How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Author : Justin Nault
I recently had a conversation with a close friend of mine. She is a vegetarian and I put together a nutrition plan for her a few months back. I know, a Paleo Nutritional Therapist making plans for vegetarians. Weird, right? Anyway, she hit me with some feedback. She was both thrilled and nervous all at the same time. “Justin, I am losing weight effortlessly. It’s just falling off! I couldn’t be happier. But...” Of course, there was a but. ” I feel like I may be losing TOO much weight. I’m afraid I’m losing my curves. I still want to look like a healthy woman!” This sort of feedback is actually really common. I get it all the time. Mostly from women, but occasionally from men who’s bodies are just naturally a bit on the lanky side. The problem is, almost every time I get this feedback from someone, they follow it up with, “I think I’m going to start eating more carbs.” I cringe, shake my head, and calmly try to lead them in a different direction.
First things first, most of my friends and clients who come to me for help are not athletes. They are just normal folks who want to be healthier and don’t have time for daily workouts. For that reason, I try to steer them away from extra carbs whenever I can. The truth is, you don’t really need exercise to burn fat, nutrition is 90% of the battle. That’s why these people are able to drop fat effortlessly once they adopt a proper nutrition plan.
WHAT’S THE ANSWER FOR FEELING TOO THIN?
So, what’s causing them to feel “too skinny?” The answer is almost assuredly a lack of protein, not carbohydrates. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need carbohydrates to gain muscle mass. In fact, I once packed on 10 pounds of muscle and lost 1 pound of body fat inside of 30 days eating only about 150 grams of carbohydrates per day.
What to do:
- If you’ve switched to a Paleo-style diet and you think you’re getting too skinny, re-examine your protein intake.
- Track your macronutrients for at least 3 days. Check nutrition facts on everything you eat. If the food doesn’t have a label, Google it. For example, Google “broccoli nutrition.”
- Write down how many grams of protein you are consuming each day
WHERE SHOULD YOUR NUMBERS BE?
I recommend that everyone consume at least 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The calculation is simple enough. Simply weight yourself, hopefully on an accurate scale, and multiply that number by 0.6. That’s how much protein you should be getting each day. For example, a 150-pound person should consume no less than 90 grams of protein. Remember, that is the absolute minimum! I would much prefer you eat closer to 1 gram per pound, but I want to make things reasonable for everyone. Many people (especially women) complete this exercise only to learn that they are eating as little as 1/3rd the amount of protein they need. That’s going to make it difficult to maintain healthy muscle mass. Especially if you’re not doing some form of resistance training.
Here’s the thing, your body does not want to hold excess body fat. It wants it gone. It is a burden on the entire system. Once you give your body what it needs, it will drop fat effortlessly. You want to lose fat, but you want to keep lean muscle. That’s why I recommend limiting carbohydrate intake. The danger is, people hear my advice and tend to limit food intake as a whole, rather than just that one macronutrient. This is how losing weight too fast or getting”too skinny” happens. You’re not giving your body what it needs to maintain healthy muscles.
HOW TO GET THE EXTRA PROTEIN YOU NEED IN YOUR DIET
There are definitely some tricks to sneaking extra protein into your diet. For vegetarians, like my friend I mentioned earlier, it’s going to be a little more difficult. This difficulty comes from the fact that there are few low-carb, high protein options in the vegetarian world. It’s difficult to get complete proteins on a vegetarian diet without increasing carbohydrate intake. Really, your only Paleo-friendly options are chia seeds and hemp seeds. To make up the protein deficit you would have to eat a whole lot of seeds! For all you Paleo folks out there, you have tons of options! I highly recommend free-range eggs for their excellent amino acid profile. Cans of tuna, sardines and oysters are also convenient ways to add protein on the go. If you really feel like you just don’t have the time to sneak in extra protein, I recommend The Perfect Paleo Powder. Yes, I created it. Yes, it’s the best protein powder on the market. Period. 27 grams of protein per serving!
Don’t ever skimp on your protein intake! Keep those muscles happy and healthy!