One question I hear being thrown around a lot when it comes to dieting is — How much protein do I need a day? This question has a long history of debate, and is still being debated frequently today. Early studies on this topic began to not only look at adequate protein intake to lose weight, but adequate protein to lose weight and preserve lean muscle mass/lean body mass as well.
There are many elements that determine an individuals weight:
- Muscle Mass
Weighing yourself on a scale is not an efficient way to determine what type of weight is being lost. Instead, we should focus on body composition — How much fat is being gained or lost, and how much muscle is being gained/lost. This is where adequate protein intake is important.
While daily requirements for protein do depend on the individual, there are some general guidelines to follow depending on your goals.
How much protein do I need?
For the purpose of keeping an ideal body composition, we need to lose body fat while preserving muscle mass. No one wants to lose all of their muscle along with the fat and end up looking weak and frail.
If you fail to get an adequate amount of protein while eating on a calorie deficit, you will lose muscle mass along with fat tissue.
Researchers found that 1.5g/kg (0.68g/ 1lbs) of lean body mass was needed for obese people who are not active to preserve LBM while eating at a calorie deficit . It should be noted that is the minimum amount of protein required. Recent studies have shown that there are more benefits to increasing protein intake (see below).
They found that the body requires nearly 2 times the necessary amount of protein at maintenance calorie level to preserve LBM. This recommended amount is 0.8g/kg (0.36g/lb of LBM) This means if you are eating at a higher calorie deficit, you will need even more protein to preserve LBM. It should be noted that this amount is absolute minimum and for those who are not exercising (you ideally want more protein than the minimum). This amount will need to be increased greatly for those who are exercising and eating at a calorie deficit. The recommended intake will also increase for leaner individuals. For example, it has long been a rule of thumb for athletes and bodybuilders to eat at least 1g/lb of LBM to preserve muscle. As they get leaner, 1.5lb/lb of LBM is often needed. This means a lean athlete weighing in at 170 lbs and 10% body fat (153lb LBM) will need roughly 230g of protein per day.
If you are working out, I would recommended at minimum you get 1g/lb of LBM. I weigh 170lbs at 8 percent body fat and strive to consume 240g of protein per day (about 1.5g/lb of LBM). It should be noted that I work out 3 days per week with heavy weights/high intensity, and eat slightly above maintenance caloric levels.
The likely amount for an individual who is looking to be healthy will fall somewhere between 0.8g/lb LBM and 1.5g/lb LBM. You should evaluate your body fat percentage, caloric needs to achieve your goal, and your activity level to determine how much protein you should be eating.
More benefits of increase protein intake
Recent research shows that there are other benefits to increasing protein intake other than preserving LBM.
1. Higher protein intake has shown to be the most filling nutrient (more filling than carbohydrates and fats). This means that hunger levels are regulated more effectively with a higher intake of protein.
2. Blood sugar levels are better regulated with more protein . This means that you will have increased energy levels and appetite benefits.
2. Layman DK, Baum JI. Dietary protein impact on glycemic control during weight loss. J Nutr. 2004 April 134(4):968S-73S.