How Much Protein is Optimal?


By any measure I consume high amounts of protein. In this post I will attempt to shine light on the holy grail of nutrition, “How much protein is optimal?”

  • How much protein do we need?
  • What is the minimal amount of protein?

To answer these questions, you must weigh the ‘science’ behind the backdrop of greed and corruption. Our nutritional policy is heavily influenced by those that profit from it, Big Food, Big  Pharma and the Medical Industry.

I eat beef, poultry, pork, eggs, and fish.

We’ll look at the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) for protein, the protein recommendations published by the government. Then we’ll look at studies to see if we can glean any information that hints at what a proper protein level really is.

Basic Assumptions

As you read this post, you need to know basic assumptions. These are irrefutable in my opinion.

  • Protein is THE most important dietary macronutrient. Protein is an important building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. There’s literally nothing protein doesn’t impact in the human body.
  • Everyone on the planet should desire to at least maintain lean muscle. It’s very important to our overall health and fitness… especially as we age!
  • Everyone on the planet should desire to increase lean muscle, with the only possible exception being the most muscular among us.
  • Everyone should perform weight resistance training. Everyone. Why? To maintain and hopefully increase muscle mass, maintain bone health and to prevent frailty. Exercise benefits our entire body… muscles, bones and brains!
  • Everyone should consume appropriate levels of protein. Why? To maintain all the processes above AND hopefully increase muscle mass, to prevent frailty.

These five assumptions apply to everyone. Some of you may have physiological reasons why you can not exercise, but even if you have been told this by a medical industry professional, I would implore you to seek out alternative means to exercise.

The only significant remaining question is… how much protein is appropriate? 

Daily Recommended Intake (RDI)

I’ve peered behind the curtain, I’ve seen the influence and resulting harm caused by large corporations influencing nutritional policy. Because of this, I could not care less about the government’s recommendations. However, for the sake of this article, the government’s published Daily Recommended Intake of protein is ….

.8 grams of protein per kilogram per day or .8 kg/d.

For me at 70.45 kg, multiplied by .8 =  only 56 grams of protein per day.

That is a woefully small amount of protein given all that protein does for us including muscle building, tissue and organ repair.

Protein Requirements from Science

Nutritional science has been hijacked by the same people who influence governmental nutritional policy… Big Food, Big Pharma and the Medical Industry.

There are many studies that will validate the low protein standards set by the government. I went looking for studies that suggested higher levels of protein, studies that support my own personal experiments and experiences. There are many.

Protein And Weight Loss

The Role of Protein in Weight Loss

“Collectively, these data suggest that higher-protein diets that contain between 1.2 and 1.6 g protein · kg-1 · d-1 … provide improvements in appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic risk factors, or all of these health outcomes…”

Another Study – Weight Loss and Protein

“Our consensus opinion is… that protein intakes in the range of 1.3-1.8 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) consumed as 3-4 isonitrogenous meals will maximize muscle protein synthesis.”

“Elevated protein consumption, as high as 1.8-2.0 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) depending on the caloric deficit, may be advantageous in preventing lean mass losses during periods of energy restriction to promote fat loss.”

Note: the main take home point, the DRIs are too low. All but the most ‘blind’ know this. Benefits are experienced as people consume more protein.  Higher protein is even more important during fat/weight loss.

Aging and Protein

Role of Dietary Protein

“However, there is general agreement that moderately increasing daily protein intake beyond 0.8 g·kg−1·d−1 may enhance muscle protein anabolism and provide a means of reducing the progressive loss of muscle mass with age.”

Steve Note:  The point of this quote? … there is ‘general agreement’ the DRI for protein is too low!

We need more protein as we age, not less. Next!

Optimal Amount of Protein Post Workout

In the study 20 g of protein was enough to stimulate MPS in younger adults …

“However, older muscle appears to retain the capacity to display a robust stimulation of muscle protein synthesis in response to the ingestion of greater doses of protein (~40 g), and such an amount may be required for older adults to achieve a robust stimulation of muscle protein synthesis during post-exercise recovery.”

Steve Notes

  • As we age — here is evidence we need more protein, not LESS!
  • Great news! Older muscles retain the capacity to increase!
  • It takes approximately twice as much protein post-exercise as young adults to achieve muscle protein synthesis!

Protein and Resistance Training

Protein for Resistant Trained Young Males

Now we are getting some where. :)

“Our investigation discovered that, in resistance-trained men that consumed a high protein diet (~2.51–3.32 g/kg/d) for one year, there were no harmful effects on measures of blood lipids as well as liver and kidney function. In addition, despite the total increase in energy intake during the high protein phase, subjects did not experience an increase in fat mass.

Wow!  Win/Win/Win

Young men who consumed 2.51 to 3.32 grams of protein per kg, per day… for a year!

And as a result experienced NO harmful effects on blood lipids (fats), nor any evidence of harm to liver or kidney function!

Lastly, despite increased energy (calories) the participants did not experience an increase in body fat!  It’s a win/win/win! 

These people ate almost as much protein as I did … for an entire year with no harmful effects! … only benefits. Yes, yes, they were young men… but remember the study above, the older we get the more protein we need to promote protein synthesis?

Protein and Kidney Health

This study shows elevated protein caused no apparent harm to kidney function but did have other associated health benefits!

