Protein is one of the more misunderstood nutrients. It is often pushed by the diet and exercise industry, but how much is really necessary and what foods should we get it from?
In general, the average, moderately active person needs 0.8-1 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight. To calculate this you can use the formula below:
(Weight in pounds/2.2) x .8 = grams of protein needed per day for a sedentary person
An easy, simplified way to guesstimate your protein needs is to divide your weight in pounds by 2. This number will be more than enough protein for the majority of active adults.
Many people are surprised by how low this number is. For example, a 120 lb woman would need about 44-55 grams of protein/day. A 180 lb man would need about 66-88 grams. Knowing this number is great, but what does that mean in terms of food?
The table below shows a list of foods and their protein content:
FOOD GRAMS OF PROTEIN
1 cup cooked brown rice 6 g
2 tablespoons of peanut butter 7 g
1 extra large egg 7 g
3 oz cooked chicken 23 g
½ cup of lentils 24 g
As you can see, vegetarian and vegan foods contain enough protein that most people should be able to meet their protein requirements even without consuming meat or animal products so long as they are consuming adequate calories.
Certain populations have increased protein needs, particularly endurance athletes, such as marathoners or triathletes (1). After 2 hours of physical activity our bodies use up most of our stored carbohydrate stores (the body’s preferred fuel source) and begin to use protein as a source of energy. This can be delayed by actively refueling with a carbohydrate source during long term exercise although the body will eventually require protein as a fuel and pull it from muscles. That said, even top athletes require a max of 1.6 grams of protein/kilogram when healthy (2).
The bottom line is unless you are consuming a very low calorie diet, which should be avoided for a whole myriad of reasons, you will likely be eating enough protein regardless of whether or not you eat meat or animal products.
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