Sometimes, I lay around at night and think about how great it would be if we could wave a magic wand and fix all of our nutrition, health, and fitness problems. But in reality, there are no magic pills in nutrition and fitness. Our bodies are unique vehicles with an interesting mix of genetics, conditioning, and environmental factors affecting how we respond to everything we put into it – from food to electrolytes, exercise, supplements, and medications.
A solution that works for one person may not work the same for you. The key is to try things out for yourself.
Nutrition is one of my biggest passions because what we put into our bodies can greatly support our long-term health goals. It’s also the area of our lives that we have the most control over. I’ve been able to problem-solve and course-correct most of my ailments (like ovarian cysts, anxiety, IBS, lethargy, joint pain, acne, and more) just by looking more deeply into my nutrition habits.
Protein is one such macro food that I love to highlight because it has made a positive difference in my health and those I help train. Many clients who come to the gym are undereating protein, making it hard to build and recover muscle properly. It also can lead to unwanted side effects like fatigue, overeating, and slow recovery from injury.
It’s very easy to undereat protein because mainstream media gives protein (especially animal-sourced protein) a “bad rap” – when in reality, it is a vital macronutrient that we’ve been eating for 2.6 million years and the most robust studies on protein show that it is a safe and healthy part of our diet.
Every human body will react differently to different diets, but there are many science-backed reasons why increasing your protein intake could be a great choice for you. With the following research and information in your corner, I invite you to try it on for yourself and see if it can benefit you!
Why is protein important?
Protein is a macronutrient that your body needs to use every day. It’s a part of each and every one of your 30 trillion human cells, which your body uses to grow, repair, and maintain everything from the neurotransmitters in your brain to your hormones and the cells that make up your muscles, skin, hair, and nails. Protein plays a monumental role in keeping your body healthy and functioning, so why is it that there is such a wide divide between health professionals who think you should eat 30-50 grams of protein a day versus the people who think 100+ grams of protein per day is the best thing for you?
The bottom line is that studies on protein are slow-going. On one side, you have nutrition and dietetics institutions that are funded by a number of food multinationals, pharmaceutical companies, and food industry lobbying groups, and on the other side, you have research and education institutions that are funded by federal, state, and local governments, industry, and private non-profit organizations. Depending on the source of information and the source of funding, you will find a very WIDE range of opinions on any nutrition topic you search for.
Besides, the bigger the institution, the more bureaucracy bogs down the progress of evolving opinions on nutrition – including those on protein.
I belong to the camp of wellness professionals who believe protein is incredibly good for you. Whether you decide to eat the more commonly recommended amount of 0.8-1.0g/kg of body weight (BW) or you decide to eat at the upper end of 3.1g/kg BW or somewhere in between, I think only YOU can decide what is best for you – while also leaning on scientific research.
I’m a certified personal trainer who’s been in the health and fitness industry for over 14 years, and without a doubt, I have watched my clients improve their strength training, balance their hormones, and improve their mental focus just by eating more protein. Protein plays a huge role in our health, so let’s cover how much protein you should be eating and the top 5 science-backed reasons why I’m such a strong believer in the “eat more protein” camp of humans.
How much protein do you need to eat?
There is an excessive amount of content on the internet that discusses the amount of protein you should have in your diet. It can get really overwhelming to figure out what is best for you, so I’m going to break it down for you in the easiest way possible.
This nutrition calculator will do the math for you and tell you how much the American Dietetic Association (ADA), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization will recommend for your age, body weight, and activity level. This will get you a wide range for you to play with between 50-200g/day from the vastly varying recommendations from all the leading health organizations.
Still confused? Yeah…me too, and I went to school for dietetics…
When I was in school, I could never understand 1) why the ranges were so large, 2) why the general recommendation is normally the lower limit of protein intake (ie. ~50g/day), or 3) why my professors could never give me a direct answer for how much protein to eat. My classmates and I were simply told to “choose whichever number we liked.” So, with little information to go off of, what are we supposed to do?
I have adopted the theory that the lower limits are the numbers that will keep you alive, but that most individuals “thrive” on a diet with higher amounts of protein.
When I use the calculator above, my protein recommendations range is 48-167g of protein/day. That’s a HUGE range! So, to make it easier for you, I’m going to tell you the recommendations I use when working with a client.
First, I recommend converting to pounds since that is the metric we use most often in the States. So, let’s say Client A weighs 130Ibs.
