How many grams of protein do I need per day? 114g, really?
December 5, 2012 6:56 AM   Subscribe

How many grams of protein do I need per day? 114g, really?

I started with a personal trainer this week. He put me on a scale, and it measured the percentage of my body that is fat and my total weight - he then calculated how much of my weight in lbs is fat vs. lean. I have 114 lbs lean, so he said I needed to eat 114g of protein a day.

(Note: we're on weight watchers currently, as well - we just switched. I think I can make the WW plan fit with the workout plan, but any tips would be appreciated.)

I measured how much I ate in protein yesterday - it wound up being approximately 30g. Is 114g of protein a high amount? Do I need to eat this amount of protein every day, or just on days that I am working out?

He did say to eat protein a couple hours before, and also right after working out, and I'm trying to do that.

Any thoughts on how to get that much daily protein into my system? I can't do soy milk (allergic) although I can do protein shakes, and I was thinking if I added in one of those a day, that would be an additional 20-30g of protein a day.

With weight watchers, most fruits and veggies are free, so I've been eating a lot of fruit - however, it doesn't have much in the way of protein. I was thinking maybe protein powder mixed with banana might work.

Are there any good resources I could take a look at to learn about this?

I will check with my personal trainer the next time I see him, as well - I was just hoping to have some other resources to reference.
posted by needlegrrl to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You're definitely not eating enough protein; the CDC recommends 46g a day for women and 56g a day for men.

I'm not sure of the ideal amount per day for you - it depends on your goals, how much you exercise, your weight, how many calories you are eating per day, etc.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:03 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This totally depends on what your personal fitness goal(s) are. If you want to add a lot of muscle and plan to be doing lots of compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, etc) eating that much protein might be right for you. If you're focused on flexibility and balance and are training for a marathon, it's probably not necessary.

There is no one right answer for diet and exercise so this really depends on what you're trying to accomplish.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you a vegetarian? Hard boiled eggs or string cheeses are easy ways to add protein.

I don't know if you really need 114g, but 30 is pretty low. I'm mostly vegan and without trying I usually get 60-80g per day.
posted by something something at 7:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend is doing the same eat your lean body weight in protein thing. We're eating a version of paleo, so we eat mostly fruits, veggies, and protein. He eats a shocking amount of lean meat, snacks on nuts, makes whey protein shakes, and eats Fage Greek yogurt by the tub. Granted, he's trying to eat almost twice the amount you're aiming for, but those are his tactics.

We've really been into braising our meats lately. Renders out most of the fat and makes them so tender and delicious. And it uses inexpensive cuts of meat so we don't go broke when he eats a pound of it in a sitting.
posted by chatongriffes at 7:05 AM on December 5, 2012

IANAD (or, um, a trainer), but the CDC recommends 46 grams per day for adult women, and the American College of Sports Nutrition recommends that "endurance and strength-trained" athletes consume 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

Both of these recommendations are far less than 114g/day, but 20-30g/day seems low. Are you okay with regular dairy? Cottage cheese and yogurt are some of my favorite ways to get protein, and chocolate milk is an excellent post-workout drink. Eggs are also good, as are (if you eat meat) chicken and fish. If animal proteins are out, nuts, lentils, tempeh, and soy are all decent options.
posted by rebekah at 7:05 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Expert" opinions vary greatly from 46g for adult women, 10-12% of calorie intake or 0.5-0.8g per lb. I've never seen anything as high as 1g per lb. Maybe your trainer is confused, I have seen recommendations of 0.8-1.2g per KG
posted by missmagenta at 7:06 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Whoa, 114g is really high (it's consistent with bodybuilding/training recommendations, but I don't know how evidence-based those are), but 30g is pretty low. How many calories are you eating a day? How much do you weigh?

Here's what the Harvard School of Public Health nutrition department has to say about protein. They say "The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day—that's about 58 grams for a 160 pound adult."

They also say getting 20-25% of your calories from protein may be associated with weight loss.

Are you a vegetarian? Chicken breast is a great source of very lean protein.
posted by mskyle at 7:06 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been really successfully on WW in the past, and although I don't know how many g of protein I ate, it was probably a lot more than 30g. Protein and fibre are what will keep you full and sane on WW. If you eat meat - chicken breast and ham have a good bang-for-the-point buck. Eggs as well.

As for references, the WW people really do know their stuff. Use their guidelines and their tools, eat their food, make their recipes, and you have a really good starting point.

No, I don't work for them, I just know that I will never use any other weight loss method ever again. Their system is based on common sense, and it worked for me.
posted by cgg at 7:11 AM on December 5, 2012

114g a day isn't a lot and shouldn't be hard to hit. You need to just switch your diet from being heavily carb based to more protein based.

