How Much Protein Do I Need?

This has “tons of protein!

I see countless recipes flooding my Facebook feed and Pinterest that boast “tons of protein.” These particular foods usually end up with 1-5 grams of protein per serving. Whoa!

Wait… that is not what I would consider “tons of protein.” Oatmeal with almond milk (which has, generously, 1 gram of protein per serving) is not “tons of protein.” Almonds are not a good source of protein but they are a fantastic source of dietary fat and magnesium. Do they have protein? Sure. Is it tons? Not quite.

Let’s start with the nutritional science of protein.

One of the best things about protein is its thermodynamic properties.

Thermodynamics: heat generated in processing food. As in, the heat given off by your body breaking down carbs, fats, and proteins.

The thermic effects of each macronutrient is approximately 2–3% for lipids, 6–8% for carbohydrates, and 25–30% for proteins. As you can see, the thermic effect of protein is significantly higher than the thermic effect of both fats and carbs. Why does this matter? When eating a higher protein diet, 140 additional kcalories are lost as heat just by eating. That means you are “burning” an extra 140 calories by eating.

This is why understanding the science behind your food choices is incredibly important.

If you are a healthy, active, and relatively normal* individual, you should be eating at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. (Remember: There are many, many situations that can affect this number. If a client is overweight, I would never set them at 200+ grams of protein just because they weigh 200+ lbs. These numbers need to be adjusted based on individual body composition and goals. That is why you hire a coach!)

Example: a 130 lbs female who works out about 4-5 x per week and lifts should be eating approximately 130 grams of protein per day.

This becomes tricky when you have a certain amount of carbohydrates you need to meet as well. Say this 130 lb athletic female is eating approximately 1,800 calories per day to maintain her body composition. She is eating 180 grams of carbs, 60 grams of fat, and 130 grams of protein. If she’s going to meet her protein goal without going over her carbohydrate goal, she needs to focus on foods that are high in protein without being high in other macronutrients. It’s easy to say a bowl of oatmeal is “high protein” because it has 10 grams of protein but what you may not realize is that it also has 46 grams of carbs. Is this bad? Of course not. If you are already close to your carb goal for the day and are lacking in protein is this going to be the best choice? Probably not.

Protein: The Most Bang For Your Calorie Buck
Protein: The Most Bang For Your Calorie Buck

One of the first things my clients realize after their first two weeks of tracking is that they had no idea how carb heavy their diet was. You might be cutting calories in an attempt to lose weight but remember, macronutrient splits are important for body composition. Meeting that amount of protein for the first time can be challenging!

That is why I love macro-tracking and flexible dieting so much! You really learn how to interpret nutrition labels and, through tracking each macronutrient, you begin to understand which foods truly are a great source of protein.

If you are interested in tracking macros and you are new to the method, I suggest a macro-consult to get you started.

* I use the term “normal” to indicate no underlying medication conditions. 1 gr / 1 lb protein for most normal individuals will not cause harm to healthy kidneys. If you have a kidney disorder then you are clearly aware that you have a unique medical condition and should not follow mainstream nutritional advice.

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