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On a biological level, proteins are sort of like Legos for our bodies. They’re the building blocks that make up our organs, tendons, hormones and, of course, muscles. But it’s that last thing on the list that gets so much attention when it comes to protein intake and exercise. All over your local gym, you’ve probably seen your fair share of protein shakes. It’s synonymous with muscle gain and weight loss, but can you overdo it? Let’s take a look and find out.
How much protein should I be consuming?
According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. That means that the average sedentary man should eat about 56 grams of protein per day, and the average woman should eat about 46 grams.
Can I eat an all-protein diet?
Yes, technically you could. But it wouldn’t be good for you. (We’ll explore that more in a moment.) But basically, you should aim for anywhere between 10%-35% of your calories coming from protein. So if your body requires 2,000 calories per day, 200-700 calories should come from protein.
How do exercise and dieting affect protein intake?
The short answer is the more you exercise and burn calories, the more protein you can healthily eat. In fact, protein is great for weight loss because protein-rich foods leave you feeling much more full than fat and carbs. But all things in moderation — you can still gain weight when overeating protein, just like any other food. Remember to focus on calories in versus calories out — your body will only process or convert a certain percent of what you eat into energy.
Can eating too much protein cause health problems?
Maybe you’ve heard some scary things about how too much protein can damage your kidneys and liver. But before you toss out all your chicken legs and protein powder, we’re here to tell you not to worry! The biggest concern about overconsumption of protein applies to people who are predisposed to kidney disease.
The real health issue you should keep in mind about protein is that our bodies can’t store protein. So once its quota is reached, our bodies will convert extra protein into either energy or fat. That’s why it makes more sense to simply get your recommended amount of protein and then focus on carbohydrates and fats for the remainder of your daily calories.
OK, so where should I get my daily protein from?
The healthiest options for protein are generally from plant sources, but the right types of meat are also perfectly healthy when eaten in moderation. Here are a few good places to start sourcing your protein:
- Beans and lentils
- Skinless, white-meat chicken or turkey
- Lean cuts of beef or pork
- Egg whites
- Low-fat dairy
- Whey protein
Now that you’re a protein pro, you can go out and tell all your friends not to be afraid of this wonderful macronutrient! But be sure that, like all things, you find a balance. In other words, take your protein with a healthy side of moderation.