I suppose you're trying to lose body fat if you're on weight watchers. If so, stop eating so much fruit. Yeah it has good stuff in it. Yeah it's "free" on your plan but they aren't at all. They are incredibly calorie dense. Most are straight sugars. If you LOVE fruit then eat a bunch directly after your workout. That's when the sugars will be most beneficial. Keep eating as many green veggies as you want.

Do a protein shake about an hour before you workout and do 2 scoops, not 1. That will be +/-50g's of protein right there.
I'd save the banana for after the workout. A medium banana has 27g's of carbs!

Anyway, eggs, turkey, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, almonds are all easy and effective.

Breakfast: Two eggs in the morning +14g's, 1 serving greek yogurt +20g's, Lunch: 4 slices of sliced turkey +28g's. Pre workout: 50g's on protein shake and you're done before dinner time.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

114 pd seems incredibly high to me for lady persons unless you have some serious lifting/gain goals, tbh. I switch between about 65-80 (higher on lifting days, lower on cardio) to maintain a weight of about 118-120.
posted by elizardbits at 7:13 AM on December 5, 2012

For protein shakes, if soy milk is no good, consider trying almond, rice, or coconut. The first one is the only one I've had other than soy, but it's delicious.

I'm not very familiar with the WW point system, but you might want to look into vegan sources for protein. So, things like beans/legumes (esp. lentils, I think), seitan, quinoa, etc. (I'm assuming that tofu and other soy products are out of the question.) Spinach also has a fair bit of protein, and some other vegetables might surprise you, as well.

There are certainly vegetarians and vegans out there with soy allergies, and of course they still need protein. Lots of fake meats are out of the question, but here are some ideas: 1, 2, 3, 4.

But yeah, based on government recommendations (the validity of which may be debatable), you're definitely not getting enough protein. Whether 114 is reasonable, though, I'm really not sure.
posted by cellar door at 7:13 AM on December 5, 2012

Response by poster: I'm currently around 180 lbs, and I'm eating 27 weight watchers points per day (not sure on calories).

Typical day's food for me lately -

Breakfast - coffee with 2 Tbsp Half & Half, 1 pkg instant oatmeal, 1 banana.
Lunch - 1 smart ones meal - generally something with chicken, around 11g protein.
Snacks during the day - banana (or two), apple, orange, grapes
Dinner - 1 smart ones meal, generally chicken again, around 12g protein.
Possibly a smart ones dessert, or wholegrain bread.

Yesterday may have been low on the protein because I had a glass of wine, so that eliminated 4 of my usual points.

On days that I work out, I eat extra protein.

Oddly enough, although I'm allergic to soy milk, tofu and other soy does not seem to have the same effect on me, so it's a possibility!
posted by needlegrrl at 7:13 AM on December 5, 2012

I would trade in the breakfast carbs for something proteiny - 3 egg white and turkey sausage omelet, maybe.
posted by elizardbits at 7:14 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Try and work in an extra few points worth of protein. Like, 3 oz. of chicken breast has 3 points and 24 grams of protein. Could you sub out one of those smart ones meals for a meal that's just chicken and vegetables and seasonings (no points for the veggies, and the chicken is all protein)? It's not that hard - get precooked chicken and frozen veg, toss in a frying pan with cooking spray, ta-da, only a little harder than microwaving a meal. Add (no-points) broth and it's soup.
posted by mskyle at 7:17 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you're eating only pre-packaged food and fruit, I assume that you (like me, TBH!) have trouble with portions. I do notice that all your meals seem really low in protein, especially for meals that contain meat. (I'm vegetarian-aiming-for-vegan, meaning I fall off the wagon over cheese sometimes.)

Things I find helpful:

Sub in chopped red or yellow bell peppers for fruit - they are sweet and crunchy and full of vitamins, but many fewer carbs. Also baby carrots - strict paleo people don't like those, but I figure that if you're eating carrots instead of an extra banana, it's actually a win. Also, both bell peppers and baby carrots have important soluble fiber - hard to find! Needed for heart health!

Vis-a-vis portion control: I myself eat tofu things that come in portions - a block of soft tofu (which is very watery and about 1/2 the calories/fat of firm); a square of baked tofu; a tofu sausage (I recommend the Tofurkey Italian ones, actually - they are not at all what you expect for vegan food). Perhaps you might find those babybel cheeses helpful, or cheese sticks.

I don't ever get up to anywhere near paleo levels of protein, but I know I feel much better when I'm hitting ~50g daily.
posted by Frowner at 7:22 AM on December 5, 2012

Breakfast - coffee with 2 Tbsp Half & Half, 1 pkg instant oatmeal, 1 banana.
Replace with 1 cup of steel milled oats. Most instant oatmeal are terrible for you. Replace banana with 2 eggs. 2 eggs are only about 20 more calories than one banana, depending on the size of each, and have 13 more grams of protein.

