In Studio: Health expert explains how much protein your body really needs

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — You resolved to work out and build a better, stronger body this year. You’ve probably heard the regulars at the gym talk about the protein shakes they drink after a workout to pack on more muscle.

Protein drinks are on the rise and generating huge profits, but do you know how much protein you actually need?

KRON4‘s health expert, Karen Owoc, has some answers:

Protein is an important component of our diet and is necessary to build and maintain all types of body tissue, including muscle. (Your heart is a muscle too.)

Eating too many protein shakes, bars, and capsules: When avid exercisers and body builders think about maximizing muscle, most of them think protein and overload on these protein supplements — which can be pricey. You really don’t need that much protein. Protein need only comprise only about 20% of your daily calories. Eating too much of it can be dangerous.

Protein limits: Excess protein is defined as getting more than 35% of your total daily calories from protein. On a 2,000-calorie a day diet, that would equate to eating to 1.25 pounds of chicken breast.

The “average” protein requirement:

  • Adult men: 56 gm (about 6 ounces of chicken breast)
  • Adult women: 46 gm

Protein consumed in excess is not stored as muscle. It is stored as fat.

Determining how much protein you need:

  • Age 19 to Adult: 0.8 grams of protein (PRO) per kilogram (kg) of body weight (BW) per day
  • Competitive Athletes: 1.2 to 1.4 gm PRO per kg BW (Ultra-endurance athletes may need up to 2.0 grams. These amounts are needed to build, maintain, repair muscle mass, but NO more! There is no benefit beyond this amount.)
  • Adults 65 and older: 1.2 to 1.5 gm PRO per kg BW (Per a review published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Amount needed to increase strength, function, and muscle mass.)

Protein Math (example):

  • For a 165-lb adult (75 kg):

75 kilograms x 0.8 = 60 grams protein

  • For a 200-lb. adult (91 kg) 65 and older:

91 kilograms x 1.2 = 109 grams protein

How these requirements translate to food on the plate: Protein-rich foods include: red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, beans/lentils, nuts/seeds.

  • 4 oz. chicken breast 35
  • 3/4 block of tofu 34
  • 4 oz. chicken thigh 30
  • 4 oz lean ground beef 28
  • 1 cup cooked soybeans 22
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt 18
  • 1 cup kidney beans 15

Dangers of too much protein: There’s a tendency to think that protein supplements are a quick fix to packing on muscle, but consuming excess protein combined with low carbs can lead to the buildup of toxic ketones — substances made when the body has to use its own fat cells for fuel in the absence of sufficient carbohydrates. Ketones can harm the kidneys and liver. Ketone production is your body’s normal adaptation to starvation.

High-protein diets (a.k.a. ketogenic diets): Once your body enters ketosis, you begin to lose muscle, become extremely fatigued, and bone calcium decline. These diets can damage the heart since it’s a muscle too. The worst part is that these high-protein diets often contain high-fat foods and are deficient in fiber, micronutrients, and disease-fighting antioxidants.

Symptoms of consuming excess protein:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Bad breath

Protein supplements safety: Protein powders are supplements and they’re not regulated by the FDA. That means, there is no guarantee of the quality, purity, and potency of the ingredients.

Federal regulations do not require protein drinks and other dietary supplements be tested before they’re sold to be sure they’re free of contaminants and are safe and effective. In 2010, Consumer Reports detected levels of heavy metals such as lead and mercury in the products they tested. Fillers in these supplements include sugar, artificial sweeteners, and oil.

Who should avoid protein supplements:

  • People at risk for weak or brittle bones. Although protein is needed for bone development, if you consume excessive protein over the long term, it can cause calcium to be excreted from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Diabetics or others with kidney disease, can also experience further complications with excess protein and strain on the kidneys. Worse yet, there are a lot of people who are undiagnosed pre-diabetics and unaware that their kidneys aren’t fully functional.

The Takeaway… Protein is only one of several essential nutrients, so don’t forget about other healthy foods. When people become obsessed with consuming a lot of protein, they often overlook other nutrient-dense foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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