of answers — from a high of 300 grams per day all the way down to just 40. To ensure that I add to the confusion on the Internet, I’ll add a different opinion: I don’t think the number (grams or percentage) actually matters for the vast majority of people, most of the time.
How can I say the number doesn’t matter? Well, I have a few questions for you: Do you know exactly how many grams of protein do you eat per day right now? Do you have records of that going back a few months? Do you consistently weigh your food on a digital scale before you eat it?
If you answered “no” to any or all of the above questions, then for you the number of grams per day you “should” be eating doesn’t matter because you couldn’t do anything with that advice. If you answered “yes” to the above, then this article is not for you — you’re not included in the vast majority of people.
I used to throw out protein intake guidelines from my textbooks, but then it dawned on me that this was useless advice. Useless because the executives, engineers and other professionals I was giving this advice to can’t actually use this number. My clients (and I) don’t know how many grams per day they eat now, have no inclination to measure the grams per day. They don’t want to be bothered.
This is not to say that getting enough protein isn’t important, or that we don’t give guidelines — it is and we do. We focus on practical advice — advice that people can and will follow because, to paraphrase Patton, a modest plan executed vigorously will trump a perfect plan that’s rarely if ever implemented.
Practical guidelines for getting enough protein
1. Eat about 3 times per day: The idea that we need to eat five or six small meals per day comes from the sport of bodybuilding. Eating that many meals is about getting as big as humanly (pharmaceutically assisted humanly) possible. If you’d prefer a slimmer, more athletic look, or your focus is primarily fat-loss, eating all day long isn’t going to help you very much. Two or three meals a day (that are larger) will keep you feeling fuller longer and help you drop more body-fat, and save you a lot of time.
2. Eat food sources of protein: besides a post workout shake, you want to get your protein from food. Primarily focus on things that had a face (a chicken), or would’ve had a face (an egg would’ve had a face if it had been fertilized and grown up) — especially from healthier animals: pastured eggs, pastured beef, etc.
How do you know if something is “food?” Could you find this thing in or on an animal or plant?
3. Consider a recovery shake after a workout: a simple protein and water post-workout shake can help a lot with recovery — making you less sore, and allowing you to workout frequently enough to get great results. Women should generally shoot for about 20 grams and guys should be more in the 30 to 40 gram range. (This number you can practically measure — look at the scoop.)
4. Adjust based on your results and how you feel: If you’re sore all of the time, aren’t improving much in your workouts, aren’t losing fat and/or gaining muscle, then you likely have a recovery issue. Protein is one potential factor in your recovery, and probably not the biggest issue if you are doing the three things listed above.
First, take a look at the quality and quantity of your sleep, stress management, and also your workout plan. If you are on a push yourself to your limits, or beat the clock every time workout plan, then that’s the problem. Pushing to your limits every time will burn you out, injure you and push your results backward over time. If you’ve addressed all of the above, then it’s time to try adding more protein to your diet.
Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book Results Fitness. In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training fitness program, which specializes in weight loss and body transformations for busy people. Read more about The Body You Want at josefbrandenburg.com/.
@2013, Josef Brandenburg
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