Protein: Are You Getting Enough?

We eat steaks the size of flying saucers!  Chipotle burritos are crammed down our throats…while driving!  And all those chicken wings…oh my!  If any of the above sounds familiar, it’s because we’re constantly bombarded with messages regarding Americans’ excessive protein intake.

In reality, NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data reveals that protein accounts for just 14-16% of our daily caloric intake.  That translates into 70-80g of protein if you’re consuming 2000 calories a day.  Further research shows that Americans’ protein intake is heavily skewed toward evening hours – we eat the most at dinner, a little less at lunch, and breakfast is in need of a protein boost. 

Is this amount and pattern of intake enough to meet your needs?  Probably not – especially if you’re an endurance athlete or working on building lean muscle through strength training. 

According to the Institute of Medicine, the acceptable range of protein intake for adults 19 and older is 10 – 35% of daily calories.  Based on a 2000 calorie diet, that’s as many as 175g per day!  As for supporting your endeavors in the gym, human research shows that distributing your intake evenly throughout the day results in higher MPS (muscle protein synthesis) than does the typical American pattern. 

If you suspect your protein intake could use some improvement, consider the following:

Take a closer look at your breakfast.  Is it the now-ubiquitous smoothie bowl?  You may be ingesting a day's worth of fruit, but you’re depending on nuts, seeds, and maybe a little bit of yogurt or almond milk for protein.  Consider augmenting your intake with Greek yogurt (20g per cup) or eggs (6-7g/whole egg, 3.6g/white).  If you need something on the go, you might want to amp up your morning juice with protein powder.

Tune into hunger.  Feeling famished by the time lunch rolls around?  Reaching for afternoon snacks?  Protein-rich meals help induce a feeling of satiety.  Filling up on carbs, or not filling up at all, can lead to a serious case of the tummy growls. 

Evaluate your physical progress.  First off, know your body fat percentage before setting foot in the gym.  If you’re busting your butt in the weight room and that number isn't budging, you’re not building muscle.  Inadequate protein intake could be the culprit. 

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can determine your exact protein needs.  Making an appointment with a CSSD (board certified sports dietitian) is an even better idea if you’re a competitive athlete – whether professionally or just for fun.  Find one in your area!