Protein Intake and Requirements: Optimal Vs Ideal
How much protein you should be consuming in a day has been a hotly debated topic for decades now. 1 gram per pound of body weight? 30% of your daily calories? The more the better? The RDA is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram per day to prevent a deficiency. For a 130lb woman that’s 47g of protein and for a 190lb man that’s 68g of protein. The majority of people reading this will be consuming well over these amounts. When it boils down to it, the ideal amount may not always be the optimal amount.
How much protein you should consume in a day comes down to the following factors: lean body mass, age, diet status, and preference.
Lean Body Mass: Protein requirements should be calculated using your lean body mass, not your total body mass. Fat mass has very little protein requirement or usage. It’s the lean body mass portion of your total body mass that requires the majority of protein turnover, so it makes more sense to base your protein requirements off of your lean body mass. Basing your protein requirements off of your lean body mass is much more sustainable than basing it off of your body mass. As an example, someone weighing 250lbs trying to consume 1g/1lb body weight will struggle to consume 250g of protein in a day. This 250lb person may be 30% body fat and so their actual requirements would be closer to 160g of protein per day. That’s a big difference.
Age: Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle tissue as a natural part of the aging process. As we get older, our protein requirements increase. Increasing your protein requirements as you age helps preserve your lean body mass.
Diet Status: Your current diet status also dictates your protein requirements. Your protein requirements will increase if you are in a cutting phase (weight loss) compared to a maintenance phase and a reverse diet phase. When you lose weight, it is not 100% fat mass, it is also lean body mass. By increasing your protein requirements during a cutting phase, you can help preserve your lean body mass and therefore muscle mass.
Preference: Just because Arnold Schwarzenneger (the king of body building) tells you the ideal amount of protein is 2g/lb/day does not mean that’s optimal for you. Studies have shown favourable effects of protein intakes as high as 4.4g/kg/day. This means the 130lb woman would be consuming 260g of protein per day and the 190lb man would be consuming 380g of protein per day. That amount of protein just isn’t realistic or sustainable. You’d have to eat 5+ chicken breasts every day and I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be getting my calories from carbs and fats. If you love protein, then by all means you’re welcome to have a higher protein intake. There are no detrimental effects of protein intakes up to 4.4g/kg/day. If you despise chicken breast and protein in general, then the higher range of protein intakes are not for you. Remember that more is not better, optimal is better. Find the amount that works best for you that’s within your optimal range (see chart below for your optimal range).
All values in the chart I have provided are g/kg of lean body mass. To calculate your needs, take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by your body fat percentage to find your body fat mass. Subtract the body fat mass in pounds from your body weight in pounds to find your lean body mass in pounds. Take your lean body mass in pounds and divide it by 2.2 to find your lean body mass in kilograms. Multiply your lean body mass in kg by the appropriate value below.