Lunch - 1 smart ones meal - generally something with chicken, around 11g protein
This is good. You can add maybe an extra half of chicken breast or some sliced turkey or a 1 scoop protein shake.

Snacks during the day - banana (or two), apple, orange, grapes
Replace all (or most) of this with a small amount of almonds and maybe you'd like pumpkin or squash seeds? Those are 33g's of protein per 100g serving.

Dinner - 1 smart ones meal, generally chicken again, around 12g protein.
You'll probably be above your protein goal by this point.

Possibly a smart ones dessert, or wholegrain bread.
I'd replace the dessert with 1 piece of fruit. What's the point of the bread? The wholegrain is just as crappy as the rest of it. I'd go with a tbsp of all natural peanut butter for hunger control late at night over a 115 calorie carb and sugar bomb.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:27 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I suppose you're trying to lose body fat if you're on weight watchers. If so, stop eating so much fruit.

50% of my calories come from fruit. It and greens are fairly essential to keep things running smoothly for me. The only half-assed recommendation I would have is to be informed but don't underestimate how much we don't know about human nutrition works.

I've always felt protein recommendations were vastly overestimated, maybe by double. With no nutritional nor medical training, I don't think 30g per day is that low. Now someone with more knowledge than i have can back me up (cites, please ;)

I probably eat 40 or so g per day, mostly from high-protein grains and beans with some nuts (vegan). I feel OK and am fairly lean and neither pale nor sickly. /anecdata
posted by mrgrimm at 7:33 AM on December 5, 2012

The big factor here is your exercise. If you are working out (especially lifting weights), your body needs more protein in order to rebuild the muscles that you are exercising. Without enough protein, your body can't rebuild the torn muscle fibers, and you won't gain muscle. Since having more muscle mass increases your metabolism, your goal with working out should be to gain muscle and to burn calories. If you aren't getting enough protein, you can't build muscle. The general guideline for people who want to build muscle is 1g/lb of lean body weight, combined with strength training.

Your trainer may have also told you to eat this much protein simply because by doing that, you will eat fewer carbohydrates. Many people have more success in losing weight by reducing the amount of carbohydrates that they eat, especially sugars. If you are on a meal plan, by eating more protein you will naturally eat less of the other stuff.

It seems like you are eating a lot of fruit, which is not necessarily a great idea if your plan is to lose weight. In your place I'd try to replace some of that with vegetables. You'll have a lot less sugar going into your system, which will likely help you to lose weight faster.
posted by markblasco at 8:03 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't seem like you are following all of WW's healthy guidelines -- don't they require more dairy? Or at least they did a while back. I've never been successful with WW, but I would say that you should move away from the processed food.

I definitely agree that you can get protein into breakfast with some egg whites with lots of veg. That should be really low points.

Chicken breast or turkey burgers with salad for lunch.

And some sort of protein, veg, carb combo for dinner. That should help. That also seems like a lot of fruit.
posted by hrj at 8:05 AM on December 5, 2012

If you've tried protein powders and HATE them, try Optimum Nutrition Double Chocolate. Get a blender bottle mixer with a ball and add the protein powder to almond milk (or regular milk.) It's honestly delicious and 1 scoop adds 24g of protein. I was kinda against protein powders, but wasn't getting enough with some other health stuff going on. I added this and it's helped my daily ups and downs SO much. YMMV. Protein keeps you fuller for longer, which means you snack less, and feel more satiated and less GRAR I HATE DIETING.
posted by barnone at 8:17 AM on December 5, 2012

I have heard that people seeking to build muscle should eat a gram of protein per kilogram of lean body weight per day. In your case this equates to just over 50g per day - which seems much more realistic. Perhaps your PT has his/her wires crossed?

114g per day is way above any recommendation I have heard about for anyone other than souped-up gym junkies.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

" It appears that a mean protein intake of 1.25 g·kg-1·day-1* is sufficient to compensate for the enhanced muscle protein degradation during prolonged exercise sessions (resistance and endurance types)."

from the conclusion of

Protein turnover, amino acid requirements and recommendations for athletes and active populations..

*i.e. 1.25 grams of protein per kg bodyweight per day.
posted by Gyan at 8:32 AM on December 5, 2012

If you are an athlete or highly active person currently attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, a daily intake of 1.5-2.2g/kg bodyweight (0.68-1g/lb bodyweight) would be a good target.

You can read various studies in support of that statement at the above link. 1g of protein per lb. of bodyweight (or per lb. of lean mass in overweight individuals) is a common recommendation in the fitness world because it's very simple to remember and it involves no calculations; however, it may not have detectable benefits beyond those of somewhat lower amounts.

You'll probably do just as well aiming for 80-100g per day. Falling short of that isn't going to make you die of malnutrition, but it's not going to help your fat loss efforts.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I eat a lot of protein, and I'm not shy about fat either--dietary fat doesn't make you fat. It keeps me full. I don't think 114g is all that high.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:45 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Looking at your meal plan, it appears that portion-controlled, pre-made foods are a preference. If so, one thing you could add to your menu that will pack a protein wallop, are easy to prepare, and are uniformly portioned, are veggie burgers.

