‘Leaner and Meaner’:  How Much Protein Do You Need?

‘Leaner and Meaner’: How Much Protein Do You Need?

There has always been a debate about how much protein an athlete needs.  ‘You need one gram per kilogram of weight’ or you need ‘one gram per pound of weight’ and some other somewhat random numbers are usually used to determine how much protein resistance training athletes need.  As a healthcare provider who works with athletes, I need to make sure my athletes have enough protein to ensure healthy soft tissue function and reduce the likelihood of injury. Without proper protein consumption, an athlete will not achieve his/her fitness goals, and if there’s an injury, the athlete will certainly need extra protein during the recovery phase to get better.  I won’t discuss the subject of sarcopenia in this blog but this topic too is a major crisis in our country.  So, how do we know where to really start?

A literature review study from 2014 in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism gives us a good formula for determining the range of protein needed for caloric restricted, resistance trained athletes. Before we go any further, we should define who these athletes are…. they are…you and me.  If you work out, want to look good, and want a high level of lean muscle mass (highly desirable for good health), then this formula applies to you.  In fact, if you just work out and wish to have healthy muscle, this formula will help you achieve your goals.  The bottom line is that athletes tend to ingest less protein than they need and this is a major concern.  Not only that, but they also are unlikely getting the best quality protein they can. Oh, this study also mentions that total fat consumption should not go below 20% of total calorie intake.  So what are we looking at?  A sensible caloric restricted diet with adequate micronutrient ingestion and the proper ratio of macronutrients.  So, you want to be ‘lean and mean’?…here’s how to achieve it…

The review study concluded that 2.3 to 3.1gm of protein for every kilogram (kg) of FFM was the proper range.  FFM is defined as Free Fat Mass and it is essentially your body weight minus your fat weight.  How is this number determined?  In my office, I use electrical impedance (EI).  There are other ways but EI is quick and quite accurate.

So, we have an athlete who weighs 200 pounds.  We find that he has 32% body fat.  We multiply .32 x 200 to find out the fat weight of the person.  The number we get is 64 pounds.  We then have to subtract 64 from 200 to get that FFM number…we are left with 136.  This weight is in pounds so we need to convert to kg. The conversion is 2.2 pounds equals 1 kg…so, we divide 136 by 2.2 and get 68.82kg.  This is the number we will now use to figure out the protein needs of our calorically restricted, resistance training athlete.

2.3 x 68.82 = 158.29gm
3.1 x 68.82 = 213.34gm

So, our range is 158-213 gm of protein per day for the above referenced athlete.

A formula that takes into consideration FFM is obviously more accurate than one that does not.  As each person is starting at a certain point and has certain goals with either weight reduction, lean muscle mass increase, etc…it’s good to have criteria to assess during the process of getting ‘leaner and meaner.’  The more accurate we can be to help our athletes, the better.

Now that we’ve established that our protein requirements are likely not being met, what is the best way to get enough protein?  In other words, what are the best proteins?

Stay tuned…we’ll cover that next.  Please feel free to ask any questions so we can add to the discussion.


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