The Right Way to Think About Protein

Got Protein?

There is a protein craze going on in this country. Since “fats are fattening and carbs are evil”, in many people’s minds protein is the only macro nutrient that’s safe to eat. Additionally, protein has been shown to aid with satiety. As a result, we are seeing new products introduced to the market promising high protein content. There is only one problem – the average American consumes much more protein per day than needed by the body.

The human body need about 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight. That’s about 55-65 grams per day if you weigh 150 lbs. People in endurance training may need to up the number to 1.0-1.2 grams, which is 65-80 grams of protein per day. Bodybuilders may go even higher than that. But most of us are neither endurance athletes nor bodybuilders.

As mentioned earlier, we consume much more protein than our body needs, but it happens at uneven points during the day. We may go protein-less for breakfast by drinking coffee and a fruit smoothie. Or, we may do soup and salad for lunch with a very small amount of protein. But then we’ll have a large steak (8 ounces) for dinner and get more than an entire day’s worth of protein in one fell swoop of 60 grams.

The right way to think about protein is distributing protein consumption evenly throughout the day. Since protein helps us feel satiated, getting 10 -15 grams worth every 3 hours makes more sense than snacks and meals that have little protein value.

Before you run off to buy protein bars, look at the list below to see how easy it is to get protein from real foods.

  • 4 oz chicken breast – 25 grams
  • 4 oz hamburger – 20 grams
  • Glass of milk – 8 grams
  • Low fat yogurt  10 – 12 grams
  • Greek yogurt – 14-18 grams
  • 1 medium egg – 6 grams
  • 2 slices of whole grain bread – 6-10 grams
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter – 8 grams
  • Handful of almonds – 7 grams
  • Mozzarella cheese string – 6 grams
  • Nichole

    Great article!

    • Karl

      Everyone has their own success story… There is no magic formula. People need to figure out what works for them with research and good ol’fashion trial N error.

  • Corey Rowland

    I notice that a lot of the examples given are animal products. Pretty much every whole food (fruits, veggies, legumes, starches) have protein in them and if they’re eaten in adequate amounts, it’s not very difficult to attain the daily goal.

    • Danielle Robertson

      I think it’s harder for athletes but even that group may be over-estimating their protein needs. You’re right, whole foods has at least a teeny-tiny bit of protein in it; broccoli, for example, is an unexpected source for protein.

      • Corey Rowland

        Yea, if you’re trying to build some extra muscle, you may need more, but in general humans only need around 10% of their calories to come from protein. There’s definitely a lot of over emphasis on it out there.

        • Danielle Robertson

          I agree. There’s a lot of over-emphasis, and it’s hard to put a stop to that confusion because certain people do better (metabolically speaking) with different ratios. Just as some people are endomorphs and ectomorphs, some oxidize carbs better than others. Notice how some people can get filled up on cereal for breakfast while others will get hungry 2 hours later? The bottom line is that A) moderation is the key and B) one solution doesn’t work for every body.

        • Logical

          To start – people need to eat more veggies! Flat out more veggies on average. Now, take a diabetic for argument. If u are only getting 10% of daily intake from protein then that’s 90% fat and carbs. Since carbs cause u to take more medication that makes u fatter would you suggest to get 70% from fat? Let’s say u split the carbs/fats 45% each. That would give someone targeting 1,500 cals 45% carb = 675 cals of carbs. Changed to grams = (4 cals per gram of carb) 169 grams. NO diabetic will improve their disease or weight with those ratios. It’s practically impossible due to how diabetics process carbs. (Straight to fat) Sorry to rant but by making broads claims without logic isn’t good for masses. It just confuses even more.

          • Logical

            And by the way – general population is either diabetic or predicable tic right now.

          • Corey Rowland

            Why do you think carbs make you fat? I agree that people need to eat more veggies, but you simply can’t base your whole diet around them (they’re not calorie-dense). That’s where fruits and starches come in. These types of carbs do not make people fat.

