How to Compute Your Individual Protein Needs

Protein Shake

Whether you are sedentary or athletic, you obviously need protein in your diet.  But why?  How much should you consume?  Do athletes need more than general exercisers?  Do general exercisers need more than the sedentary? 

I teach Physical Conditioning courses and I have many students who weight train, body build, wrestle or play other sports that require strength, power and/or speed.  Something I notice among most of them is that they believe they need a lot of protein in order to build muscle.  They usually consume large amounts of protein from their food as well as from supplements, such as shakes.  However, most often take in much more protein than they really need.  Whether sedentary, active or highly athletic, most people take in more protein than they really need.

So first let me address "why" we need protein.  Protein is used to make most of your hormones, all of your enzymes, and cell walls as well as the maintenance and repair of tissue.  However, it is not needed for much of our energy requirements (Only about 5% of our energy needs come from protein) and it will not cause muscle gain.  Only exercise will cause muscle gain.  In fact, if your protein intake is too high, it will usually cause you to take in less carbohydrates, which will cause your body to burn muscle more than if your body is well-supplied with glucose and glycogen from carbohydrates. 

However, those who are active do have increased protein needs over the sedentary population, but not for building muscle.  It is rather for the purpose of supplying the body with amino acids that are lost during activity. 

So how much do you need?  The general population needs 0.8 grams of protein for every 1 KILOGRAM of body weight.  For example, if you weigh 58 kg (125 lbs.), you would multiply 0.8 * 58 and you would need 46.4 grams of protein per day.  Most people are in this category of 0.8 g/kg.  So first you need to know what your weight is in kilograms.

To convert your weight from pounds to kilograms, you need to:

Weight in lbs. x .454 = Weight in Kilograms

Do exercisers or athletes need more?  Yes.  Generally, this is the rule we go by:

Regular Exercisers:  0.8 – 1.0 g/kg

Endurance Athletes:  1.2 – 1.4 g/kg

Strength Training Athletes:  1.4 – 1.6 g/kg

Although athletes do need more than the sedentary population, protein supplements are usually not needed.  You can see this if you do a diet analysis. 

You can do a diet analysis using online software.  I recommend you keep a food journal for THREE DAYS.  Record everything you eat, drink, etc….  Then use a free online food intake calculator, enter in all of your food, and average out what you ate over the three day period.  Compare your protein intake to what you needed to consume.  Keep in mind, you should enter ONLY your food (no supplements) at first to see what you are getting without the supplements and then compare those numbers to the amount you need that you computed above.

Try using MyPyramid.gov.  You need to set up a profile and play with the system as there are always error messages (many bugs in their software).  But once you figure out how to trick the system, you can get some good results.  Or look for other free software online.