by: Danielle Fryer, RD, CSSD, CSCS
Eating enough protein is important. Too much protein is a moot scientific debate. Note that the macronutrient, protein, is preferred in the body as a source of recovery, not energy.
The following information is for everybody! It is not just for athletes, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. In fact, recent research concludes that this information is especially vital for anyone who has weight concerns. For those over 50 years of age, I encourage your undivided reading attention. Adults age 50 and up experience a rapid decline in lean body mass each year, especially if they are not resistance training on a weekly basis.
Protein is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and plant-based food sources, such as grains (gluten), vegetables, nuts and seeds. Protein enables muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is one of the specific metabolic forces behind gaining lean muscle mass. Gaining lean body mass is dependent on three things:
- Resistance training
- Quality food and nutrition
- Recovery time/sleep
Scientific-based evidence states that eating 30 grams of protein at each meal, for several meals a day, will maximize muscle protein synthesis. Thirty grams at a pop is the magic number for most healthy individuals. To cash in on this outcome, one must understand what 30 grams of protein looks like.
Thirty grams of protein is about 4 ounces of meat, fish or poultry (1 ounce of flesh is equal to 7 grams of protein). You could eat 1 whole egg and 4 egg whites to get 30 grams of lean protein. For dairy, you could consume about 1 cup of skyr nonfat yogurt or 1.5 cups of 1 percent cottage cheese. Most whey protein powders provide 20 to 30 grams per leveled scoop. Consuming more than 30 grams of protein at one sitting is a waste of quality protein, not to mention a waste of money.
Now that I’ve encouraged 30 grams of protein per sitting, let’s discuss what happens when you do more than 30 grams: More is not better! Nope. You see, the human body cannot break down more than 30 grams of protein into amino acids, also known as building blocks, at one given time. When more than 30 grams are consumed, the extra protein is used as energy, just like carbohydrates and fats provide.
Extra protein is not used to build muscle; rather, it used for non-protein bodily functions. If you consume excess protein, the extra will be converted into stored glucose or stored fat. Excess protein intake has been shown to lead to dehydration and loss of urinary calcium and is linked to osteoporosis.
There are minimum and maximum needs that can be customized for healthy adults. (Your friendly, local registered dietitian can help with that.) In the meantime, if possible, spread your protein throughout the day in amounts of 30 grams.
Research states that it is better to consume 30 grams in one meal, for multiple meals each day, versus 10 g of protein, here and there, throughout the day. Therefore, focus on getting at least 30 grams protein, twice a day, and start with breakfast. Adding 10 to 20 grams of protein in between these maxed out 30-gram meals will act as a bonus boost of amino acids. This matters especially if you are active.
If you dislike consuming animal protein, you will need to add an additional 10 percent of plant-based proteins to your daily needs. (A maximum of 33 to 35 grams of protein per meal.) The addition is necessary because of plant-based proteins having less bioavailability (less absorption) compared to animal protein sources.
Danielle Fryer RD, CSSD, CSCS is an advocate for healthy living. Fryer is a registered dietitian nutritionist, board certified specialist in sports dietetics, certified strength and conditioning specialist and yoga teacher. She has served in fitness and nutrition leadership roles in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, and Arizona. She now lives in Scottsdale and works as the new Director of Health & Fitness at The Country Club at DC Ranch.