          • Logical

            For populations like the example I gave carbs are quickly converted to glucose which is then stored as fat. Insulin is what helps this process. Drugs helping insulin do similar things by different mechanisms. The common statistic that is used to determine impact on fasting glucose is called glycemic index. Foods high on this measure has a higher likelihood to negatively impact diabetes control. The higher items on this index is carbs. Therefore avoid them when overweight and a propensity towards diabetes. (Most of America) As far as calorie dense, most veggies aren’t but give you great micronutrients. Fats and proteins are much more calories dense based on calories per gram. Point is, you can eat more calories than most calculators would suggest by lowering grams of carbs significantly and replacing with fat/protein. Think balanced fats between the omegas and protein that is unprocessed. Really avoid most everything processed and it works. The fruits thing can get many people in trouble due to over indulgence. Small (real small to none if weight loss is desired) is best way to go at it.

          • Gaurang Pandya

            Calories from Refined carbohydrates and not all calories from carbohydrates are bad. Sugar is bad but Cane sugar juice might not be bad.

          • sparky2955

            Came sugar juice IS sugar. Just a healthier sounding name for cane sugar.

          • TuneIn_TurnOn

            Huh? Fruits and veggies ARE mostly carbs! You need to distinguish between simple and complex carbs. Carbs are not evil!

    • Veganic

      Totally agree!

    • Aym0516

      Thank you for pointing that out! I was thinking the same thing!

  • jilleebeans

    There are a.LOT more protein sources than those derived from animal products like several listed above.
    Beyond the high fiber high protein beans and legumes, Eat a variety of veggies and fruits in a variety of colors for alot of proteins. Eat unprocessed whole grains. An avocado is a complete protein!… a lot of science points out all the benefits of moving towards a plant based diet, but people are often overly concerned about proteins. This article points ou the basics of this concept that too much of a good thing is not better.

  • Amanda

    Protein doesn’t need to come from animal sources! In fact, it’s been proven that protein from plant sources are better. I eat a vegan diet and get all my protein from plants- nuts/seeds, legumes, quinoa, brown rice, pasta (gluten free), veggies & fruits! I also work out and have no trouble reaching my protein at all! The “where do you get your protein?” myth needs to go!

    • etellewyn

      So glad you and others posted similar thoughts. Plant-based protein is abundant and healthier. Where do people think those giant gorillas get THEIR protein! :)

      • Amanda

        Exactly! But other people would claim they eat insects! Which they do in small quantities, but they are mostly vegetarian and get most of their protein from plants!!

        • Robert

          Huh? The only way a cow would ever eat an insect is if it accidentally fell in their food or was on a blade of grass they were eating. Anyone who would argue that cows eat insects is really grasping at straws to try and justify eating animals. Maybe they should try a tasty bowl of crickets to help prove their point

      • Robert

        Yeah cows too. The very cows people eat to get their protein get all of their protein to make a cow from grass! Hmm. That proves you don’t need to eat animals to get adequate protein. End of discussion.

        • Ivy

          You forget that in today’s society unless the package says grass grown cows the majority of cows today are fed
          A corn mixture – aka more fatty meat

          • Robert

            I didn’t forget that. The point I was trying to make is that cows get all the protein they need to make a cow from plants whether it’s grass or corn or whatever. The point is they don’t need to eat meat to get adequate protein and neither do humans

      • Fred

        Gorillas also eat animal protein.

    • Mel

      As someone who is limiting animal products and no long eats dairy at all, I found this article disappointing. It’s sad to think everyone is brainwashed into thinking Animals Milk is a necessary part of your diet. It’s not.:(

      • Maur

        Um, all of you saying you don’t need protein from animal sources, I would venture to guess that most people know that. The thing us, some of us are not vegetarian so it makes perfect sense to list milk as a protein source.

        • etellewyn

          @Maur, you would be surprised how many people do NOT know that. I teach nutrition classes and the #1 question everyone asks is “what about protein.” The brainwashing is just that people have been taught that protein only comes from those sources and that [only] vitamins and fiber come from plants.

