In today’s health and wellness industry there are many fads and trends that come and go but one that seems to have some sticking power is the idea of eating more protein and using supplemental protein to improve overall health. While there is a lot of evidence to suggest that athletes (or active adults) do require an increased amount of protein when compared to their sedentary counterparts, there is also a great deal of information lost in translation.
The FDA currently suggests about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight per day. Meaning, a person weighing 70kg would require roughly 56g of protein each day. This is a rather minimal amount of protein when compared to the average Americans diet and also slightly less than an athlete or active adult would require. Peer reviewed research has found that roughly 1.0-1.7g/kg/day is adequate for most athletes across most athletic disciplines. For a 70kg athlete, this would be roughly 70-120 grams of protein per day. This is where our biggest misconception comes into play. Many people, both professionals and amateurs, know this statistic however, there is a common mistake of thinking this is grams per pound of body weight per day, often leading to suggestions of well over 200g or 300g of protein each day.
The other misconception about protein consumption is that more is better, this is rarely true. Protein is made of what are called amino acids, amino acids are small molecules that link together in chains called peptides which then bond together to make proteins. The base unit of protein, amino acids, are actually what the body requires to repair damaged tissue and ultimately make the body stronger. As the body exercises more regularly the amount of amino acids needed increases as muscles and bone are constantly repairing and growing, meaning the athlete needs to eat more protein. However, as the athlete becomes more trained, the body recycles and uses amino acids more efficiently, this creates a cap to how much protein is required even by the most muscled athlete. The real issue arises when the body takes in too much protein.
Excess protein, contrary to popular belief, does not contribute to muscle growth. Excessive protein is metabolized by the body and its base energy value is used in normal metabolism whether as energy production (blood sugar) or energy storage (body fat). A more serious consequence of a diet that is constantly too high in protein is the increase in dietary acids which must be processed by the body. Protein is naturally acidic and when the body breaks down protein acidity increases in the bloodstream which must be dealt with. In the short term, the body compensates by excreting this acid in urine, but over time the constant increase in acidity will cause the body to absorb calcium from bone in an attempt to balance the increased acidity, possibly weakening of the bones.
While protein is necessary for a healthy metabolism, and important for muscle growth and development, it is vital to keep in mind exactly how much protein you are getting. Too little and the body will begin to fatigue and slow down, too much protein and the bodies regulatory systems may be overloaded. So, before you pick up your next protein supplement, take a look at your daily macro nutrients (i.e. Carbs, Fats, and Proteins) and see if protein is actually what you need.
Journal of Applied Physiology: Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes
M. A. Tarnopolsky, S. A. Atkinson, J. D. MacDougall, A. Chesley, S. Phillips, and H. P. Schwarcz
01 NOV 1992https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.19184.108.40.2066
Journal of Applied Physiology:Dietary protein requirements and body protein metabolism in endurance-trained men
C. N. Meredith, M. J. Zackin, W. R. Frontera, and W. J. Evans
01 JUN 1989https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.19220.127.116.1150
The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 128, Issue 6, June 1998, Pages 1051–1053,https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/128.6.1051
Published: 01 June 1998