I lean on the high end, so I recommend between .8-1.5g/Ib body weight (BW). Clients who are less active generally are closer to .8g/lb of BW and clients who are more active will generally require more. Listening to your body is the best indicator for finding the amount that works best for you.
(If you are considered overweight, then I recommend basing your protein recommendation on an “ideal body weight” calculation that you can find with this calculator). So, Client A’s protein range is between 104 – 195 g/day.
**Note: I have no authority to tell anybody what their ideal body weight should be. “Ideal Body Weight” is simply the name that the dietetics industry has given to the calculation.
And if you have no interest in trying on my higher protein recommendations – at the bare minimum, I recommend hitting your lower protein limits (around 0.8-1.0g/kg BW per day) consistently.
A high-protein diet might not be the right fit for everyone, so it’s important to PLAY and figure out what is best for you. Or as Robb Wolf, research biochemist and 2x New York Times Bestselling author, likes to say, “do a little tinkering” to find out what is best for you.
That’s why I recently ran the 2023 Hit Yo Protein challenge to see what would happen if my clients and I played with the upper limits of our protein numbers for 30 days. This is some of the feedback I got from them:
“I felt more focused. More energy, but a subtle sustainable energy versus a spike like I feel when I have caffeine or sugar. I slept better and had almost no sugar or carb cravings.” – Amanda
“Eating more protein yielded amazing recovery and higher resistance to illness for me. I usually have a lot of knee soreness after workouts, but I seemed to recover a lot better while eating more protein.” – David
“My energy was more stable. No crashes. My productivity and focus definitely were better than when I’m not focused on protein. I personally love how I feel, look, perform, and recover when I get my protein numbers” – Heather
“The biggest difference I felt was that I had more energy. My workouts felt easier, and I wasn’t craving junk food as much as usual. I also stopped struggling with anxiety as bad as I was beforehand” – Ember
“I feel like the numbers we used were helpful to stop unnecessary snacking, but in general, I think I’m more comfortable with around 100g vs. 130g of protein that I was trying to hit during our challenge. Overall, I found it helpful because it’s still more protein than I was consuming before, and it’s helping to edge out snacking.” – Joyce
As we tinkered, fiddled, and played, we found that eating more protein had the following benefits:
- More energy
- More focus
- Fewer cravings
- Quicker recovery from workouts and less muscle soreness overall
- Less pain and inflammation
- Less anxious
- Stabilized blood sugar
Let’s see how our experiences hold up to the science.
5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Eating Protein is Good for You
Before any of us can decide if something is good for us, we really need to dive deep and figure out what the science says. Let’s dig in.
1 | Protein = more energy
Protein, as a rule, doesn’t automatically give you energy, but it does help transport oxygen to your cells. The protein hemoglobin is a molecule that is responsible for transporting almost all of the oxygen in your blood. Without enough hemoglobin, you might feel sluggish because there isn’t enough oxygen in your muscles to help you keep going strong.1
I couldn’t find any direct studies about how high protein intake affects normal, healthy humans, but I did find a 2020 cross-sectional study that tested the effects of a high protein diet on 730 kidney transplant (KTR) recipients.2
The study found that higher protein intake (around 82g/day) was associated with a lower risk of moderate and severe fatigue and better quality of life – indicating that high protein diets can improve the overall energy balance within your body.
On the flip side, your body has the ability to adapt and use protein as an energy source by funneling it through specific enzymatic pathways. Your body will use carbohydrates before protein as energy because the process of breaking down amino acids is more complicated. Protein is broken down into amino acids and nucleotides, and the nitrogen they contain is used to produce new proteins and other molecules. The amino acids that aren’t used in the biosynthesis process can be oxidized and used to generate metabolic energy3. In other words, by eating more protein regularly and decreasing your carbohydrates, you can make this shift in your body and turn protein into an energy source – which ultimately boosts your metabolism.
2 | Protein and weight loss
Losing weight is a common reason why people start investing in their health. Since protein delivers oxygen to your bloodstream and takes more energy to process, it boosts your metabolism and can assist in weight loss.
Because eating protein takes more energy to break down, which means spending more calories, it can be supportive in losing weight.
Studies show that 80 – 100 extra calories a day can be burned just by eating more protein alone4,5,6,7. Another study showed an increase of 260 calories were burned even after overfeeding study participants4,8,9. So according to science, we can burn more calories just by eating more protein. How neat is that!
