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How Much Protein? An Age-Old Question with a (Mostly) New Answer

Protein is inarguably the most important macronutrient when it comes to body composition and strength sports. The amino acids contained in proteins provide the substrate and signals necessary for muscle growth and muscle recovery. It should come as no surprise, then, that “How much protein do I need” is such a common question.

The answer depends on goals and lifestyle as well as from whom and when you receive your information. The scientific experts are one source for answers, but take this information with a grain of salt for at least the next few years.

An Issue with Textbook Answers

It’s the responsibility of textbook authors to put forth the most advanced knowledge within any given field – this is especially true with subsequent editions of textbooks. Most textbooks have many authors and many more reviewers. While this helps to amass knowledge, it also reduces any chances the textbook might have of being ahead of the curve.

Unless all authors, reviewers, editors, and other parties agree on information that makes its way to print, it’s either omitted completely or softened to a more conservative and/or established viewpoint. This is not an inherently “bad” process, but it does affect protein recommendations – another reason why the question is so common… everyone is giving different opinions.

The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kg bodyweight (0.36 g/lb) per day. According to some, this is all the protein humans need. In some cases, they are right, but let’s take a more critical look.

What is the human need? 0.8 g per kg may be all someone needs, but it is optimal for that person to be healthy or enable their best possible life? In almost all cases, no.

The sports nutrition texts have made some adjustments. Depending on which textbook you read, the ranges vary. However, they are usually very close to the following:

  • 1.2 – 1.6 g/kg for endurance sports
  • 1.5 – 2.0 g/kg for strength sports

Is this enough? It’s better than 0.8 g/kg – that’s for sure. At the upper end of the ranges, it may be enough. However, more often than not, even more will be better for both the sedentary and physically active, and this is exactly the indication of the newest science in the protein research field.

Show Me The Data!

Better resources than textbooks are the primary source publications scientists and doctors use to develop textbooks in the first place – the peer-reviewed research manuscripts. These are the most current and advanced locations of scientific information.

Nearly all of the currently accepted protein recommendations – including those above – are based on the nitrogen balance technique (because amino acids contain nitrogen and protein is made of amino acids). A newer, more accurate method is called indicator amino acid oxidation, or IAAO.

Instead of measuring the amount of nitrogen that goes in and out of the body, IAAO looks at how rapidly amino acids are utilized by the body. Using the IAAO method, scientists have found that the RDA and other protein recommendations have been underestimated by up to 50%!

  • The true RDA for protein is actually closer to 1.2 g/kg
  • Endurance athletes usually need up to 2.0 g/kg
  • Strength athletes usually need up to 2.2 g/kg

In-Depth Protein Science

Keep in mind that these are needs. Also consider that these are the needs of a somewhat average and accessible population of athletes who might more appropriately be called regular, physically-active people. These individuals train consistently, but they aren’t trying to be competitive – the type who may or may not participate in competitions, but when they do, it’s more for participation than to win – and they certainly are not elite athletes, who often train harder and more frequently, likely increasing their protein needs.

Other data has shown that when training demands increase, so do protein requirements. For endurance athletes with increased training frequency and intensity, increasing protein from 1.5 to 3.0 g/kg improves their performance and helps resist illness (reduces incidence of respiratory tract infection) (1).

In strength athletes, doubling protein intake from ~2.0 g/kg to over 4.0 g/kg even without altering training frequency or volume may improve body composition changes over time. This includes both increased muscle and decreased fat mass (2).

Thus, while we may not need more protein than ~2.0 – 2.2 g/kg, it seems like having a little more protein may be slightly more beneficial than simply meeting needs. It is definitely better than being a little too low in protein! For lifters, your best bet is between 2.5 – 3.0 g/kg. Even when dieting!

How to Eat a High Protein Diet

If you’ve been in the game long enough, you know that getting all the protein you need every single day can be a challenging task. Varying protein sources between eggs, chicken, beef, fish, and other proteins helps, but most athletes opt for at least 1 whey protein shake per day to help them meet their protein requirements.

Even the high-protein studies turn to whey protein – the research examining 4.4 g/kg provided all of the research participants “extra” protein intake as whey protein powder to ensure compliance, about 2.0 g/kg of whey.

Of the protein sources, whey offers the greatest increase in muscle protein synthesis – the anabolic process that adds muscle mass to the body and repairs muscle damage from exercise. Because muscle protein synthesis is an anabolic process, it requires a great deal of energy, which lends to proteins enhanced thermogenesis, or calorie burning.

To build muscle and repair muscle damage while simultaneously avoiding fat gain, or even promote fat loss, a whey protein powder should contain as much protein with as few carbs and fats as possible. This is the exactly the concept behind Kodiak Nutrition’s 1Whey.

The Best Protein Powder

1Whey has 25g of high-quality protein per serving with only 100 – 110 calories, which means that at least 91% of all calories are coming from protein. In fact, only 1 of the flavors – Chocolate Strawberry - has 110 calories (with 1g of fat coming from cocoa), so for all other flavors 100% of the calories are from protein.

1Whey is the purest, cleanest protein powder on the market due in large part to the exclusive use of cold-infused, cross-flow, and micro-filtrated whey protein isolate. Make your high-protein diet easy, and reap the benefits of more muscle, less fat, and greater strength with Kodiak’s 1Whey!