I was reading through a cookbook my mom checked out from the library, 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous by Lisa Leake. I give you the title and author because if you want to check it out, go for it. There’s good stuff in there, and I can get behind a lot of what she writes . . . save the first two-thirds of page 27.
On page 27, she writes, “You don’t need more protein, I promise . . ..” I’m not saying she’s making a false promise; I don’t think she’s intentionally trying to deceive the reader. What I am saying is she’s wrong.
She quotes the Center for Disease Control (CDC) by writing it’s “rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein.” She shares her average protein intake and exclaims, “DAILY TOTAL: 56 GRAMS OF PROTEIN!” as if this is a lot (it’s not a lot, nor enough!).
She says, “An adult female should have 46 grams of protein a day.” Although one could argue that goals, activity level, life stage, and overall health play an important role, I believe the most important factor is body weight. Given that I’ve been privileged to work with females weighing 95 pounds and 295 pounds, to recommend 46 grams of protein a day to an[y and all] adult female(s) is erroneous.
I also take issue with whom she references, the CDC. The CDC is a federal agency in the United States responsible for safeguarding public health and safety by controlling and preventing diseases, injuries, and disabilities. I’m all for safeguarding public health and preventing diseases and disabilities, but the CDC doesn’t set dietary guidelines. Instead, they refer to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) established by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).
According to the RDA, the average adult’s protein intake is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (a number recommended for more than 70 years). If you weigh 70 kilograms (or 154 pounds for my English [System] speakers), you need about 56 grams of protein daily.
The RDA for protein was derived to estimate the minimum amount of protein required to avoid a loss of body nitrogen. Losing nitrogen faster than you replenish it can lead to chronic disease.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be average; I want to be optimal. And I want to do more than prevent chronic disease; I want to avoid “dis-ease.”
If your goal is “safeguarding” your health and not having a chronic disease, eat 0.8 grams/kg of body weight per day. But if you want to do more [than not just die], you need to eat more [protein].
So, how much more?
I use the general rule of palm to eat one gram of protein per POUND of body weight. That’s more than twice that of the RDA.
This means that if you weigh 154 pounds, you need about 154 grams of protein daily.
We know where Lisa got her number, so where did I get mine? Well, a bunch of places, i.e., studies from dozens of publications, but I’ll share with you just a few.
In 2007 (far less than 70 years ago), the International Society of Sports Nutrition published its position on protein intake, stating, “. . . for building muscle mass and maintaining muscle mass through a positive muscle protein balance, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4-2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day is sufficient for most exercising individuals.”
During a hypocaloric period, where you consume fewer calories to lose fat, resistance-trained individuals may need to increase their protein intake to 2.3-3.1 g/kg/d to retain their lean body mass.
Recent findings suggest that consuming more than 3.0 g/kg/d of protein may also benefit body composition by promoting fat loss in resistance-trained individuals. Using the example of the 70-kg (or 154-pound person, that’s 210 g of protein. That’s nearly four times that of the RDA!
Earlier, you may have caught that I referred to the “rule of palm.” I know the correct idiom is “rule of thumb,” but I coach my clients on eating a palm-sized serving of lean protein with every meal. A palm of protein is approximately 20-30 grams.
Why is this important?
The Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care found that protein synthesis is blunted when the quantity is less than approximately 20 grams per meal. They propose 25-30 grams of high-quality protein per meal.
It’s also important to know that a palm of protein is approximately 20-30 grams, so you don’t need a scale, measuring cups, or calculator when you eat. Your palm is portable, consistently sized, and proportionate to you (smaller build, smaller hand, bigger build, bigger hand, typically).
Generally, based upon 3-4 meals daily, larger individuals do well to eat two palms of protein per meal and smaller individuals one. (Ultimately, I want the take-home message to be this.)
Whether you’re male or female, a young or older adult, a high-level or lower-level athlete (and if you train, you’re an athlete), contrary to what the CDC, NAM, RDA, and Lisa say, you need more protein, I promise.
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