Protein - How much should we really have?


Protein supplements have been in the news recently after the documentary 'Addicted to Protein' was aired on the BBC. The main argument seem to be that protein supplements are falsely marketed as to what supplements can offer, which means thousands of people are using protein powders as a "substitute not a supplement". The British Dietetics Association has labeled them "wrong and immoral" and a waste of money. However, bodies that represent the sports nutrition industry, such as ESSNA says extra protein allows people to train harder when performing sport and exercise.

So how much protein should we be consuming?

It's estimated that the average person requires 1g per kg of body weight of protein regardless of the source of the protein, whether that be protein shakes or through actual food. For instance if you weigh 60kg your protein requirement would be 60g a day, for reference, one medium chicken breast has around 23g of protein. On average, 1g per day works out at approximately 10-15% of our total daily calorie intake.

However, the American College of Sport Medicine (ACSM) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agree that protein requirements for those taking part in more intense activities/exercise should be correspondingly higher. There are two main reasons why protein requirements might be higher for people who exercise:

1. Amino Acids from protein intake are oxidised during exercise to produce energy.

2. Protein synthesis increases to repair and replace muscle proteins that are damaged during exercise. 

The extra amount of protein required is firstly, not much more than you think and secondly, depends on the type of exercise you're doing. It also depends on the intensity, duration and training status. The table below shows how much protein you should look to consume daily for different exercise types and intensities. 

What happens if we consume too much protein?

If we have too much protein in our diet the body will break down it down, convert it to urea and its passed out in urine. Anything that is not removed is either used as energy if needed or is converted to fat and stored, which can lead to increasing body fat rather than muscle.

What happens if we consume too little protein?

Although this is very unlikely with the typical western diet (the average intake in the UK is 17%) protein is very closely linked to many of the body's metabolic, immunity and signalling pathways. Therefore too little protein can lead to; low energy and stamina levels, poor resistance to infection, depression, slow healing of wounds and prolonged recovery from illness.

To sum up...

  • 1g per kg bodyweight of protein is enough if you do not carry out regular, more intense exercise. Look to increase this slightly (using the table as a guide) if you do. 
  • Don't be fooled into thinking you need to have more protein (depending on your activity level) than the amount mentioned above.
  • All our protein requirements can be met through consuming a balanced diet, supplements such as protein shakes are not needed. Good sources of protein are eggs, fish, meat and pulses such as beans, peas and lentils, which are lower in fat and high in fiber. Also aim for less red and processed meat (like bacon and sausages).
  • Consuming more protein than you need will offer no additional benefits to sport or exercise performance. 
  • If you feel you are not achieving your protein requirements, supplements may be considered. If you are considering protein supplements milk derived whey protein is one of the highest quality protein sources due to its high content of essential amino acids and BCAAs (branch chain amino acids), also is it rapidly digested and absorbed.

If you are not sure how much protein you are currently consuming or need more help and guidance with your diet overall please get in touch, we’re here and happy to help :)

Ailsa