A lot of Pinoys have joined the craze of “more protein” and lessen–or even remove–carbohydrates from their diet, especially those who want to shed off that unwanted bulge in the middle.
But seriously, how much protein does our body really need on a daily basis? Is it right to splurge on those protein-rich food?
Let’s discover what protein is, shall we?
The word “protein” is derived from the Greek word “protos,” meaning “first in rank or position” – and for good reason. Protein serves so many important functions in the body that it’s vitally important to meet daily needs. However, the amount of protein can vary quite a bit from person to person.
According to Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND, who is the Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training of Herbalife Nutrition, people’s daily protein needs depend on many factors like weight and muscle a person has, and it does not matter whether one is a male or female.
Searching on the internet, one can see that most people eat more than enough protein to meet their needs, or that the protein needs of the “average” woman is about 46g per day, while that of the average man at 56g. However, these are just guidelines created to meet the basic needs of most people as set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine in the US.
So how much protein is right for people? Is one guideline correct?
Does a “one size fits all” model for protein make sense? Various people have differing caloric needs, so why not protein? After all, people come in many different sizes and thus, their body composition is highly variable. It stands to reason that protein needs could vary a lot, too.
One guideline from the National Academies Press (https://www.nap.edu/catalog/10490/dietary-reference-intakes-for-energy-carbohydrate-fiber-fat-fatty-acids-cholesterol-protein-and-amino-acids) recommends that we eat 10 to 35 percent of our total daily calories from protein. Bowerman said this guideline helps a little—a least it attempts to tie protein needs to calorie needs. But the percent-of-calories range is pretty wide, and most people would be hard-pressed to figure it out anyway.
So, how can you estimate out how much protein your own body needs? Here are two ways.
Method 1: Calculate using lean body mass
Bowerman said since protein is so important in maintaining one’s lean body mass (basically, everything in one’s body that isn’t fat), the suggested amount that one should eat every day depends, in part, on how much is the person’s lean mass.
Ideally, get a body composition measurement done (some home bathroom scales even do this), which would tell how much lean body mass one has. Then you could easily determine the amount of protein suggested for you.
That would be 0.5 to 1 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. If using the metric system, that’s about 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.
Method 2: Calculate using body weight
Of course, not everyone has access to body composition analysis. And if not, estimate protein needs based on current body weight. It’s not a perfect method. It doesn’t take into account how much muscle mass a person has, but it does at least account for differences in body size.
Here’s how to calculate protein needs:
- In pounds: multiply body weight by 0.7
- In kilograms: multiply body weight by 1.5
The resulting number is a reasonable target for the amount of protein, in grams, that one should eat each day.
So, a woman who weighs 140lbs (64kg) should aim for about 100g of protein a day. A 220lb man (110kg) should shoot for at least 150g of protein.
With either method, Bowerman said the recommended amount of protein is more tailored to your needs than general recommendations based on gender alone. “Of course, if you have a specific athletic goal in mind, such as strength training or endurance, your needs might vary somewhat, and you can find more detailed information in my guide for calculating macros for athletic performance.”
How to calculate the amount of protein in typical food types
After getting a rough idea of how much protein should be eaten every day, you may want to estimate how much you’re actually eating. “I find it easiest to estimate the amount of protein in a meal in 25g units, and the amount for snacks in about 10g units,” Bowerman explained.
Here’s why. Common portions of many protein foods eaten at meals conveniently have about 25g of protein, and protein snacks tend to fall in the 10g range. So, it makes it easy to keep track. “For example, 3 ounces of cooked fish or poultry has about 25g of protein, and a snack of a single-serve carton of yogurt, a protein bar, or a handful of roasted soy nuts would have about 10g of protein.”
A woman aiming for about 100g of protein a day can easily do that by taking in 25g (one unit) at each meal, and have a couple of protein snacks. For a male aiming for about 150g a day, just double up protein units at a couple of meals in order to hit the target.
Practical tips to help measure protein intake
Here are Bowerman’s top tips and recommendations to help track protein intake.
- Make sure to read nutrition labels to keep a more accurate tracking.
- For more accuracy, weigh cooked proteins a few times to get familiar with the amount of protein in one’s usual portions.
- Use an app to encourage daily tracking.
- If there’s a need to up protein consumption, try meal replacement or protein shake, which can be tailored to your personal needs with additional protein powder or other protein add-ins like yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, or nut butter.
- Don’t just focus on protein – the overall dietary balance matters, too. So be sure the daily diet includes plenty of healthy carbs (from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans) as well as some good fats from nuts, avocado, and vegetable oil.