I looked at the Boca Burgers I have in my freezer, and they are 3 Weight Watchers points, 15g protein, 1g net carbs. Not all veggie burgers are alike -- some are carb-bombs -- but the Bocas are legit.
posted by nacho fries at 9:18 AM on December 5, 2012

Non "food fad" answer: no, as a grown adult (vs a growing child) ,you do not need that much protein. These 'all-protein' diets that are floating around are a fad to be avoided. There's a bunch of extra 'stuff' (amino acids and proteins we lack the enzymes to break down) in most food proteins that range from 'hard to digest' to 'indigestible' (cellulose is an example) that can be absorbed with the 'good stuff' and clog up cellular function over time...which happens to some degree or another with just about any diet and is a big contributor to what we call 'aging'...but still, you don't want to heap abuse on your system.
That being said, if you're trying to get fitter and build more muscle mass, then definitely more protein is necessary. every day? not so much. Start your workout days with a big protein shake and you should be fine (look for one high in amino acids, those are the building blocks of proteins)
[In a nutshell, proteins we eat are broken down by enzymes (another family of proteins, themselves) into amino acids, which are then used by our cells to make our OWN proteins from...i.e. to make new cells. If you're not a growing child or someone looking to add muscle mass, then you really only need enough to replace the cells that die off naturally. The problem with a lot of 'Reccomended Daily Allowances' is that they tend to be weighted by the FDA as an average for the ENTIRE population, children and adults alike, and thus tend to be a bit high on the adult recommendation for protein]
posted by sexyrobot at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Based on my (non-expert, unscientific, anecdotal & subjective) experience, if you're doing strength training and not feeling agonizing pain the next day or two, you're getting enough protein.

I used to labor under the delusion that the body could only absorb a ridiculously small amount of protein per day, and made no effort to supplement my diet with protein, and would lift weights, only to have horrible muscle pain that would trigger migraines. I did not make the connection (was an idiot) until I switched from a vegan diet to vegetarian + fish and realized post-workout pain was greatly diminished.

I found through trial and error that after doing weights, bodyweight exercises, or anything really damaging to my muscles, that I need to consume OVER 1g/lb in the 24 hours after exercising. If I do, I'm fine. If I don't, I suffer. I don't know if this is recommended or not, but it works for me.

In order to consume this much protein, I'll do the following: drink protein shakes, eat hardboiled eggs (but throw out the yolks because my cholesterol levels are a little high), eat canned tuna & other fish, throw in some nonfat greek yogurt with some nuts mixed in, and eat as many (mostly raw) veggies as I can (and a little) fruit for vitamins & fiber & whatever. In order to get enough protein, I find I have to avoid high-carb, high-fat, high-sugar food, just because I need to have room for all the protein.

posted by univac at 9:43 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't throw out the yolk!
posted by mrgrimm at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2012

Your frozen dinners are an easy way to control portions, but they don't give you a lot of nutrition or volume, which may make it hard for you to eat them long term. Canned tuna is a good way to control portions, and get a good amount of protein. Same with cottage cheese. I have done Weight Watchers in the past (pre-Points Plus) and felt best and lost the most weight when I had a lot of protein, some fat, and a lot of vegetables. I liked having a big salad, like Ms. Bitchcakes' Super Salad with a scoop of full-fat cottage cheese or tuna salad. (Actually, you would probably really like Ms. Bitchcakes' blog! She is a marathoner who has lost over 100 pounds on Weight Watchers, and is also vegan. She is amazing.) I also liked having a couple of hard boiled eggs and a half of a small avocado as a snack, especially before working out.
posted by apricot at 10:29 AM on December 5, 2012

Protein is a good thing. A very good thing! If eating more protein seems more like a chore than a pleasure, consider buying some digestive enzymes to help you out.
posted by Neekee at 4:26 PM on December 5, 2012

I once calculated which foods have the fewest calories per gram of protein. Sources vary on how many calories are in a given amount of a food, so this might not be exact, but here's what I came up with (in order):

chicken breast
roasted turkey
water-packed light tuna
egg white
1% cottage cheese
TVP crumbles
nonfat Greek yogurt
extra firm tofu
nonfat yogurt
skim milk
posted by lakeroon at 6:27 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I've confirmed that I do need this much protein with the trainer. I've gotten some good ideas from this thread, and I think the frozen dinners are the culprit. I've been depending on them because they're easy, but they're obviously not going to give me what I need.

I've picked up two different types of pre-made protein shakes, and will likely get some protein powder.

I actually made it to 115g yesterday!
posted by needlegrrl at 11:41 AM on December 7, 2012

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