Ever wondered how much protein you really need? You're not alone. Here are answers to some of the most common questions.
Am I getting enough protein?
It’s the basic question that everyone seems to be asking. For most adults, it can be answered with a simple formula: Each day, you should consume 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight. So a 155 lb person should consume about 56 g of protein daily.
What could 56 g of plant-based protein look like?
- Breakfast: 1/3 cup oatmeal + 3 Tbsp hemp hearts = 14 g protein
- Lunch: 3/4 cup cooked lentils + 1 cup chopped broccoli = 16 g protein
- Snack: 1 Tbsp almond butter + 1 slice sprouted grain bread = 6 g protein
- Dinner: 1/2 cup quinoa + 1/2 cup tofu + 1 cup cooked spinach = 20 g protein
If you’re super active, you may require more protein. Researchers recommend that athletes consume 0.54 to 0.9 g of protein per pound of body weight daily. So a 155 lb athlete should consume between 84 g and 140 g of protein per day. Within that range, bulky strength athletes (think weightlifters) will need more protein than lean endurance athletes (runners, for example).
What is protein, anyway?
Unlike carbs and fats, which are primarily used for energy, proteins are structural nutrients. They’re used as fuel only as a last resort. This means that proteins are a part of your muscles, of course, but also a component of your skin and bones. In fact, after taking away water, protein accounts for 75 percent of your body weight.
Proteins are made up of blocks called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, but nine are considered indispensable (or essential). This means that your body can’t construct them on its own, so you have to eat them.
Which type of protein is best?
Animal-based protein (including dairy, eggs and meat) provides all the indispensable amino acids and is therefore considered high quality protein. On the flip side, animal protein, especially red meat, boosts our intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, which can be problematic in large amounts. Plus, animal protein farming takes a greater toll on the environment than producing plant-based protein.
Plant-based protein is plentiful. Like animal proteins, soy and quinoa provide every indispensable amino acid (though not in the same quantities as animal proteins). Other plant proteins—like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and even veggies—provide an assortment of indispensable amino acids. Fruits provide little protein.
When should I be eating it?
Your body can’t store excess dietary proteins, unlike carbs and fats, so spread your protein intake throughout the day. For the best health results, enjoy a variety of vegan protein. To build muscle and boost recovery after exercise, chow down on a protein-rich snack or meal within two hours of a workout.
How does protein help build muscle?
Obviously, exercise is important for muscle development, but the focus here is on nutrition. In adults, eating a meal containing protein stimulates muscle creation and inhibits muscle breakdown. The result? More muscle mass.
Unfortunately, as we get older, there’s an imbalance between muscle creation and muscle breakdown, leading to a net loss of muscle. This shortfall translates to an annual 1 to 2 percent loss of muscle mass for adults over age 50. Muscle strength declines by 3 percent per year after age 60. This means that seniors should aim for at least 25 to 30 g of protein at each meal.
What about protein powders?
Athletes and those who simply want to age in a healthy way can turn to protein powders or supplements to add variety or increase intake. Not sure which protein powder or supplement to choose? Soy, pea and hemp are popular plant-based types with different benefits.
Soy protein may be cancer protective, and it provides all the indispensable amino acids. Made from yellow split peas, pea protein is hypoallergenic and easy to digest. Hemp protein helps prevent and treat hypertension, increases endurance and provides essential omega-3 fatty acids.
12 top choices for plant-based protein
|Veggies (1 cup, cooked)||Grains (1 cup)||Beans and legumes (1 cup)||Nuts and seeds (1 oz)|
|green peas (9 g)||amaranth (9 g)||lentils (18 g)||hemp hearts (9 g)|
|spinach (5 g)||quinoa (8 g)||kidney beans (15 g)||pumpkin seeds (7 g)|
|broccoli (4 g)||brown rice (5 g)||black beans (15 g)||almonds (6 g)|