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What's the deal with protein?

With food, there is fad - and one of these current fads seems to be “less carbs, more protein.” Of course, an overconsumption of carbohydrates (especially “refined carbs” such as white breads, white pastas, etc.) can be somewhat detrimental; however, an overconsumption of any macronutrient can be detrimental - including protein. Right now, most Americans consume about twice the amount of protein that they need. Since protein cannot be stored in the body, the extra is either used as energy or, just like excess fat and carbohydrates, stored as fat in the body.  Also, because of its waste products, excess protein intake can take a negative toll on your kidneys. Still think more protein is always better?

So how much protein do you really need? According to the USDA, individuals should maintain a macronutrient balance of 45-65% carbohydrates, 20-35% fat, and 10-35% protein. So, if you are consuming a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be 200-700 calories per day from protein. In terms of grams, the standard recommended intake is .8 g/kg of your body weight (i.e. a 75 kg person should consume 60 g of protein per day). Age and exercise can also cause this recommendation to increase. 

Now, what type of protein should we be consuming? Nutritionists recommend getting a majority of your protein through foods like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, lean white meats, a variety of fish, egg whites, and low fat dairy. In almost all circumstances, receiving your protein from whole foods is more beneficial than through supplementation. 

Last but not least - timing. Most people consume a majority of their protein in the evening, but evidence suggests that it may be more beneficial to evenly spread out your intake throughout the day. As far as exercise goes, it is recommended that individuals consume 15-25 grams of protein within a 45-60 minute post-exercise window.  Studies show that is it not anymore beneficial to consume more than this 15-25 grams. And, always remember, consuming protein is not what builds muscle… resistance training does. Extra protein intake is even less necessary when exercise is not involved! (“Healthy Life,” Mayo Clinic News Network).

So, in summary, eat your plant-based and lean protein, but not too much!

Stephanie Spoto, CSCS

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