It’s no big surprise that it’s important to eat a clean, healthy diet in order to stay fit no matter what your goals. But I often find that many people don’t understand the importance of eating enough protein.
First, let me explain quickly why you need protein to build muscle. If you know the science here, skip to the next paragraph. When you lift weights, you make microscopic tears in your muscles. In order to build muscle, you need to fill those microscopic tears with new muscle growth, which makes your muscles larger all over. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle. So, when you consume protein, you’re supplying your muscles’ injuries with what they need to heal and get larger. Without the protein, they heal, but they’re not filled with any new muscle and don’t grow. A lot of work for nothing, right?
So, If you want to add muscle to your frame, which you should by the way, eating enough protein is absolutely imperative. And while many people who are interested in exercise/weight lifting/adding muscle to their bodies know that protein is important, I don’t think they’re eating enough of it. Why do I say that? Because I do know how much I should be eating, and it’s literally a challenge for me on a daily basis.
Women looking to lose a little fat and gain some muscle (I’m not talking become body builders – just your average lady looking to tone things up) should aim to ingest between 1 gram and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight depending on their activity level, meaning 1 per pound for less active and 1.2 for more active. Men looking to do the same should aim to ingest between 1 gram and 1.4 grams per pound of body weight. So what does that mean? I’ll use myself as an example.
I weigh around 118 pounds. That means that I need to eat between 118 (118 x 1) and 142 (118 x 1.2) grams of protein every day. That’s a LOT. Let’s use a five meal per day diet (three main meals plus two snacks) and say I’m aiming for the 1.1 gram model as the average. That means that with an end goal of 130 grams of protein per day, I should be eating approximately 26 grams of protein per meal. Or if I only have three big meals, then I need 43 grams of protein per meal!
That’s four eggs for breakfast to get you nearly 26 grams of protein at five meals per day and SEVEN eggs for breakfast to get you 43 grams of protein at three meals a day. It gets easier with real meat, though. Meat portions are usually estimated at 3 oz., which is essentially the same size as a bar of soap for imagination’s sake. Three ounces of chicken gets you about 23 grams of protein, ground turkey is roughly 22 and steak is roughly 24. You can eat less meat and get more protein compared to eggs (and certainly to beans, etc.) The values are easy to find online if you’re curious about other meats or sources.
So, now that’s you’ve calculated how much protein you need every day (your weight x 1-1.2 or 1-1.4), how can you reach your daily goal without slaving over a grill all day long? The secret weapon is powdered protein, which you can buy in a tub, and many weight lifters swear by it. One scoop mixed with water in a shaker is only roughly 100 calories and gets you 25 grams of protein. It’s a really good bang for your caloric buck, it comes in a zillion flavors and it’s ready in literally ten seconds. It can go in all types of recipes and smoothies, and it’s portable. This is a great “snack” meal if you’re finding it difficult to get hit your protein goals with food alone.
Another way to explain how much protein your diet should consist of is to measure it based on calories. Every gram of protein has four calories. That means that my goal of 130 grams per day will cost me 520 calories. I generally aim for around 1,500 calories per day (calculate how many you need to maintain, lose or gain weight here
), so I should be getting more than a third of my daily calories from protein alone.
I think it’s clear that protein is necessary for muscle growth, but it’s also important to note that protein is essential for SO many other things. Even if you don’t care about losing weight or gaining a little muscle, nutritionists even recommend .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight for sedentary people. It allows hair and nails to grow. It’s essential for literally all cell repair. It helps our bodies make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals. It’s the building block of bones, cartilage, skin and blood. And finally, it lowers hunger levels leaving you fuller longer.
So, quick, buy your protein powder, stock up on meat and get on the protein wagon.