How much protein do I really need? Do I need a protein powder to lose weight and gain muscle?
Want to feel more energetic? Are you trying to gain muscular strength and endurance? Do you struggle to control your appetite? Do you want to maintain a good mood and have clear focus and concentration? Do you need to recover optimally from exercise? If your answer is yes, then you need to be eating the right amount of protein every day.
Reliance on quick meals and convenience foods that are carbohydrate-centered, such as sandwiches, burritos, pizza, and rice bowls and cereal will often leave runners short on protein. Fortunately, with the right awareness about protein in food, you can tweak your food choices and easily get the protein, and the accompanying energy boost and weight management edge, that you need to meet your goals.
In three simple steps make confident food choices to meet your protein need
1. Estimate Your Protein Needs
The simplest way to establish how much protein you need is based on your body weight and workout style. Other factors, such as stress, food addiction, immune function and digestive health would further refine these targets.
Personal Protein Target to calculate minimum protein needed daily:
- Recreational runners/exercisers .5-.6 grams per pound body weight
- Endurance runners .7-.8 grams per pound body weight
- Sprinters/interval junkies .75-.8 grams per pound body weight
- Appetite control/weight loss .7-.8 grams per pound body weight
- Gaining muscle .9-1 grams per pound body weight
2. Estimate How Much Protein You Eat
Protein is found in nearly all foods, but is concentrated in some foods, such as eggs, fish, chicken and tofu. That said, you might be surprised to realize how much of the protein you eat comes from vegetables and grains. To find how much protein you eat, write down everything you eat and then download this Protein Table to estimate protein in food. Do this for three different days. This will inform you about your daily intake and which foods provide you the most protein.
This exercise may seem tedious, but it’s a great way to gain more consciousness about what you are eating. I recommend that you do this by hand and estimate your intake with the Protein Table rather than using apps and online calculators. Online food logs are time consuming and often lead to obsessive thoughts regarding food, plus they aren’t any more reliable than estimating your intake with this table.
3. Make Strategic Choices
To meet your Personal Protein Target, be sure to include a good source of protein at every meal and snack. Eggs, fish, chicken, tofu and edamame are the best choices for high protein foods; eat these foods 2-3 times per day. Nuts, seeds, natural nut butter, beans, lentils and bean spreads are the next best options. Avoid inflammatory red meats and processed meats; these provide protein along with preservatives and inflammatory fats that make it more difficult to gain and maintain lean muscle mass.
Most people will not need a protein powder to supplement the foods they eat, but if you find it difficult to meet your target, choose a protein powder that is simply protein without additives or added sugar. Choose an unsweetened plant-based protein powder that provides fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats along with protein, like the hemp protein powder we talked about last month.
Protein is a powerful nutrition that supports muscle function, immune health and mental performance. Use these three simple steps to ensure that you aren’t being held back by inadequate protein.
Hana A. Feeney, MS, RD is your sport nutrition coach. As an open-minded, progressive dietitian that blends evidence based nutritional science with the principals of intuitive eating and cutting-edge functional medicine, Hana is your go-to nutrition expert. Hana specializes in sport nutrition, digestive health, fertility, hormonal health and eating disorders. Visit www.NourishingResults.com to explore, read, cook and reach out!