Consuming quality protein is critical for overall health and athletic performance gains. I wrote a blog almost four years ago, The Protein Myths, where I chronicled some of the common myths about protein and where we should have our focus. Here I will share a bit more about protein in the context of promoting overall health & athletic performance.
To recap from the earlier post, when we consume animal foods and its protein we increase:
- Risk of cancer
- Risk of diabetes
- Risk of heart disease
- Risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- The breakdown of our immune system
- Chances of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Skin/acne issues
- Frequency of being sick
- What did I miss….
Change the word “increase” to “decrease” when consuming whole plant foods and plant protein. It’s a beautiful thing… We have our body working for us, not against us.
Consider these general guidelines for protein I found helpful from the book, Proteinaholic, written by Dr. Garth Davis. To say this doctor knows science and analytics is an understatement. He was once a big meat eater and wondered why his health was deteriorating so he set out to find why and this is what led him to write the book and turned him plant-based. He’s now an Ironman competitor and turned his health completely around. He was about in as bad as shape I was before going plant-based and that says a lot.
He references guidelines provided by the World Health Organization and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The recommended daily allowance for Americans is .8 grams of protein for each kilogram of weight. So if I weigh 163 pounds that equates to 74 kg of weight. 74 kg multiplied times .8 grams of protein means I should be consuming 59 grams of protein each day. The World Health Organization uses a slightly lower guideline (.66 grams) based on lean body weight and is probably the more realistic number but we’ll save that for another day. In a nutshell however the .8 grams of protein guideline is plenty and we have don’t have issues getting to this number if consuming enough calories each day.
If exercising regularly for fitness or training hard for an event we burn more calories and could benefit from additional intake. What I think from a big picture perspective is when I exercise more I eat more and naturally I consume more calories and protein. So I don’t get obsessed about protein numbers I consume because I know I’m eating more when exercising and I’m eating the right foods to reduce inflammation and not throw gas on the fire.
The target ranges for one exercising regularly seem to be 1.0 grams and slightly more if you are trying to build muscle growth/mass..up to 1.8 grams for Olympic type endurance athletes or body builders. In the documentary Game Changers they cited a study that showed no additional benefits above 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So you can see there is a range and a good idea is to journal your intake to see what works and feels good. It’s a great idea to journal about your overall nutrition intake from time to time simply to see if you learn anything about what you are consuming. I do this every so often and I learn something new every time I journal, often identifying new patterns I’ve created.
One of the biggest myths about eating a plant-based diet is you don’t consume enough protein. We would have to be not consuming enough calories to not get enough protein whether that is eating animal foods or on a plant-based diet. I NEVER have to worry about how much protein I’m consuming as I eat enough calories in a day and I THRIVE on a plant-based diet where I was dying consuming animal products. I hope this gives you food for thought in helping you fuel your body to maximize performance and overall health.
– Add Health to Your Life
Davis, G., & Jacobson, H. (2016). Proteinaholic: how our obsession with meat is killing us and what we can do about it. New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.