Most people are asking this question under the banner of how much protein to lose fat or how much protein to gain muscle. To truly answer this question of course you cannot solely take one nutrient in isolation. The effect of the other dietary elements of carbs, fat, total calories, vitamin and nutrient intake etc will all play a role.
Proteins are made up from Amino Acids which become the building blocks for our body, allowing tissue repair, growth and efficient functioning. They can also be used within the energy cycle to help feed us for daily life, movement and/or exercise etc.
Different people have different nutritional needs. This is obvious if you work with nutrition clients yet still most people deny it is true, including many nutritional practitioners. Due to the diversity of places humans have lived in the world and the now mixed genes we all have your body can be classified somewhere along the spectrum of needing high protein to low protein. This was seen in comparison diets of native tribes by Weston A Price where he witnessed the Eskimos having a very high protein/fat diet with almost no carbs while there were almost vegetarian tribes in south and central america.
What this means for you today is that your body can also fit somewhere along these lines from needing a large amount of Red Meat to needing no red meats and very little protein. The key is not what you believe or want to be true but rather what your body is asking for.
Most studies of protein intake use grams of protein per Kg of body weight to be able to talk about the amounts to eat per day. Standard tables are shown below –
There seems to be a significant difference between what the studies say and how much protein many athletes eat in reality. It is important to factor in the individuality component discussed above.
As the vast majority do not know how much they are consuming these sort of tables are only really helpful for highly monitored diets or people who are very compliant and consistent. For the majority of people they are better off using food reactions, hunger and cravings to find their ideal levels.
Protein, hunger and food cravings
Protein is important in controlling food cravings based on both the daily intake and how much you eat per meal. Through manipulations of the % of calories in a meal from Protein: Carbs: Fat you are able to greatly change the reaction experienced after eating without changing the total size of the meal (calorie content). If you are too low in protein intake for the day or meal you will often experience negative reactions post eating which include cravings or feeling hungry soon afterwards. Use this form below to note reactions post eating and experiment in finding your ideal amounts.
Protein – Fat loss and fat gain
When it comes to fat loss the key with protein is to find the ideal level that results in fewest food cravings. This should allow you to reduce total food intake to a level where you lose fat. Contrary to popular belief you can eat too much protein and if done at the expense of hitting your carb threshold you will experience food cravings. If looking to reduce calorie intake, take note of some protein sources which are heavy in calories compared to others, e.g. bacon is much more calorie dense compared to ham. When you find your ideal ratios of protein to carbs to fat then you will be able to feel much more satisfied on less food.
If you are in a calorie balance or surplus then overeating in your protein needs will results in your body storing fat in the same way as overeating in carbs once your total calorie needs are hit does. There seems to be some suggestion that your body is slightly more forgiving if you overeat in protein compared to overeating in carbs. However, do not mistake this for the green light in overeating in protein. The idea for optimal health and body composition is to give the body what it needs in all areas of nutrition not to artificially over or under eat in any specific element.
Protein – Muscle loss and muscle gain
When looking to gain muscle you will need to hit your protein requirements and a little more too. In body building circles there seems to be a lot of people who go way too crazy in protein intake while others who completely underestimate how much work it is to eat adequate amounts day in day out. There seems to be a minimum threshold you must meet that if you don’t hit it you will struggle to gain muscle. This however has to be taken alongside the total calorie intake which needs to be above fat loss levels. This becomes a problem for many as protein fills them up and thus they do not actually eat as much as they should. Reverse hunger controlling techniques need to be used to accelerate hunger in many people in these situations.
Muscle loss is overplayed in body building circles as well, many people think if they are 30 minutes late eating they will lose their last month of muscle gains. Reality is the body is very slow to gain muscle and very slow to lose it. Muscle size though is muscle x carbs x water so changes in the latter can be fairly fast which tricks people into thinking they have lost actual muscle. If weight training and hitting minimum values for maintenance (which are much below minimum values for growth) then you should be fine.
Protein summary and real world application
As ever with food the protein issue comes back to where you are at with your food and what level of body shape you are aiming for. The average person in the street should simply start using the food reaction form above and noting reactions. For people aiming for the elite body specialist or body pro levels of body shape they may need to look at their intake quantities and start manipulating them for maximum gains.
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