Not to mention, a 2021 randomized controlled trial showed that after a 12-week high protein diet intervention, obese adults experienced significant improvements in fat mass, lipid profiles, insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and inflammation – indicating that high protein diets can help you maintain your weight and your health over time10.
Another study showed that over 1,000 participants experienced improved body composition and levels of plasma glucose, insulin, blood pressure, and cholesterol just by eating more protein over a 3-6 month period. They also experienced more fullness and satiety than those who ate normal protein amounts11.
Additionally, protein takes longer to break down in your digestive system, which means it fills you up faster, keeps you full longer, and keeps you more satisfied.
Studies show that people who eat more protein in their diets consume 441 fewer calories per day on average12. Protein decreases those pesty hunger cues and causes your body to eat less in general.
Additionally, protein digestion can boost your metabolic rate by 20-35% as compared to 5-15% for carbs and fat13. A study shows that in both normal and obese participants, the thermic effect per kilocalorie (meaning the amount of energy needed to digest your food) was significantly higher for protein than for carbohydrates or fats (0.064 vs 0.05 kcal per energy consumed in a 2 hour period) – which is super impressive!14
3 | Protein and Building Muscle
In addition to boosting your metabolism, eating protein helps you put on more muscle mass and maintain strength over time. So many of us think that we are gaining weight because we are getting older and working out gets harder over time, but really, the main reason for this is a lower percentage of muscle mass in our bodies.
Without proper weight training, our bodies lose muscle mass as we age, which brings down our metabolism, leading to difficulties in maintaining our weight.
A 2013 study that tested 72 people showed that fat-free mass (in other words, muscle) improved significantly in the people who ate a lot of protein – indicating that eating more protein can help you improve your body composition, increase muscle mass, and overall feel stronger in your body.20
4 | Protein and Mental Health
Since protein breaks down into amino acids – the building blocks of the brain and nervous system – eating more protein can help you feel more focused throughout the day and improve your mental health.
Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder all have a correlation with poor diets. Whether “the chicken came before the egg” is up for debate, but there is evidence to show that diets high in micro and macronutrients have an overall beneficial effect on mood and being able to handle mental health issues in stride.26, 27,28
In 2005, the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology published an article explaining how dietary tryptophan (a protein found in chicken, cheese, eggs, fish, milk, and seeds), when combined with glucose sources (like fruit and honey), effectively achieved the same results as that of pharmaceutical-grade tryptophan (a medication used to treat anxiety and the winter sads).
The study found that protein-source tryptophan, when eaten with carbohydrates, resulted in significant improvements in levels of anxiety – indicating that protein-rich foods combined with some carbohydrates can benefit people who run high on the anxious scale29.
More research is needed to make dietary protein a solution to anxiety conclusive, but there is evidence to show that there is an effect between low tryptophan levels and anxiety – which a high protein diet may be able to alleviate30.
This is partly because tryptophan is used to generate serotonin (our happy brain hormone). Our bodies need adequate amounts of tryptophan and other amino acids to generate mood-regulating neurotransmitters that keep our brains happy and healthy31.
5 | Protein and Muscle Recovery
Protein plays a huge role in helping your muscles recover from injury and from exercise. It is also critical to the overall well-being of your skeletal and muscle mass system so that you can get stronger and stronger every day.
Exercising regularly naturally enhances your ability to build muscle by jump-starting your body’s ability to synthesize protein and remodel what has been damaged by exercise. Emerging evidence has shown that eating whole foods rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals is an effective way to encourage muscle protein remodeling and recovery after working out 32,33.
The bottom line is that protein is incredibly important for muscle recovery. It can affect how well you recover from damage, inflammation, delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), and physical fitness performance.
Why I believe in protein
I’m not here to tell you that protein is a magic pill that will cure all your health and fitness problems, but I do think it’s an effective solution to help us feel better, stronger, and healthier in our everyday lives.
Through protein intake experimentation, I have personally seen how awesome protein can be for our bodies. Protein tends to help people feel stronger, more energized, and more satisfied with their food choices.
If you would like help with your health, fitness, and nutrition goals, I offer many services that can support you on your health and fitness journey like my remote nutrition and fitness training programs. In these programs, I can help you figure out your personal protein numbers, help you play around with strategies to reach your goals, and create an environment where we can thrive and grow together.
