As a sports dietitian I often get questions about protein from my friends and coworkers. Here are my answers to five questions I am regularly asked.
1. Do I need to worry about getting enough protein?
Protein is an essential component of everyone’s diet. While typically associated with muscle health, it also supports our bones, ligaments and tendons, moves oxygen to our muscles, helps us metabolize other nutrients and is part of keeping our immune system healthy.
2. How much protein should I eat per meal?
There are many factors to consider like age, weight, activity level, health goals, etc. Generally speaking, the starting point is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein (set at 0.36 g per pound of body weight per day for adults). The RDA is an estimate of the minimum needed to meet most individual needs.
As research evolves, health and wellness professionals are looking beyond minimum requirements to exploring optimal levels of protein that can provide benefits. A growing body of research supports benefits of higher protein diets for athletes and highly active adults, weight management and to foster healthy aging.
One way to work toward optimal levels is the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR). For protein, the AMDR is 10-35 percent of total calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet this equates to 50 – 175 grams of protein per day. It’s recommended to stay within this range (adjusted for your daily calorie needs).
I have a practical way to help people build a higher protein diet: follow USDA’s MyPlate guidelines for a balanced plate at each meal. Then, as some experts recommend, work to get about 25-30 grams of high-quality protein at each meal to build a higher protein diet. Here’s more on high-quality protein foods.
3. Should I eat protein at breakfast?
Ideally, yes. We typically eat more protein at lunch and dinner than at breakfast, so there’s an opportunity to shift some of that protein to the morning for a more balanced approach.
Because the protein in our body is constantly building up and breaking down, we need the protein in the foods we eat for the amino acids to support this process. If there are not enough amino acids on hand from the foods we eat, our body will get them by breaking down muscle and other body tissue. If we eat enough protein throughout the day, we likely don’t need to rely much on our body stores. Additionally after sleeping overnight, that supply has been exhausted. Starting the morning off with 25-30 grams of high-quality protein is a good way to start restocking that supply of amino acids in muscle and kick-start your day! Find out more here.
4. What is your favorite way to get more protein at breakfast?
It may be a bit cliché, but smoothies with protein are my “go-to,” particularly during the week when I am strapped for time. They also help me get a variety of food groups in one convenient package: milk, frozen fruit and whey protein are my mainstays. Oats can also be added to provide some whole grains, while a tablespoon of peanut butter or honey can add additional flavor. Be mindful of portion size and of your overall calorie needs. Here are some recipes and ideas.
5. What are your overall thoughts on protein?
Don’t fall into the stereotype of thinking protein is only important for athletes or people who are trying to build big muscles. Protein is an essential component of the diet for all of us. In combination with a proper exercise program, ensuring we get the appropriate amount of dietary protein is the main thing we all can do to help reduce the decline in muscle mass and strength that happens as we get older. Think of it as a preventive maintenance program like changing the oil and rotating the tires to help avoid a break down in the future!
Love the recipe shown above? Find it here!