How much protein do you need?
Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a post on nutrition topics. Have questions or ideas for future topics? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. This week, Shanti Lewis, RD, CNSD, CSP, weighs in on protein intake.
Do you really need a protein shake with 50 grams of protein per serving and that claims to help add 10 lbs of muscle in two weeks? Is eating that much protein really going to help with muscle growth?
Eating excess protein above your energy needs without including extensive strength training activities will only increase your calorie intake and lead to fat gain, not muscle. Americans consume more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein for adults of 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight. For example, a 200 pound male needs 73 grams of protein per day, which can easily be achieved by eating the amount of protein in 3 chicken breasts without consuming any other source of protein throughout the day including: beans, eggs, milk products, nuts, grains, soy products, and lean meats/fish.
Protein intake does play a role in maximizing skeletal muscle adaptive response after exercise. Individuals who are endurance athletes or who regularly perform strength training activities require more protein.
In addition to protein, carbohydrates are important for resistance training to provide energy for muscle contraction. Consumption of carbohydrates spares using the amino acids from protein for energy and utilizes them for repairing and building muscle. It is important to eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet rather than focus on protein as a specific means to gain muscle mass.
Here are some tips compiled from American Dietetic Association, Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook and Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group:
1. Be realistic about weight gain goals and set a time frame to achieve results
2. Include 300-500 calories above usual calorie intake by increasing snacks or portion sizes
3. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day
4. Consider consulting a professional to analyze your body composition to ensure that weight gain is muscle rather than fat
5. Muscle growth = extra calories + strength training
6. Try to consume your protein intake from whole foods rather than relying on protein supplements or powders
7. Aim for a high carbohydrate snack with 10-20 grams of protein before or after strength training, such as a turkey sandwich and a cup of low fat milk
8. The recommended protein intake per day for an individuals participating in strength training is 1.2-1.7 g/kg/day, which is 82- 166 grams of protein per days or 3 chicken breasts, 2 cups of skim milk, and 3 eggs without another source of protein