How Much Protein is Really Good For You? 

From helping your body build and repair cells to making enzymes and hormones, protein is critical for maintaining the health and function of your body. 

Because protein plays a vital role in building bones, skin, blood, and cartilage, it’s essential to consume sufficient protein each day.

22 amino acids form proteins, but only 9 are considered essential because it is essential that we consume them in our diet. The remaining 13 amino acids our body can produce itself.

Any protein ingested is broken down through the digestion process into individual amino acids and then put back together again as new protein molecules for different uses in the body such as to make hemoglobin the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body or to build muscle tissue including heart muscles tissue. The entire amino acid pool changes about three times a day.

So how much is enough protein? And is there such a thing as too much protein? Let’s look into these questions:

How much protein do we need?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the protein intake a person of average weight should be less than 70 grams per day. For a more accurate number of your RDA for protein, you can simply multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36. For example, a 38-year-old female who is 5’0” weighs 135 lbs and is mostly sedentary should consume at least 49 grams of protein a day to meet her protein needs. [1]

If you are using metric units, the recommended daily allowance for protein 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. 

Based on these calculations the average male should consume at least 56 grams each day while females should consume at least 46 grams of protein every day. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has their standard for recommended protein intake which says that the daily protein intake should be 50 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet for people who are lightly active with 1-3 times exercise per week.

If you are interested in maintaining a whole-food plant based diet for health, environmental or humanitarian reasons, it is effortless to get sufficient protein intake in your diet. In fact, plant-based proteins are more healthy choices than those considered “high-quality” proteins that come from animal products. It has been proven that slow and steady synthesis of new proteins from “low quality” plant proteins is actually healthier for humans and there is no need for “high-quality” proteins in the diet.

In fact broccoli has more protein than beef per calorie which is about 4.5 grams per 30 calories. Spinach also has more protein than beef per calorie. Percentage-wise, spinach is 30% protein while ground beef is 40% protein (but also 60% fat).

How much protein is equivalent to 50 grams of protein?

Because most of the population’s needs are around 50 grams of protein per day, this amount may be split that into two meals. 

Here is what 25 grams of protein looks like in food measurements:

1/3 cup of soybeans

1 ¼ cup tofu

1/3 cup of black beans 

3 cups of quinoa

50 grams of spirulina 

1 cup of nuts

1.5 cups of whole grains

3/4 cup of whole sesame seed paste

Is Too Much Protein Bad for You? 

Because of the different recommendations on how much protein you should consume per day, it begs the question if eating too much protein is harmful to your health. Protein is often misunderstood, and some myths say too much protein affects bone strength and kidney function. This is actually very true if your diet is deficient in fats or you are on a low carbohydrate diet.

Too much protein leads to ammonia build up in the blood that can lead to other mineral losses leading to many health issues associated with nutrient deficiencies. This can happen with malnutrition, different eating disorders and for people on different fad diets.

Furthermore, human breast milk has the lowest amount of protein among mammals which goes to show that our needs for protein are not very high. [2]

On a plant-based diet, the consequences of overconsumption of protein will not happen because the bulk of your diet includes whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and of course fruits and vegetables so you will have sufficient carbohydrates, healthy fats and nutrients to prevent the adverse effects of a high protein diet. 

Under such circumstances, where you have sufficient healthy fats, nutrients and whole carbohydrates forming the bulk of your diet, even eating a diet that has 3-4 times more protein than the RDA, an intake mostly followed by athletes, will not cause any harmful effects and can healthily support bodybuilding efforts. [2] Check out my article on building muscle mass on a plant-based diet here: https://www.theguerrilladiet.com/three-keys-to-building-muscle-tissue-without-steroids/

But do beware on a low carb high animal protein diet where you can easily slip past the healthy concentrations of protein in your diet and start to suffer the detrimental consequences of protein overconsumption.

 

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Galit Goldfarb

 

References: 

[1] https://fnic.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-calculator

[2] The Guerrilla Diet and Lifestyle Program book chapter 4. https://amzn.to/2MgS7mU

[3] J Nutr Metab. 2016; 2016: 9104792. Published online 2016 Oct 11. Doi: 10.1155/2016/9104792

 

 

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