Are you eating enough protein?

Odds are, probably not. Many Canadians find themselves over-nourished, but under-muscled, leading to poor metabolic health. Too much fat or adipose tissue, especially around you abdominal organs, leads to insulin resistance, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes. Too little muscle leads to an inability to soak up extra glucose in the blood and, eventually, to frailty as we age. It doesn’t have to be so.

Adequate protein in the diet is an important tool to reverse or prevent this trend. Protein promotes and maintains lean body mass. Paired with calorie restriction, it helps to protect muscle while losing fat, which is exactly what we want. Dietary protein is also the most satiating macronutrient, curbing hunger while consuming fewer calories. Protein also doesn’t cause spikes in insulin levels like we see with carbohydrates.

How much should you eat? I calculate protein targets based on ideal body weight. This is a simple method, based on your height, that get us in the ball park. Starting with your first five feet of height, women get 100 pounds and men 110 pounds. Then add five pounds per inch of remaining height. For example, I am six feet tall. I get 110 pounds plus 5 pounds x 12 more inches, estimating my ideal body weight at 170 pounds. I am actually 182 pounds and comfortable at my current weight. Remember I said it gets us in the ball park, but usually skews to the lighter side.

Once you know your ideal body weight by this calculation, you now know the number of grams of protein per day you should aim for (or more!). Indeed I try to get 170-190 grams per day. I highly recommend that you calculate this and then track your actual protein intake for a few days and see how close you are. In my experience, most people are getting about half to two-thirds of their target amount. It takes some work and planning to up the protein, but the benefit is significant.

A few additional points:

  1. Eat protein at breakfast. Studies tell us it helps reduce calories in for the rest of the day.
  2. Animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs) are preferred. Red meat is fine. Limit processed meat.
  3. Plant sources (soy, tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils) often come along with more carbs and don’t have the same lean mass-promoting amino acid profile as animal sources. If you MUST get all or the majority from plant sources, DOUBLE your target grams per day.
  4. Whey protein supplements are totally fine and will help you hit your targets by including a high protein snack at some point during the day.
  5. Your body can only absorb up to about 50g in one sitting. Therefore, you need to eat protein 3-4 times per day to hit your targets. This makes it tricky for anyone applying a time-restricted feeding approach. If I had to choose, I’d take protein over one or two meals per day.

Be well.