This from our readers: How much protein do we need in a day? Should we be trying to add more? Does it matter when we eat it?

Generally speaking, Canadians have no trouble getting enough protein in their diets.1 The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for a healthy adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg/d). Protein needs are slightly higher for children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those recovering from an illness. Some studies have suggested that older adults may benefit from more protein in their diet but other studies don’t reach the same conclusion. Certainly, some older adults may not consume enough protein as a result of not consuming enough calories.

Athletes and active people also need more protein than sedentary people but exactly how much more depends on the type and level of activity and training they are doing. You will often see charts with recommendations ranging from 1.2 to 1.6 (g/kg/d) for endurance athletes and 1.6 to 1.7 for strength or speed athletes.

Dietitians of Canada, in a recent position paper on nutrition and athletic performance, suggests that evidence now supports protein requirements ranging from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg/d, spread across the day, and following strenuous training sessions.2 Rather than categorizing strength or endurance athletes, the guidelines are based around the athlete’s specific training sessions and competitions.

It is important to realize that if you are more active, your body will demand more food, especially after training. Providing your food choices are healthy and spread across the food groups, more protein will be consumed as the body’s hunger is satisfied.

Whether you are sedentary or highly active, you can calculate your daily needs by using a baseline factor of 0.8 and adjust accordingly with your level of activity.

Take your weight in pounds (lbs), divide by 2.2 to generate your weight in kilograms (kg), then multiply by 0.8 (or adjusted) = Average Daily Protein Needs in g/kg

How does this translate into a day’s meals and snacks?

To illustrate, let’s look at two sample daily menus – one for Sally, a 125 pound (57kg) sedentary woman and one for Jane, a 145 pound (65kg) vegetarian athlete training for her first mini triathlon.

Sally needs 57 x 0.8g = 46 grams of protein in a day. Jane needs about 65 x 1.6g = 104 grams of protein in a day.

Sally’s Protein Intake for a Day:

Jane’s Protein Intake for a Day:

Breakfast:

 

 

 

1 egg

6g

1 bowl steel cut oats

7g

½ avocado

2g

¾ cup Greek yogurt

17g

1 piece of whole grain toast

4g

¼ cup almonds

8g

1 glass of skim milk              

9g

¼ cup dried fruit     

1g

½ grapefruit

1g

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning Snack:

 

 

 

None

 

1 large banana

1.5g

 

 

2T peanut butter

8g

 

 

 

 

Lunch:

 

 

 

1 cup cooked pasta

6g

1 cup lentil soup

9g

1 cup cheese sauce

3g

2 slices whole wheat bread

8g

2oz canned tuna

14g

10oz Swiss cheese

8g

1 cup raw vegetables

2g

1 apple

0.5g

 

 

 

 

Afternoon Snack:

 

 

 

None

 

¼ cup hummus dip

3g

 

 

Mary’s gluten free crackers – 13 crackers

3g

 

 

1 cup soy milk

8g

 

 

 

 

Dinner:

 

 

 

3oz chicken

21g

½ cup tempeh

14g

½ cup cooked peas

3g

1 cup quinoa salad with

2 T pumpkin seeds

8g

2g

½ cup rice

6g

1 dinner roll

3g

 

 

 

 

Total Daily Protein:           

77g

Total Daily Protein:           

112g

 

As illustrated, both Sally and Jane have no trouble consuming enough protein. If you are concerned and want to track your protein intake, read labels on actual ingredients and/or make sure to accurately record the quantity and type of ingredients you input into a nutrition tracker as nutrition data can differ greatly, even for the same ingredients.

If you are relying on energy/granola bars to fuel your activities, remember to read labels and look for ones that minimize added sugar, sodium and trans fat and go for whole food ingredients. Keep in mind that while nuts and seeds are a healthy choice when it comes to snacking, they do add up in calories quickly so portion control is key.

Proteins have many functions in the body and they function best when adequate amounts of energy are obtained from carbohydrates and fat. Protein should account for between 10% and 35% of your total daily calorie intake (with carbohydrates accounting for between 45% to 65% and fats between 20% to 35%).

Spreading your protein throughout the day makes sense. You will ensure that adequate protein is available to the body for key roles of maintenance and repair of body tissues. Other benefits include longer periods of satiety and more even blood sugar levels.

1 Do Canadian adults meet their nutrient requirements through food intake alone? http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/surveill/nutrition/commun/art-nutr-adult-eng.php#a32 

2 Position of Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine, February 2016 https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Public/noap-position-paper.aspx

 

 

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