Nutrition Q&A: Why No Protein Recommendation in the #TakeCharge10 ChallengeThere is tremendous disparity in the protein recommendations out there, and most of us, fall somewhere between them. Protein requirements can vary from person to person based on health status, age, sex, body weight, body composition, level of activity, type of training the individual engages in, and specific goals.
4-9-21 Nutrition Q&A
Question from Abigail
Gillian, just curious, why was a recommended protein intake not included in the Nutrition Challenge, and how much protein do you recommend?
Abigail, I have been waiting for an opportunity to answer this question. I put many hours of thought into whether or not to include a minimum protein recommendation in the #takecharge10 Nutrition Challenge and decided against it. The main reason was that I wanted the focus to be on nutrient-dense, high quality, minimally processed whole foods. Many people strive to hit their protein goals by consuming protein supplements like shakes and bars. After reading labels, many of us became aware of all of the other ingredients in these items, such as sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, “hidden” sugars, and preservatives.
The second reason I did not make a protein recommendation is that there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation that can be applied. There is tremendous disparity in the protein recommendations out there. For instance, the current RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass (or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight). I have seen recommendations in the bodybuilding world as high as 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Well, which is it? The RDA would recommend 54 grams of protein for me per day, whereas if I ate 1 gram of protein per pound, I’d be eating 150g per day. How can that be?
The truth is that, for most of us, our needs fall somewhere between those numbers. Protein requirements can vary from person to person based on health status, age, sex, body weight, body composition, level of activity, type of training the individual engages in, and specific goals. Studies over the past decade have suggested that an athlete trying to put on muscle mass through resistance training needs about 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. A few have even suggested that a daily 2 grams per kilogram is ideal for the hardcore strength athlete. Interestingly, this is still below the 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight recommendation.
It may be apparent to us that larger, more active people have greater protein requirements, but so do those who are in a caloric deficit and want to prevent the body from breaking down existing muscle tissue for energy. Also, as we age, people naturally become less efficient at using the amino acids from protein to build muscle, meaning they need to eat more to get the same effect.
To give you some insight into the “#takecharge10” Nutrition Challenge, I sought to do what I call “dietary triage.” What are the ten most significant things that stand in the way of us achieving our desired results through nutrition, whether that be health, performance, aesthetics, or all of the above?
Protein deficiency is rare in healthy adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most Americans consume way more protein than the RDA calls for. In all of my time coaching, I have personally found that the two groups that struggle the most to meet protein recommendations are a high percentage of vegans and those on severely calorically restricted diets.
An interesting statistic, 2%–6% of the US currently identifies as vegan, depending on which study you read. As for severely calorically restricted diets, most people that attempt these do not stay on them long term. Protein deficiency caused by caloric restriction is reversed when calories are added back.
Let’s compare this to fiber deficiency in the modern American diet. “Only 3 percent of Americans may even reach the recommended minimum daily intake, making it one of the most widespread nutrient deficiencies in the United States.” (nutritionfacts.org)
To come full circle, I didn’t include a protein recommendation for two main reasons:
- Protein needs have extremely wide variability and cannot be universally suggested.
- Most of us already eat enough protein but are lacking in other areas such as fiber, water, and vegetables.
We want to get people eating nourishing, whole foods instead of relying on heavily processed powders and bars to hit an arbitrary protein goal that is not personalized for their needs.