How Much Protein Do You Need If You Exercise Regularly?
Written by contributor Matt Weik
A macronutrient that people tend to not pay much attention to (when they should) is protein. As Americans, we generally have no issue taking in our daily recommended intake of carbohydrates and fats. I mean, after all, those simply taste better than say a chicken breast or salmon. But those who live an active lifestyle and who exercise regularly, the question commonly asked is how much protein do you actually need in order to preserve and build lean muscle mass?.
Why Should You Focus on Protein?
Before we actually get into the numbers, it’s important for you to understand WHY we focus so much on protein. First, let me ask you a few questions to make sure we’re on the same page. Are you trying to maintain your weight or even put on muscle? Do you like looking lean and fit or are you striving to achieve such results from your training and nutrition? What if I told you that I have a secret where you can burn more calories throughout the day – even while at rest? You’d want all those things, right? Well, protein can help you accomplish all of those things.
It really starts and ends with how much lean muscle mass you have on your body. Protein is the building block of muscles. Yet, you don’t need to be a big bodybuilder or spend hours in the gym in order to see results or the benefits either. Adding even a little bit of lean muscle mass to your frame will help you look leaner, more fit, and can allow you to burn more calories during the day because muscle actually burns calories simply due to the fact that in order for them to function, they need energy and fuel – not to mention how much work goes into repairing broken down muscle fibers from training.
The bottom line is, our body needs protein in order to support our lean muscle mass. And ladies, don’t be afraid to hit the weights and strive to add some lean muscle tissue and get stronger – you WON’T look like a man. You (naturally) won’t get big and bulky like your male counterpart because you don’t possess the same amount of testosterone in your body. So, don’t be afraid of the weight room. Be sure to utilize resistance training in your workout program when you hit the gym and push yourself so you can continue progressing and getting stronger.
As the saying goes, STRONG is the new SEXY. If you want to maintain or build muscle, protein is needed. When we consume protein, it gets broken down during digestion into a usable form – amino acids. These amino acids then help recover and rebuild the broken-down muscle fibers from our workouts. Without protein, your muscles can’t properly recover and prepare for your next intense workout.
What Sources of Protein Are Best?
Here’s the great thing… You can pick and choose whatever sources of protein you prefer. Obviously, a whole food variety will be your best option. However, feel free to utilize snacks or treats that contain protein throughout the day as needed. When The Best Bar Ever was first created, there was a gap in the industry. No one had a real food nutrition bar that was not only wholesome but that had an amazing taste. Most bars on the market were full of added sugars, loaded with preservatives, and had a ton of additives in them – not to mention resembled the taste and texture of a piece of chalk. Your body demands high-quality ingredients – and that’s what The Best Bar Ever brought to the market with their refrigerated bars.
But when looking for quality whole food protein sources to fill up your daily requirements, you can choose from things like fish, beef, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Animal protein not your thing? There are many plant-based products out there on the market as well for you to choose from.
Know Your Numbers – And Hit Them
Time to get down to the numbers. There is a drastic difference in the requirements for those who exercise and those who do not. If you exercise regularly or live an active lifestyle, your body is going to demand more from you than someone who was sedentary. For that reason, you need to increase your protein intake.
Because you exercise regularly and live an active lifestyle, you should strive for a minimum of 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Personally, what I like to do is strive for as close to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day to keep the numbers easy to remember. For instance, if I weigh 190 pounds, I want to get around 190 grams of protein per day from my nutrition. I can achieve that number by consuming whole food meals and protein sources as well as filling any gap with things like protein shakes, protein bars, or nutrition bars if needed.
How do I know when I reached my numbers? It’s simple – assuming you track your calories and macros. If you don’t, how do you even know if you’re on track or not? I like to tell people in this instance, “you don’t know what you don’t know” and this is the perfect example. You can even apply this to weight loss as well. Most THINK they are eating below their maintenance but in reality, they aren’t which is stalling their progress.
What I would recommend for you to do is download an app on your smartphone and start tracking your calories and macronutrients to ensure you’re hitting your numbers on a daily basis. Again, 0.7 grams of protein per pound each day should be your minimum. And for the time being (unless you are prepping for some sort of fitness or bodybuilding show), I wouldn’t go any higher than 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Remember, protein has calories and if you eat too much you can still add body fat.
Matt Weik, owner of Weik Fitness, LLC, is a well-respected fitness expert/author with a global following. His work has been featured in nearly 100 fitness magazines, 5,000+ websites, as well as having published numerous books and audiobooks. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, personal trainer, and sports nutritionist.