Protein is a nutrient with a lot of misinformation surrounding it. How much protein do we need?
Do we have to eat meat to get enough protein? It is often pushed by the diet and exercise industry, but how much is really necessary and what foods should we get it from?
If we’re being scientific, the average, moderately active woman needs 0.8-1 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight, which is a great reference, but this is America and most people have no idea how many kilograms they weigh. An easy, simplified way to guesstimate your protein needs is to divide your weight in pounds by 2. This number will be more than enough protein for the majority of active women.
Many people are surprised by how low this number actually is. For example, a 120 lb. woman only needs about 44-55 grams per day. Now that we know about how many grams of the nutrient you should be eating daily, how can we apply that number in terms of food?
The table below shows a list of foods and their protein content:
|Food||Grams of Protein|
|1 cup cooked brown rice||6 g|
|2 tablespoons of peanut butter||7 g|
|1 extra large egg||7 g|
|3 oz chicken||23 g|
|½ cup of lentils||24 g|
As you can see vegetarian and vegan foods contain enough of the nutrient that most women should be able to meet their protein requirements even without consuming meat or animal products so long as they are consuming adequate calories.
Certain populations have increased their needs, particularly endurance athletes, such as marathoners or triathletes (1). After 2 hours of physical activity our bodies use up most of our stored carbohydrate stores (the body’s preferred fuel source) and begin to use it as a source of energy. This can be delayed by actively refueling with a carbohydrate source during long term exercise although the body will eventually require the nutrient as a fuel and pull it from muscles. That said, even top athletes require a max of 1.6 grams of protein/kilogram when healthy (2).
It is a nutrient where more is not necessarily better. There is no benefit to consuming excessive protein, and too much intake can actually be harmful. High intake of protein increases calcium excretion. Calcium deficiency is common in women, so we should attempt to minimize excretion in any way we can.
The bottom line is unless you are consuming a very low calorie diet, which should be avoided at all costs, but that is a whole different blog post, you will likely be eating enough of the nutrient regardless of whether or not you eat meat or animal products.