          • StrongBelwas

            The point of this article was to show that protein bars are unnecessary. Nothing in the article suggested that the list was a comprehensive list of all protein sources and 3 of the 10 listed sources are plant based (nuts, whole grain bread, peanut butter). Ease up with the vegan self-righteousness.

    • JimB

      Right on!

    • ksigel

      I’d love to get hold of some of your recipes.

  • regs

    What happens to the excess protein if we consume too much? How does the body react to too much?

    • etellewyn

      I’m not sure about the excess of protein as a generalized thing — but I do know that an over-abundance of certain TYPES of protein can supposedly have long-term health consequences. IE, animal-based proteins. These are known as “complete proteins” since they have all of the amino acids we need. Usually a good thing. But since our liver does not need to do any work to turn this protein into usable building blocks, it is in a sense “too-available”, which can lead to an over-abundance of a certain type of hormone in our bodies called Insulin-Like-Growh-Factor 1, aka IGF-1. This is used for growing, building and repairing — but too much all the time when no growth is required (ie in adulthood) can lead to growing things that we don’t want to grow, such as tumors. Dr Gregor (of nutritionfacts dot org) has a great series of videos on this topic. You can see the full video (and all related ones) by going to his site and searching for ‘Protein intake IGF-1.’ (I did not post the link just in case it gets tagged as spam)

  • Sandy

    Please redo math…
    150 x .8=120 not 55

    • Fooducate

      Per kilo, not pound.

    • LalaHarris

      Sandy, it’s .8 per kilogram, not pound… an average person weight between 65 kg to 75 kg. They took around 69 kg to calculate (to be precised 68.75 kg). So the math is 68.75 kg x .8 = 55 gr.
      Now a person weight 68.75 kg = 150 lbs
      55 gr.of proteins for someone weighting around 150 lbs…

  • tinyR

    Where are all the veggies? Even parsley is 38% protein. One of the biggest problems today is that people always think about animal products, which are less bioavailable and, we are now hearing almost daily, come with high risks.

    • Chris

      Parsley has protein, but according to The Google, it’s only 1.8g of protein in 1 cup of chopped parsley. That’s not much.

  • Perhaps_Confused

    I’m not sure this is correct. Typically, 40% of your daily calories should be carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein. By doing what is suggested above, only about 15% of your daily calories will be protein. Which means the other 85% will be split between carbs and fats…which is not healthy.

  • Amanda

    As many have mentioned what about plant protein. Most plants and legumes have more protein than animal products. It is important to list plants, fruits, veggies and legumes and their protein content!!

    • Richard

      The problem with “Plant” protein is it is not a complete protein and is not generally processed by the body as protein while “meat” protein is generally a “complete” protein. (soy, hempseed and buckwheat are however complete plant sources of protein so there are some but not many) I wonder how many of these “new” protein sources are complete proteins?

  • Jordan

    Mostly meat sources listed which is sad. Everybody knows there’s protein in those, why not surprise some people and list the protein in greens, beans, etc?

  • Sam

    Don’t get stuck reading the comments. You’ll find two things… 1. Everyone thinks they know everything and has to disprove everyone else. 2. Every diet is right and wrong. Eat everything and don’t eat everything.

  • Genevieve

    What is everyone’s opinion with soy protein? I’ve been using Shaklees soy protein shake for years. I’m a young adult female and I’ve heard that soy can interfere with your hormone balance. Any insight?

    • David

      Eat REAL food. Unfortunately due to genetic modifying, soy is not real food, it’s a Franken-food with some unfortunate side effects. If you’re not a vegan, it’s a better idea to eat an animal protein that is fed food that it was designed to eat, such as grass-fed beef, wild caught fish, etc. All soy is Gmo, and no amount of Tofurkey belongs in a healthy diet.

