Protein Requirements

Endurance athletes require about 1.2-1.4 g protein per kg as a general rule.  In real terms for a 150 lb person, this equates to about 82-95 grams of protein.  For a 200 lb person, 109-127 grams of protein.  For comparison, the RDI for protein is 0.8g/kg.  Some sources actually recommend as much as 2 g protein/kg for athletes building significant muscle bulk.   Most sources suggest getting an adequate amount of protein is most important at the beginning of a strength training program.  As we build muscles and move toward more of a maintenance phase our need for protein diminishes slightly.  However, a sufficient level of  protein in your diet will help maintain energy, support muscle gains, and help you attain your  weight goals.  

Protein is composed of amino acids, protein building blocks, in linear chains that fold to become the complex molecules that help build and run our bodies.  There are 8 “essential” amino acids which we can not make ourselves and 12 which we are able to synthesize.   Protein sources are often referred to as high quality or low quality and this refers to if the protein contains all 8 essential amino acids.   Often we can combine protein sources to complement each other (grains and legumes for example).  As long as you eat a varied diet over a few days, you likely do not need to worry about protein quality.   If you are concerned about this however, a discussion with a sport-oriented dietician might be a good idea.  People who eat dairy, eggs and meat or fish are getting high quality protein.  Vegans and vegetarians simply need to pay more attention to their protein sources.  

The following table shows the Nature Rx100 middle list with protein content.  I have generalized a bit but you can always check the USDA site for specific information.   I have added a few things not specifically on the middle list such as protein powder, cottage cheese and canned tuna.   It can be a bit daunting to consider how much protein you need in total number of grams - it seems like a lot of protein but much of the food we eat contains some protein and with a little effort, you will get enough.  Even vegetables contain about 1-3 g of protein per serving so if you are eating at least 7 servings, you likely will log about 10 g of protein from your veggies alone!

Perhaps as important as getting sufficient high quality protein is the need for protein consumption throughout the day and especially after strenuous exercise.  Some of us might tend toward eating a greater percentage of our protein at dinner, rather than more even amounts throughout the day.  Plan out your meals making sure that each meal and snack contains protein.  We don’t think you need to be excessively concerned about tracking protein.  However some awareness of protein amounts, especially with your more common meal & snack choices, is likely a good tool to continue moving towards an optimal and enjoyable diet that supports your health and athletic goals.  Tracking protein levels over a 3 day period might be a useful exercise every now and then.  

 

Food            Serving Size    Protein (grams)

Nuts                             1oz                        4-7

Nut butter                    2 T                        8-9

Seeds                           4 T                        7-12

Cheese                         1oz                         6

Egg                               1 large                   6     

Milk                              I cup                      8.5

Cottage cheese           1 cup                      23

Greek Yogurt               1 cup                      9

Fish                              3-4 oz                  20-25

Tuna                             1 can                      42

Chicken breast              4oz                       20

Beef, lean                      4 oz                       22

Lentils, cooked              1 cup                     18

Beans, cooked               1 cup                    14-17

Grains, cooked               1 cup                     5-8

Protein Powder            1 serving               12-30