“Diets higher in plant and animal protein, independent of other dietary factors, are associated with cardiometabolic benefits, particularly improved central adiposity, with no apparent impairment of kidney function.”

The ‘conventional wisdom’ that higher levels of protein are harmful to our kidneys, needs to be put to rest.  Not only is higher protein NOT harmful… as this study confirms, it actually has health benefits.

There is NO research that shows elevated protein consumption harming healthy kidneys… none, zilch, nada.

Protein, Aging and Illness

From these studies, a safe minimal protein intake would be 1.0–1.2 g/kg/day for normal healthy younger persons (16) and at least 1.2 g/kg/day and perhaps as high as 1.4 g/kg/day for older persons (20–22). Of course, even these estimates are minimal not optimal

Note:  Just want to stress, the study suggests 1.2 – 1.4 grams of protein per kg, per day… as a minimum.  The point I want to make is that once again another study agrees that the DRI of .8 grams of protein per kg is WRONG!

Aging is associated with a slow loss of muscle mass and function, termed sarcopenia. Sarcopenic muscle loss proceeds at a rate of ~0.8%/year, and strength is lost at a rate of ~1–3%/year (49, 50). It is difficult to say exactly when sarcopenia begins, but it likely that in the fifth decade of life that muscle mass and function begin to measurably decline dependent to large extent on a persons’ level of physical activity and general health (49, 50). Nonetheless, as potent drivers of muscle protein turnover, physical activity and dietary protein can be manipulated to attenuate losses in LBM.

LBM = Lean Body Mass (muscle).  The study suggests that increased protein consumption and physical activity can help with the loss of muscle as we age!

I AGREE!

A number of clinical guidelines recommend protein intakes in critical illness (64, 65) of at least 1.2–1.5 g/kg/day. These recommendations have been challenged, however, as being too low, and Hoffer and Bistrian have recommended protein provision of 2–2.5 g/kg/day for critically ill patients.

I find the statement above FASCINATING!  Truly.   2 – 2.5 g/kg/d for critically ill patients.

I’m not critically ill, but I do have a metabolism that is in repair (insulin resistance) and I believe I may also suffer from a pancreas that is not functioning at 100% (just a hunch).

Dietary Protein Requirements

“There is no recommendation in the current RDA for subpopulations of older adults or people in various pathological situations. Despite the lack of a separate recommendation, there exists a growing body of evidence that is strongly suggestive of an increased need and/or benefit for protein in older persons.”

“The elderly appear to have a greater requirement for leucine to stimulate protein synthesis than their younger counterparts meaning that older persons would need to be provided with greater intakes of protein or leucine to stimulate MPS and, presumably, retain muscle”

“Both the WHO (103) and the US Institute of Medicine (8) in setting the requirements for protein have stated, “…that the protein content of the diet is not responsible for the progressive decline in kidney function with age”

Higher Protein Consumption

Conclusions: Our results showed that, during a marked energy deficit, consumption of a diet containing 2.4 g protein · kg−1 · d−1 was more effective than consumption of a diet containing 1.2 g protein · kg−1 · d−1 in promoting increases in LBM and losses of fat mass when combined with a high volume of resistance and anaerobic exercise.

Translation: Diets of 2.4 grams of protein, per kg, per day were more effective in promoting muscle increases and FAT LOSS! :)

High Protein 3.4 g/kg/d

“Consuming a high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) in conjunction with a heavy resistance-training program may confer benefits with regards to body composition. Furthermore, there is no evidence that consuming a high protein diet has any deleterious effects.”

The Effects of High Protein

CONCLUSION:  In resistance-trained young men who do not significantly alter their training regimen, consuming a high protein diet (2.6 to 3.3 g/kg/day) over a 4-month period has no effect on blood lipids or markers of renal and hepatic function.

My High Protein Experiment

Since February 12th, for well over six months, I’ve been eating on average 241 grams of protein per day! I weigh 155 lbs which converts to 70.45 kg.  Dividing 241 grams of protein by 70.45 = 3.42.  For over six months I’ve consumed on average, 3.42 grams of protein, per kg, per day. This is often expressed as 3.42g /kg/d.

I have not only survived, but thrived! 

In addition… there are 1,000’s of people eating similar amounts of protein as I … and even more for many, many years.

How Much Protein Is Optimal?

For me…

  • I want to maintain (and increase) lean muscle, therefore I want to perform regular weight resistance exercises.
  • I want to lose a little more fat, actually increase weight, and grow muscle.
  • I want to continue to heal my body.
  • I am getting older, 56 years… young. :)

Given the above facts I feel comfortable with a long-term minimum daily average of 2 grams of protein per kilogram.  That’s about 140 grams of protein per day, as a minimum.

To simplify: 1 gram of protein  per pound, or 155 grams of protein per day, as a minimum.

I am not going to set a maximum, but I do like the average I’ve been consuming the last six months, 241 grams of protein per day, as an upper range. 

Note: If you want to increase your protein consumption (and I think most people need to do so),  increase gradually and of course as always … keep checking your blood sugars.

Acknowledgements

L. Amber O’hearn of Ketotic.org, her post, “How Much Protein is Enough” and the accompanying reference links lead me down the rabbit hole.  Many of the links in this post either came directly from her post or indirectly as I explored the studies she listed.

By the way, her post comes to the conclusion that 1.2 grams of protein per kg for women and 1.4 grams per kg for men, as a minimum level of protein.

 

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