  • mooreacre

    “… fruits and starches come in. These types of carbs do not make people fat.” For me and mine, fruits and starches do indeed contribute to insuline resistance, spiked blood sugars, increased hunger, and overeating. In our house what works for us is little to no bread/pasta products, limited fruit, and yes, more protein and veggie salads. Not everyone is the same or we would never have weight problems and disease. This is what works for my husband and myself, so please dont preach to me, just sharing….. Thanks

  • mooreacre

    “… fruits and starches come in. These types of carbs do not make people fat.” For me and mine, fruits and starches do indeed contribute to insuline resistance, spiked blood sugars, increased hunger, and overeating. In our house what works for us is little to no bread/pasta products, limited fruit, and yes, more protein and veggie salads. Not everyone is the same or we would never have weight problems and disease. This is what works for my husband and myself, so please dont preach to me, just sharing….. Thanks

  • notabrainlessvegan

    Ha, I love the comments about plant protein being better than animal protein. Someone skipped the biology class. Protein is protein dummies. And for the brilliant comment: gorillas and cows don’t eat animal protein and are big animals, go learn about the digestive system of a cow, and why gorillas eat ALL day.

    • etellewyn

      I don’t exactly agree that protein is protein, because it could come as either a variety of amino acids which the liver must synthesize into usable protein, OR it could come in as complete protein. Many nutrition docs say the variety of amino acids route is better because the body takes only what it needs.

  • David

    So what’s wrong with getting more protein than you need? It’s probably better than getting too many carbs or too much fat, no?

    • Guest

      I suggest a read of “The China Study” to get your answer.

      • Chris

        I suggest you Google “The Debunking of the China Study”.

  • Sunshine

    ALL PLANTS ARE CARBOHYDRATES!!!!! Carbohydrates are made from photosynthesis…Lettuce vs. a potato! It’s all in the plants you choose… don’t forget legumes for protein… Remember a grain and a legume give you a complete protein!!

    • Chris

      All plants may HAVE carbohydrates, but they also have many other things. Also, there is a HUGE difference between complex carbs, and simple carbs (white potatoes, carrots, corn, etc.).

    • Amy Howton

      They also contain protein and most have fats, just no cholesterol.

  • sidifeo

    Protein from plant sources is often an incomplete protein. Very few plant proteins have a complete BCAA profile (peas and Quinoa do, IIRC) while maintaining a decent calorie/protein ratio (if you eat 10,000 calories from Avocados to get 100g of protein (pretty close to the real ratio), you’re screwed). It is definitely possible to get a good amount (we’ll talk to that in a second) of quality protein from plant sources, but you have to educate yourself on what foods have what amino acids and understand that 100g of Soy protein isn’t worth diddly on its own. Same is true with several popular protein bars. Most animal protein sources (pre-processing, at least…no idea what happens when Tyson turns a chicken into chicken nuggets) are complete proteins.

    I also think this article really screws up total protein intake. The one thing the author gets right is that timing is hugely important. I eat WAY more protein than the author recommends, but I’d rather cut my protein 25% and get it interspersed than keep my current levels of protein but eat it in one or two meals.

    That said, the RDA for protein is only really applicable to sedentary people who are not trying to add or lose weight. If you don’t check those boxes, ignore the article you just read.

    Active and want to lose weight? Better up the protein to prevent your “weight loss” from being muscle (peer reviewed studies have shown the magic number to be anywhere from .8g/lb (of total body weight) to 1.2g/1lb of fat-free-mass, mostly depending on your current level of fitness and the activities you do. Endurance runners can drop lower than weight lifters). Want to add muscle and minimize fat? You’ll want to jack that protein content way up, as high protein levels have been shown to minimize fat gain – oh, and serum triglycerides and liver lipid ratings were also healthiest with high protein diets, so this isn’t some look-good-but-kill-yourself-inside sort of number.

  • Vicky TC

    This information is a turning point in my nutrition. It makes sense why I feel hungrier after some meals than others. Thanks for the comments as well. On my way to eating better.

  • Christen

    I just find it funny that this article tries to dissuade people from
    buying protein bars (usually healthy and ethical plant based sources)
    because theyre such high protein and “real food”, and then only list
    high protein foods saying “look how easy it is to get protein when you
    eat high protein foods! just like protein bars I MEAN-”