are you getting enough protein?

As we devoured a delicious meal of marinaded spit-roasted chicken with friends, the conversation soon turned to the hot-button topic of protein.

Spurred on by the trending promise that protein-rich eating delivers better health and cures all manner of ailments, Jeff (not his real name) declared he was now an official caveman!

No, he doesn’t go out armed with a club, gun or bow and arrow to pursue his prey. He doesn’t even fish.

The closest Jeff gets to hunting is choosing his prime cuts from the butcher and searching for exotic not-so-primitive ingredients from around the world.

Jeff used this as an ‘official’ excuse to indulge in his preference for meats.

Is he on the right track? Could he have been short-changing his body? How about you?

how much protein is enough?

How much you need depends on your age, gender, weight, height, physical condition, general health, fitness and the quality of food you eat – too many variables to allow for a ‘one size fits all’ answer!

    • Men need more than women.
    • The taller or heavier you are, the more you need.
    • Pregnancy and lactation demand more protein.

The table that follows is a general and approximate guide to how much protein adults need. Getting the right amount of protein is important for your health.

You’ll see that lighter people need less protein. Men need more than women.

For example, a 90 kg female needs at least 48 g pure protein each day, yet a 160 kg female needs at least 90 g pure protein each day. At the same body weight, men need more than women. A 90 kg male needs 54 g pure protein, a 160 kg guy needs about 102 g protein.

Find your weight in the table and match it with your gender to discover your daily protein needs.

 

Body weight (kg)   Daily protein in grams for males Daily protein in grams for females 
 200  129  114
 190  122  108
 180  116  102
 170  109  96
 160  102  90
 150  95  84
 140  88  78
 130  82  72
 120  75  66
 110  68  60
 100  61  54*
 90  54*  48*
 80  48*  42*
 70  41*  36*

 

Approximate figures based on NH&MRC’s Nutrient Reference Values, Estimated Average Requirements for protein intake: 0.68 g protein per kg actual body weight for men, 0.6 g protein per kg actual body weight for women aged 19 to 70. Anything less than this is probably not enough.

you may need more protein

You may need more protein than the values shown in the table but it’s a good starting place.

Some critical diseases, medical events and surgical situations (e.g. serious burns, kidney dialysis, malabsorption, obesity bypass surgery, poor wound healing, malnutrition) and fasting increase the body’s need for protein. If you’re under 18 or over 70 years of age, you also need more than shown here.

If stripping body fat and weight loss are goals, never go below 60 g protein daily. You may need even more.

Check with your dietitian whether you need more than the amounts shown in the first table.

protein rich does not mean pure 100% protein

Be careful not to confuse protein-rich foods with pure protein. They are not the same.

A protein-rich food is not pure protein. Protein rich foods usually contain water and some also contain carbohydrate and fats.

Consider these facts:

    • Eggs are a protein-rich food yet there is only about 6 g pure protein in a medium egg weighing 60 g.
    • Almonds are popularly promoted as protein rich, yet there’s only about 5 g pure protein in 25 g almonds (about 20 almonds).

Now, pretend the 80 kg male only eats almonds (an unusual and extreme situation for sure!). He would need to eat 250 g of almonds to get 50 g pure protein. If he only ate eggs, he’d need to eat at least eight eggs daily (about 500 g). Fortunately for you, pure protein is found in many foods, so you won’t be stuck eating eggs alone!

Protein doesn’t come in a multivitamin and mineral tablet. You get it from food and drink.

Protein is found in varying amounts in every single living plant and animal cell.


* If you plan to lose weight, never go below 60 g protein daily. Any less than 60 g will mean you lose far too much muscle mass. That is not healthy.


do you need more protein on a weight and body fat loss plan?

Protein-rich foods are very satisfying (long-lasting and filling) and they provide key nutrients. Protein-rich foods are nicknamed nature’s appetite suppressant. That’s why it is important to have enough protein-rich foods on any general weight loss plan.

Never go below 60 g protein a day.

The human body is sophisticated and will demand that you seek out more and more food until you finally get enough protein.

If most of the foods you eat are low in protein content, there’s a risk that you may end up eating more food and kilojoules (kJ) than you need just to catch up on protein.

Take a look at some extreme examples in the table below, each of which supplies about 50 g protein; about the same amount as an 80 kg person needs at weight maintenance.

It’s easy to see that you need to chew down a big volume of food and a huge amount of kilojoules to get a small amount of protein when the food is not protein-rich.


amount to eat to get 50 g protein

energy eaten to get 50 g protein

2.75 kg boiled white rice (about 16.5 cups) 

14,680 kJ

1.25 kg boiled pasta (about 12.5 cups)

7,230 kJ

100 milk arrowroot biscuits

16,130 kJ

1.075 kg jube lollies (about 250 jubes)

15,050 kJ

25 large bananas (about 7.25 kg in their skin)

15,300 kJ

 


grams protein vs % protein

Through a creative use of confusing numbers the high-protein and Paleo pushers mislead and bamboozle.

At the core of the confusion sits percentages.

Weight loss plans do have a higher % protein than maintenance plans yet each plan contains the same number of grams of protein.

How can that be?

Let’s clear up the confusion by returning to the woman who weighs 160 kg. Let’s call her Jenny.

Whether Jenny is on or off a weight loss plan when she weighs 160 kg does not alter how many grams of protein she needs.

The first table above shows she needs at least 90 g protein daily, regardless of how many kJ she consumes.

When she cuts her kJ intake, the proportion of, or % kJ from, protein in her daily diet increases.

Each gram of protein provides about 16.7 kJ (4 kcals).

That means 90 g protein provides 1503 kJ (about 359 kcals).

This table shows the numbers at work.

 

When Jenny doesn’t change her protein intake but cuts back her kJ intake, look what happens ....

   

She keeps a constant protein intake...

90 g

   

with same number of kJ (kcal) from protein...

1503 kJ (359 kcal)

   

BUT the % protein consumed (as a % of kJ intake) increases WHEN the kJ intake drops

15%

on 10000 kJ (2400 kcal) maintenance plan

18.8%

on 8000 kJ (1900 kcal) weight loss plan

37.6%

on 4000 kJ (950 kcal) semi-fasting weight loss plan

 

An important note.

If your total energy intake drops below 6000 kJ daily, make sure that at least 25% of your kJ come from protein or you consume 60 g protein daily, whichever is greater.

Getting the balance right is a juggle but it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

check your intake

Now that you have worked out your protein needs, you’ll want to check your intake.

To help you find out, I’ve developed a new promotional protein mini-poster chart that you get posted to you for less than the cost of a cuppachino.

If you’ve got a copy of "this=that" you already have a lot more information at your fingertips about the protein content of more than 400 foods and drinks. Use the tables at the back of the book to check your protein intake.

Or  you may have another Australian guide to food composition such as NUTTAB to use.

References:

National Health and Medical Research Council 2006 Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes Commonwealth of Australia.

NUTTAB Food Composition Tables 2012

Protein poster chart

this=that (adult's edition)