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Protein: Do We Really Need as Much as We Think?

Everyone who has ever stepped foot into a gym has been told that protein is the key to success. But, how much protein do we really need?

Published: 1/15/18

Everyone who has ever stepped foot into a gym with the goal of gaining muscle has been told that protein is the key to success. Some people are not looking to bulk up, of course, but we all need muscles to complete basic daily tasks. So, finding protein in our foods is essential since we all know we need protein to build that muscle. Heck, if Harvard Medical School says so, and the science has been pretty consistent on this point for decades, we’re listening. But, how much protein do we really need?

How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for regular folks in 0.36 grams of protein for every pound. Go ahead, do the math. We’ll wait… For body builders, the general rule of thumb has been one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. For those looking to lose fat or shred (known as “cutting” in body building circles) higher levels of protein are needed—generally about 1.2 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight per day.

But, since we’re not all body builders, and our day-to-day intake is significantly lower, what’s all this fuss about protein really about? We don’t actually need as much as everyone thinks we do, but we do still need proteins because they are the main building blocks of our bodies. Proteins make muscles, tendons, skin, organs—you name it.

Where Should I Get My Protein?

Tuna, chicken breasts, fish, lean meats… you know the drill, right? While this body builder’s grocery list may seem like a no-brainer, the truth is most foods we consume would have enough protein for the average person to subsist on. As long as you’re getting your average daily intake, you don’t need to worry about being protein-deficient.

Don’t feel like you need to stack your cart to the top by the butcher’s aisle in your grocery store. You can find proteins in all kinds of foods, and if you’re not looking to bulk up with super-high protein foods, there’s nothing wrong with leaving animal products off your plates.

What’s a Vegetarian to Do?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that vegans and vegetarians do not get enough protein because of their diets. It’s actually quite simple to get plenty of protein with a plant-based diet as long you eat “complete” proteins.

Meat products are all complete proteins, but some plant-based foods are not complete proteins (while others, like quinoa are complete). But, when you combine two plant-based “incomplete” proteins, you can make one “complete” protein. There’s that math again. For example, combine two incomplete proteins, beans and rice, to make one complete protein. It may take a little planning on your part, but once you know what works together in combination to meet and satisfy your body’s protein needs. 

The main takeaway? Don’t stress! More thank likely you are getting enough protein—just so long as you have a healthy and balanced diet, of course! If you are a bit worried that you may have a deficiency, start tracking your protein in a fitness app like MyFitnessPal. It will help you reach your protein goals, and, hopefully, will put your mind at ease.

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