One common question that I often get is, “how much protein should I eat?” Unfortunately, there is no one universal answer to that question. We are all SO very different in our needs. For example, if you are someone with chronic kidney disease, I would absolutely be watching and limiting the amount of protein you consume. If you are an overall healthy individual with a goal of gaining muscle mass, we would shoot higher than the average couch surfer. It’s all variable based on your goals, health history, beliefs, and personal preference.
I recently attended a webinar put on by Dr. Heather J. Leidy and Dr. Chris Mohr. Dr. Leidy is an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise in the School of Medicine. Dr. Mohr is a Registered Dietitian who works with athletes of all levels. The topic was called: The Hunger Games- Applying the Science of Satiety to Fuel Health.
First, they point out that there are many reasons why we start/stop eating. It’s important to point out that hunger is not just physiological hunger (tummy growls), but also reward-driven hunger (birthday cake anyone)? How many times do you go to a restaurant and eat a ridiculously filling meal, but still SOMEHOW manage to find room for dessert.
Along those same lines, we also have physiological satiety (aka time for sweat pants) and reward-driven satiety. Think about how satisfied you feel after you eat full fat ice cream versus non-fat “ice cream.”
__________Appetite, Satiety, and Reward Signals__________
Our body has at least 20 different hormones that are secreted that help us understand our feelings of hunger and satiety. Some of the most understood hormones include: leptin, PYY, Insulin, CCK, GLP-1, and ghrelin. Don’t worry too much about the names, just know that all but ghrelin signal satiety. Ghrelin is your “hunger” hormone. You can remember this by thinking of a gremlin in your stomach – your stomach makes funny noises when it’s hungry. These signals act on a brain and circulatory level.
The RDA for protein is 0.8 g protein/kg/day. To find out your weight in kg, divide your weight in lbs by 2.2.
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range is 10-35% of your daily calories.
Most Americans are currently meeting the LOW range of the RDA, so there is still plenty of room to spare. I’m not recommending to go CRAZY with protein, but most healthy individuals can certainly up their protein intake and still fall well within the RDA. We’re not talking about a high protein diet, just a highER protein diet than what is typically consumed.
__________Benefits of HighER Protein Diets__________
- Greater Fat Loss
- Greater Weight Loss
- Preservation of Lean Muscle
- More Self Control
- Reduced Weight Re-Gain
- Greater Lean Mass
There are quite a few studies that show having a highER protein meal in the morning (28-50 grams of protein) versus a normal protein diet (13-20 grams) reduces daily calorie intake by about 450 calories a day.
Ghrelin levels (your hunger hormone) are lower and PYY levels (your satiety hormone) are higher in participants consuming a highER protein diet.
Brain scans also show less activation of parts of the brain responsible for food cravings when protein is consumed at breakfast.
When given free access to snacks of all kinds, participants consuming a lower protein diet tend to consume more desserts, and high fat foods in the evening.
__________What is a good amount?__________
If you are an overall healthy individual with no chronic health conditions, an intake of about 90-150 grams per day is typically appropriate to help control satiety and help preserve lean muscle mass, especially while restricting calories or working out.
For a more accurate estimation, a protein intake of about 1.2-1.5 g/kg/day will put you at the 25-30% of the daily intake. This is within the RDA amounts and gives you all of the benefits.
Again – everyone is different, so this does not fit all individuals. This is just a very general guideline that helps emphasize the point that many of us, especially women, are consuming far too little protein.
**If you are trying to lose weight and are restricting calories, protein is NOT something that you want to be constricting. You get into a vicious cycle where by cutting protein intake you start breaking down your muscle mass. By breaking down your muscle mass, you essentially decrease your resting metabolic rate (aka you burn less calories at rest). As you can probably guess, having a slower metabolism is really not conducive to weight loss. Bump up the protein and you’ll bump up the results.
In the research it appears that it’s not just about hitting your target number during the DAY, but during each meal that counts. Shooting for about 30 grams per meal will help promote the satiety signal and help stimulate muscle growth and repair. It takes about 30 grams of protein for our bodies to produce 3-4 gram of leucine (an amino acid that is important for protein synthesis). 30 grams is about 4-5 oz of lean meat.
Note: 1 oz of meat is about 7 grams of protein. 1 whole egg is about 7 grams.
This differs from how most Americans currently spread out their protein throughout the day. According to NHANES data:
Breakfast= 10 grams
Lunch = 17 grams
Dinner= 65 grams
If you’re looking for weight loss – shoot for about 30 grams of protein per meal
Make sure you choose quality proteins (organic, grass-fed, pastured meats, wild fish)
Nuts and seeds contribute to protein intake, but are not stand alone sources of protein at meals
Make sure to round out the protein with plenty of vegetables to further enhance satiety and nutrient density
Webinar information: The Hunger Games: Applying the Science of Satiety to Fuel Health. July 2013. Presented by Dr. Heather J. Leidy, and Dr. Chris Mohr