How much protein do you need? Good question.
Well, it depends. How active are you? How inflamed are you?
‘Protein requirement in healthy young and old individuals is traditionally defined as the lowest protein intake sufficient to achieve neutral body protein balance. This concept, however, cannot be applied to those conditions characterised by unavoidable protein catabolism [breakdown] despite optimal nutrition, such as inactivity and diseases associated with systemic inflammation’ (1). Systemic inflammation includes conditions such as Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, Arthritis, chronic joint pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and so on. Protein is so important for the body for growth, maintenance, activity, DNA and repair, such that it's part of EVERY cell in your body.
‘The ability of dietary proteins to promote protein anabolism [building] is reduced by inactivity and inflammatory mediators, whereas physical exercise ameliorates the efficiency in using dietary proteins. Consequently, the protein intake level associated with the lowest rate of catabolism in inactivity and/or inflammation is greater than the minimum protein intake required to achieve neutral protein balance in healthy, physically active individuals’ (1).
‘A protein intake of 1.2g/kg/day is currently recommended for inactive healthy individuals, whereas The Australian and New Zealand Nutrient Reference Values guidelines recommend up to 1.5g/kg/day in patients with severe systemic inflammation, such as those affected by critical illness or cancer’ (1). If you do exercise, your protein requirements are LESS at between 0.68g to 0.84g/kg/day for men, and 0.6g to 0.75g/kg/day for women (5).
On average, a 70kg healthy exercising person needs about 55 grams of protein [30g of meat or an egg contains about 7 grams of protein; so a non-grain, non-legume eating person would need to eat about 240g of meat or 8 eggs a day]. A 70kg sedentary person would need to up that to 82 grams of protein [equals to 315g – 340g of meat/eggs], and a 70kg person with significant inflammation would need around 102 grams of protein [in terms of food that’s 400g – 430g of meat/eggs a day] (4).
So if you do not exercise much (or not at all), you actually need MORE protein than if you exercise. If you have significant inflammation you need EVEN MORE protein.
Also if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or do not consume dairy foods you may have difficulty meeting protein requirements if your intake is not well planned.
Hold on a minute. If that’s true, how come when I step into any gym or ask any personal trainer, they’ll say I need MORE protein?
Well, there is another small group of people who need more protein, but this is not for health but rather for physical appearance – and that group of people are those that want to bulk up and gain bigger pecs and a six pack (on the chest , not the beer!). For these people, a higher protein intake is recommended, particularly leading up to a competition.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TAKING TOO MUCH PROTEIN?
There are significant health problems that can arise from taking extra protein when you don’t need it, plus it can negatively affect athletic performance. Of most concern is kidney disease or renal failure. Our body is unable to store proteins or amino acids, the metabolites (breakdown product) of proteins. When you ingest more protein that you require, the excess amino acids are transported to the liver which is like a control centre for amino acid concentration and detoxification. Urea is produced in the liver as a metabolite (breakdown product) of amino acids. Urea gets released from the liver cells to the bloodstream and transported to the kidneys. Your kidneys are responsible for removing urea and other toxic wastes from the body. When there is too much urea for the kidneys to filter, the result is renal failure (2).
I’ve seen clients [athletes and amateurs] wanting to “bulk up” and gain more muscle mass whom have been advised by gym staff or personal trainers to have a “high protein intake”. When you take a closer look at their diet, the protein intake was much higher than recommendations. Instead some were having up to 2.5g/kg/day!
I’ve also seen plenty of people desperate to lose weight who have done a serious “low carb and high protein diet” and unknowingly risked their future health all in the name of “body image” and "good appearances" (or there is another name for this called vanity).
With so many protein powders and high protein meal replacements on the market today – there’s so much choice and confusion, that’s it’s easy to be misinformed.
There are ways of buffering a higher protein load through diet and lifestyle changes, plus your body has a few mechanism for this too, like slowing your stomach emptying time, to protect us from ammonia overload [excess ammonium ions are converted to urea] (3).
Therefore we highly recommend you seek professional advice. We’d love to help you look after your body.