Protein: How Much You Need and Other Facts

Protein is a popular topic among both casual exercisers and competitive athletes, many of whom are confused about how much protein they need, when they should eat it and the best kinds of protein to choose.

Before consuming spoonfuls of protein powder or carving into that chicken breast, get the answers to some of the commonly asked protein questions.

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Do some athletes need more protein than others?

Just as children have high protein needs during growth periods, athletes also have requirements higher than the recommended daily allowance. When building muscle, athletes need 0.4 grams of protein/pound. Endurance athletes need 0.55 grams/pound and strength athletes need 0.75 grams/pound. These protein recommendations assume the athlete is consuming adequate energy from carbohydrate and fat. Athletes who restrict their food intake end up using some protein for fuel, thus they need a higher protein intake. Most athletes consume 0.7 grams of protein/pound in a day, so they easily meet the protein recommendations without supplements.

The biggest way to stimulate muscular growth is to lift weights or do other forms of resistance exercise. To support muscular development after hard lifting, all athletes need to consume high-quality protein—with all the essential amino acids—in close proximity to their training. High quality proteins include milk products, poultry, eggs, fish, lean beef, all meats, and soy protein.

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How should I spread my protein intake over the day? Is it better to have a large steak for dinner or smaller protein doses every few hours?

Many athletes eat very little protein for breakfast, but then feast on a high protein dinner. Current research suggests the trick to optimizing muscular development is to spread the protein intake evenly throughout the day.  For example, if you were having a carbohydrate-based breakfast—such as oatmeal or a bagel—and a salad for lunch, you would be wise to include more protein in those meals. The goal is to consume at least 20 grams of protein every 3 to 4 hours.

A second example would be of a 200-pound athlete who chooses at least 20 grams of protein per meal and snack will easily consume the recommended 150+ grams of high-quality protein.

  • Three eggs for breakfast (21 grams protein)
  • Two cheese sticks for a morning snack (14 grams protein)
  • 4 oz. deli meat in a lunchtime sandwich (28 grams protein)
  • 6 oz. Greek yogurt (18 grams protein) mixed with 1/2 cup high protein cereal (6 grams protein) for an afternoon snack
  • 6 oz. chicken breast for dinner (42 grams protein)
  • 8 oz. cottage cheese (24 grams protein) before bed

This easily does the job, with no need for protein supplements.

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