Are you eating enough protein?

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There isn’t a lack of protein advertising these days. Look around the grocery store and hundreds of labels are promoting protein. Despite the easy availability of eating protein, amongst my clients, I often see a misunderstanding of how much protein is required. Consider that after the age of 30 a person can lose 5% of their total muscle mass for every decade. Then, at the age of 50 the loss of lean muscle mass speeds up. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is .8 g/kg of body weight per day, or .36 g/lb body weight. This level is designed for the average adult to maintain overall health. However, there are now numerous studies suggesting that the RDA is too low for athletes and older people. The demands for repairing and building muscle is in constant flux for all types of athletes. Older individuals and some athletes often have a condition called anabolic resistance, causing additional difficulty in maintaining and building muscle mass. However, all people can offset muscle loss or even increase muscle mass by doing resistance training and consuming adequate protein.

Daily Diet – How Much?

Guidelines for protein intake can vary greatly. How much you need depends on the following characteristics: endurance training, strength and power training, working on changing body composition, intensity of exercise, and age.

While adequate high-quality protein is critical for maintaining muscle mass and athletic performance, the amount needed isn’t the same for everyone as the recommended RDA suggests. Start by calculating .55g/lb  – .65g/lb body weight for endurance athletes (aim slightly higher for older athletes and strength/power athletes). Increase even more to support additional training load or while working to change body composition. There is often a concern that this level of protein is hard on the kidneys.  However, there is no evidence of this, unless there is a pre-existing kidney disease or impaired renal function.



Type of Protein?

To satisfy the requirements for muscle repair consume a protein that is rich in all the essential amino acids, particularly leucine.  Leucine is one of the branch chain amino acids that is the main stimulus for muscle repair, particularly after intense training — after a hard workout, aim for about 2.5-3.0 g.  Whey protein isolate, pea protein powder, milk, cottage cheese, beef, poultry, seafood, pork, peanuts, beans, lentils, and soybeans are among the foods that are good sources of leucine.

Amount of leucine in common foods:


Distribution of Protein?

The SAD Diet – Standard American Diet, is typically a high carbohydrate breakfast, a little bit of protein at lunch and then a wallop of protein at dinner.  A more optimal approach, that improves muscle protein synthesis and blood sugar management, is to distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day, targeting 20-40 g of protein at each meal.  Studies show that all athletes, including those with anabolic resistance, will improve muscle synthesis by a more even distribution of protein.


Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 Jan; 12(1): 86–90


Take Aways:

This information boils down to three key take-aways:

  1. Daily protein – Consider your level of activity and age, then adjust accordingly.
  2. Type of protein – Including all essential amino acids is important. Vegans can satisfy protein requirements with planning.
  3. Distribution of Protein – Don’t have a SAD diet, aim for an even distribution of protein throughout the day by increasing your intake in the.


Sheila Leard, RD, CSSD, CPT
Board Certified Sports Dietitian
Functional Medicine Nutritionist
My Nutrition Zone
(916) 730-9118


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Sports Med. 2007;37(10):895-906. Nutritional interventions to promote post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. Koopman R1Saris WHWagenmakers AJvan Loon LJ.

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Jan 21;12(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s12970-014-0064-5. eCollection 2015. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. Babault N1Païzis C2Deley G2Guérin-Deremaux L3Saniez MH3Lefranc-Millot C3Allaert FA4.

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Feb 5;12:6. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0070-2. eCollection 2015.Soy protein ingestion results in less prolonged p70S6 kinase phosphorylation compared to whey protein afterresistance exercise in older men. Mitchell CJ1Della Gatta PA2Petersen AC3Cameron-Smith D4Markworth JF4.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Aug;78(2):250-8.  Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults. Volpi E1Kobayashi HSheffield-Moore MMittendorfer BWolfe RR.


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