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How much protein do you need?

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How much protein do you need? – A visual guide.

There is an awful lot of arguments in the fitness industry as to how much protein you need to consume each day in order to gain muscle and in contrast, to preserve muscle when gaining weight.

Some of the latest research and case study findings have demonstrated that it’s most likely safe to consume anywhere in the typical range you do see touted by the magazines and supplement companies (Which tends to be in the higher 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight area.

In fact, Jose Antonio of the ISSN recently published work (link at the bottom of this page) on intakes as high as 4.4grams of protein per kg of bodyweight yielding benefits in body composition, but in reality, these intakes are not realistic for most individuals from a cost and convenience standpoint.

In the Overfeeding study, most participants actually ended up dropping out of it, as eating was a chore, but Jose re-did the study with a lower intake, closer to 3.3 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight and had similar results.

The thing is, most people don’t need to eat astronomically high amounts of protein.

Why do people follow high protein diets?

For one, muscle building requires a mindful intake of protein, as does recovering from any sort of training or exercise.

Often the amount of protein required is very much over-stated, a typical endurance athlete such as a cyclist can quite happily consume 1.2 grams per kg of body weight, train and carry out their resistance training to support their goals, recover fine and not risk atrophy.

Those pursuing muscle gain often put greater amounts of muscle mass under greater stress from full body, exhaustive, targeted workouts and thus, require slightly more, often this is in the 1.5 – 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight region, but this is generally dictated by taste preferences and appetite.

Those looking to lose weight are in the same boat as the muscle-gaining crowd, although generally erring on the side of caution and aiming to consume around 2 grams per kg of bodyweight a day.

This is because they wish to spare muscle, so as not to lose it during their weight-loss attempts but also because protein is generally found to be quite filling – there are other benefits to elevated protein intakes, but we will look at that in another article.

Generally, numbers above 2.5 grams of protein per Kg of bodyweight haven’t conclusively been shown to offer any additional benefit to any goal (weight loss, weight gain, endurance, performance), but many do prefer higher intakes from personal preference or as a safety net, especially with the current popularity of “low carb” dieting (Which, for the record, I don’t like!), however, goals such as rapid weight-loss and stage preparation are very unique situations and often call for… less orthodox food intake approaches.

If I had £1 for every time a client was “struggling to hit their protein intakes” … I’d be writing this post from my boat.

As such, the single biggest barrier I come across with clients is managing their protein intake, without using tracking apps or overly obsessing with their foods, helping yourself or indeed anyone you are helping with their diet understand portions, serving sizes and manageable intakes is paramount to success.

With that in mind, let’s look at what those popular protein intake numbers look like, if we translate them into something we can relate to, rather than just “grams and calories”, learning techniques like “palm size portions” and rough numbers can really help when trying to hit protein goals in social situations, when learning the basics of healthier eating and for making more informed food choices and flexing with your diet a little.

What would your daily intake look like? How much Athleat meat would you have to eat, if you chose to eat 1.2, 1.5, 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight an upwards?

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Something like the Athleat chicken box contains 1274 grams of protein, that’s enough for 10 days of protein intake for an 80kg athlete alone, hitting almost any goal other than rapid weight-loss, which might require intakes closer to the 2+ grams mark (and it’d cost around £5.30 per day to hit that goal with said box… just food for thought there)

Now obviously “meat” isn’t going to be your only source of protein, but as you begin to understand these numbers you can begin to understand your protein intake even better.

Let’s say you are a breast man (or woman), like me. (chicken breast!), you could get, at again 80kg, all the protein you need at the 1.5 grams per kg of bodyweight mark from 535 grams of chicken.

Which is just over 2 x 9oz/250gram Athleat chicken breasts (£4.40 ish)

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Or maybe you like to make your own burgers from the grass fed beef steak mince? – 566 grams will do the trick (£5.11).

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Once you begin to understand and visualise from foods you regularly eat, it becomes quite easy to self-regulate.

Don’t fancy eating SO MUCH chicken satay for lunch? Drop half a 9oz Athleat breast (roughly 56 grams) for a protein shake (usually 30 grams) and half a pot of Skyr Yoghurt (22.5 grams), this will spread the cost and make your food go further.

A real problem is that current diet trends are making healthy living seem inaccessible, not just misconceptions about “healthy food being expensive” (if we can even quantify “healthy") but also what we actually have to force ourselves to do, to reach these goals.

Eating so much food you begin to find eating a chore and no longer enjoyable, diets that prescribe numbers so unbalanced and often so heavily weighted towards or away from one macronutrient that it becomes awkward to prepare your meals.

Often these approaches lead you to taking the “I see food as fuel only” mentality, when food should be anything but dull, bland or boring bowls of “protein, Carbohydrates and Fats

People need to stop bulk buying cheap meat in an attempt to hit crazy-high numbers and take time to really enjoy higher quality products and realise that, it doesn’t cost that much to hit your goals for health.

Next up – What to DO with 535 grams of Athleat chicken breast. Food prep 101.

For those interested, here is Jose Antonio’s Protein overfeeding study 4.4 grams

 

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