According to the Nutrition Business Journal, Americans are currently spending roughly $3 billion a year on sports nutrition powders. The problem is, most people are already getting more than enough protein in their daily diets without turning to supplements.
With that said, protein-rich foods are important in your daily diet because they provide the amino acids needed to build and repair muscles, and many vitamins and minerals necessary for numerous functions throughout your body. But how much protein is enough?
How Much Protein Is Enough?
The rule of thumb is to include two to three servings (3 to 5 ounces each) of protein-rich foods every day. According to The Institute of Medicine, your daily protein needs will be met by consuming at least 0.4 grams of protein per pound [0.8 grams per kilogram] of body weight. If you're an athlete or regularly engage in physical activity, protein needs are higher. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound [1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram] of body weight. This amount of protein helps to maintain and build lean muscle mass.
Too Much Protein
People were building quality muscle long before protein powder came into existence, and any excess protein you consume is burned for energy or, as a last resort, stored as glycogen (carb in the muscles) or fat.
In contrast to the belief that if a little more protein is good, a lot more will be better, no scientific evidence to date suggests that protein intakes exceeding 0.9 grams of protein per pound [2.0 grams per kilogram] will provide an additional advantage.
Also, a diet based on animal protein tends to be expensive. You can save money by eating smaller portions of beef, lamb, chicken, and other animal proteins. Use that money to buy more plant proteins (beans, lentils), and more fruits, vegetables, grains, and potatoes.
Plant-Based Protein vs. Meat-Based Protein
Studies show a positive link between health and vegetarian eating. In general, heart disease, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer tend to develop less often among vegetarians than nonvegetarians. Vegetarians also appear to be at lower risk for osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones, and breast cancer. For most vegetarians, eating adequate protein is not an issue.
Whether you follow a plant or meat-based diet, there are many different protein sources to choose from. For the non-meat eaters out there, almost every food of plant origin (except fruit) contains protein–at least a small amount. This includes: legumes (beans and peas), lentils, nuts, nut butter, seeds, grain products, and vegetables.
Recommendations for Daily Protein Quantity
Here’s an example of one day’s worth of protein-rich foods for an active adult. Of course, you’ll need to eat other foods to round out your calorie and nutrition requirements.
Breakfast 1 cup yogurt + 1 egg
Lunch 3 oz. sandwich filling (tuna, turkey, roast beef) + 1 cup milk
Dinner 4 oz meat, fish, poultry, or the equivalent in lentils or other beans and legumes.
Ultimately, seek out real food for your protein, and limit the protein supplements to occasions when you aren’t able to eat enough protein.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Clark, Nancy. Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook 3rd edition. 2003.
Whitney EN and Rolfes SR. Understanding Nutrition 6th edition. 1992.