I was talking with one of my readers over the weekend about my last article on how much protein to have at breakfast. She said, “I read the article that you linked to and it suggested a 30/30/30 approach for grams of protein at meals. Do I need that much protein?”.
Such a great question! Here’s my take on it:
Average Protein Needs
Each person’s nutrient needs are a little different, and you actually have some leeway with how much of each to have. You already know how I feel about phytochemicals… the more the better! However, when it comes to macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat), it’s not the same rule. We want to get enough, without too much.
There are varying suggestions on what the correct ratio is for macronutrient intake, but they typically fall within the following range:
- 45-65% of calories from carbs
- 20-35% of calories from fat (I’ve seen some studies show mediterranean diets that have up to 40%)
- 10-35% of calories from protein
NOTE that these are not percentages of food on the plate, they are percentages of CALORIES from each food group. What makes this extra confusing is that carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram where fat is 9 calories per gram. Fat is very calorie dense, which is why you aim to eat less of it by volume, than the other sources of calories. Less is more!
Also, FYI – alcohol is 7 calories per gram. That’s still more calories per gram than carbs and protein. It can add up fast, hence the ‘beer belly’ that some people can accumulate even when it seems that they don’t “eat” that much.
Given this information, what is the optimal amount of protein that you should aim for? Comsuming more protein than your body needs is not helpful. The average American eats twice as much protein as they need (they fill 1/2 their plate with meat!).
Here’s how the original article summarized this issue.
“In young and old adults, we saw that 12 ounces gave exactly the same
increase in muscle protein synthesis as 4 ounces.” Again… MORE IS NOT
A “serving” of meat is 3-4 ounces (about 21-28g). That would be the size of a deck of cards. I’ve seen the typical person’s plate… it holds at least 2 decks of cards in meat! Plus, think about the size of a steak at a steakhouse. The smallest amount you can find is 9 ounces, which is enough for an entire day!
If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that I’m all about the bottom line. The “So What?!” part of the information I read.
Obviously, there are some exceptions to the general rule about protein. Going through certain types of cancer treatment, a diagnosis of diseases that cause muscle turnover, or very intensive athletic training come to mind. However, for the average person (including most cancer survivors), I find the bottom line from this article in the following statement to ring true:
“You don’t have to eat massive amounts of protein to maximize muscle synthesis, you just have to be a little more clever with how you apportion it,” Paddon-Jones said. “For breakfast consider including additional high quality proteins. Throw in an egg, a glass of milk, yogurt or add a handful of nuts to get to 30 grams of protein, do something similar to get to 30 for lunch, and then eat a smaller amount of protein for dinner. Do this, and over the course of the day you likely spend much more time synthesizing muscle protein.”
Now that I have you thinking more about your serving sizes of protein and how you spread them out throughout the day, we’ll wait for the next article to talk about how many grams you should have in total, and how much each protein food has in it!