Hope to see you there!
- Regulation of Tissue Oxygenation. Pittman RN.
San Rafael (CA): Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences; 2011. ↩︎
- Protein Intake, Fatigue and Quality of Life in Stable Outpatient Kidney Transplant Recipients. Antonio W. Gomes Neto et all. Published online 2020 Aug 14. ↩︎
- Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al.
New York: Garland Science; 2002. ↩︎
- How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally. Healthline. Kris Gunnars, BSc — Updated on March 30, 2023 ↩︎
- Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women. Carol S Johnston 1, Carol S Day, Pamela D Swan. Feb 2002. ↩︎
- Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet.
Margriet A B Veldhorst 1, Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga, Klaas R Westerterp. Sep 2009. ↩︎
- Presence or absence of carbohydrates and the proportion of fat in a high-protein diet affect appetite suppression but not energy expenditure in normal-weight human subjects fed in energy balance. Margriet A B Veldhorst 1, Klaas R Westerterp, Anneke J A H van Vught, Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga. Nov 2010. ↩︎
- Effect of protein overfeeding on energy expenditure measured in a metabolic chamber. George A Bray , Leanne M Redman et all. March 2015. ↩︎
- Protein Reduces Appetite and Makes You Eat Fewer Calories. Healthline. Kris Gunnars. BSc. March 2023. ↩︎
- Effects of Combined High-Protein Diet and Exercise Intervention on Cardiometabolic Health in Middle-Aged Obese Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Chiao-Nan Chen, Kuo-Jen Hsu et all. 2021. ↩︎
- Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Thomas P Wycherley, Lisa J Moran et all. Dec 2012. ↩︎
- A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. David S Weigle, Patricia A Breen. July 2005. ↩︎
- Protein’s Effects on Weight Loss. Franziska Spritzler on May 23, 2017 ↩︎
- The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. Thomas L. Halton. Frank B. Hu. April 2004. ↩︎
- Dietary protein considerations to support active aging. Benjamin T Wall, Naomi M Cermak, Luc J C van Loon. Nov 2014. ↩︎
- Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. Jean-Philippe Bonjour. Dec 2005. ↩︎
- Dietary protein and skeletal health: a review of recent human research. Jane E Kerstetter, Anne M Kenny, Karl L Insogna. Feb 2011. ↩︎
- Biomarker-calibrated protein intake and bone health in the Women’s Health Initiative clinical trials and observational study. Jeannette M Beasley, Andrea Z LaCroix. April 2014. ↩︎
- Prospective study of dietary protein intake and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. R G Munger, J R Cerhan, B C Chiu. Jan 1999. ↩︎
- Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. Stijn Soenen, Eveline A P Martens. May 2013. ↩︎
- How Much Protein Should You Eat Every Day? Healthline. Franziska Spritzler on May 23, 2017 ↩︎
- Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories. John D Boss, Brian M Dixon. Sep 2012. ↩︎
- The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Stefan M Pasiakos, Tom M McLellan, Harris R Lieberman. Jan 2015. ↩︎
- Macronutrient intake as a prospective predictor of depressive symptom severity: An exploratory study with adolescent elite athletes. Markus Gerber. May 2023. ↩︎
- High Protein Diet Reduces Depression Symptoms. Neuroscience News. Mar 2023 ↩︎
- Nutrition and mental health: A review of current knowledge about the impact of diet on mental health. Mateusz Grajek et all. Aug 2022. ↩︎
- Diet and depression: exploring the biological mechanisms of action.Wolfgang Marx. Jan 2021 ↩︎
- Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. Roger A H Adan. Dec 2009. ↩︎
- Protein-source tryptophan as an efficacious treatment for social anxiety disorder: a pilot study. Craig Hudson. Oct 2007. ↩︎
- Effect of sub chronic tryptophan supplementation on stress-induced cortisol and appetite in subjects differing in 5-HTTLPR genotype and trait neuroticism. Aimée E M Capello, C Rob Markus. July 2014. ↩︎
- Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Trisha A. Jenkins. Jan 2016 ↩︎
- Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption. Stephan van Vliet. Feb 2018. ↩︎
- Effects of Whey and Pea Protein Supplementation on Post-Eccentric Exercise Muscle Damage: A Randomized Trial. David C Nieman. Aug 2020. ↩︎