Nutrient spotlight: protein

Protein is important for almost every process in the human body. Adequate protein intake is necessary for cell growth and repair, production of hormones, to maintain electrolyte balance and to maintain a healthy immune system. However, as with many things, more does not necessarily mean better.

Most people don’t realize how much protein they are actually getting in their regular diet. Many recreational athletes believe that they need to take protein supplements. If protein and energy is adequate in one’s diet, then excess protein from supplements is merely providing excess calories (which will likely be stored as fat).

Further, proteins function most effectively in the body when we consume adequate energy from carbohydrates and fat.

Protein requirements:

The protein requirement for the average person is 0.8 g/kg body weight/day (0.36 g/lb/day)

For example, a 68 kg (150 lb) person would require about 55 g of protein per day.

Elite athletes require more protein: 1.2-1.7 g/kg body weight/day (0.5-0.8 g/lb/day). The low end of this range includes non-vegetarian endurance athletes, whereas the high end of the range is suitable for vegetarian and strength athletes (body builders and weight lifters).

For example, a 68 kg (150 lb) athlete would require 75-120 g of protein per day.

Sample diet with protein content:

Food Amount Calories Protein (g)
Breakfast
Mini wheats 1 svg 210 5.5
Milk (2%) 1 cup 122 8
Banana 1 105 1.3
Snack
Small muffin 1 259 3.5
Coffee with cream and sugar 1 cup 75 1.2
Lunch
Tuna sandwich 1 347 16
Greek salad 1 svg 90 2
Snack
Granola bar 1 90 1
Dinner
Chicken breast 1 142 27
Mashed potatoes 1 svg 166 3.8
broccoli ½ cup 27 1.8
Dessert
strawberries 5 19 0.4
Ice cream ½ cup 266 3.7
Total: ~ 1918 75.2

As you can see, a person eating a typical diet (meeting the calorie requirements of a non-active 150 lb individual*) is consuming more than enough protein at 75.2 g compared to their recommended intake of 55 g. Add physical activity to their daily routine, and their food intake increases (as will their protein intake). For example, if a 150 lb individual requires 2500 calories per day to maintain their weight, and follows the same diet (but with larger portion sizes), they will be consuming closer to 100 g of protein per day (almost doubling their adequate intake). A 150 lb elite athlete will require much more than 2500 calories per day to maintain their weight.

*this calorie requirement is an estimation.

Examples of other food items rich in protein:

Food Amount Calories Protein (g)
egg 1 large 78 6.3
Burrito with rice and beans 1 svg 260 8
Pita and hummus 2 small + 1/4 cup 254 9.8
tofu 3 oz (85 g) 84 9.4
tempeh 3 oz (85 g) 167 15.5
Bread with peanut butter 1 slice + 1 tbsp  170 7.1
Berry-hemp breakfast smoothie 1 svg 330 8
Salad with lentils and millet 1 svg 360 16.5
Quinoa salmon patties 1 svg 260 21.7

Note: Pure vegetarians (vegans) need to consume protein from a variety of sources (to ensure they are getting all of the essential amino acids). Examples include: vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (beans).

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About dinutrition

I hold a Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition. As you can imagine, food is a pretty big part of my life. However, I also enjoy painting, muay thai (yes I can throw a punch), yoga, writing, and am a certified personal trainer.

Posted on March 16, 2012, in Healthy eating, Nutrient spotlights, Sports Nutrition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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