Protein Unpacked – Part 1

Just this past week, I’ve gotten lots of questions about protein.  “Which protein shake should I buy?”, “Whey or plant based?”, “How do I get more protein in my diet?”.

With all of the “high protein” diets out there, and the thousands of protein shakes in every grocery store, it’s easy to see why everyone is so confused and a little obsessed about getting more and more protein.  It is definitely overwhelming, so let’s start with the basics.

How much protein do you actually need?  Most adults are eating WAY TOO MUCH!  Let’s do the math (uggghhhh, math!).

Depending on the source, you’ll find that it is recommended that the average adult needs .5-.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  So, at 130 lbs, I would need anywhere from 65-104 grams of protein per day.  A 200 lb person would need 100-160 grams per day.  That’s a pretty big range, I know.  But for perspective, let’s look at some typical protein sources to see how easy it is to get PLENTY of protein without even trying regardless of your size or activity level.

1 Serving of Chicken Breast (3 oz) is approximately 21 grams of protein.  The average chicken breast sold in the grocery store or served in a restaurant is 6-8 oz and approximately 42-56 grams of protein.  (Turkey, beef and pork are similar in protein.)

Just 1 “American Sized Portion” (6-8 oz) of meat could account for 50-85% of the minimum recommended daily amount, depending on the persons size.  You can see how even a 200 lb person could get their minimum amount of protein in just one or two meals.

Think about how much meat you eat in a day.  My guess is that you have meat with at least 2 meals and you are eating the “American Sized Portion”, rather than the 3-4 oz actual serving size.


Here are some other common sources of protein…

1 Egg – 6g

1/2 Salmon Filet – 39g

1 Tilapia Filet – 23g

1/4 cup Almonds – 6g

2 T. Peanut or Almond Butter – 6-7g

1 Cup Oats – 7g

1 Cup Wild Rice – 24g

1 Cup Brown Rice, Quinoa & other grains – 8-12g

1 Cup Spinach or Kale – 3g

1 Cup Broccoli or Brussels Sprouts – 4g

1 Avocado – 4g

***The recommended serving size for most of the above mentioned foods is not necessarily the measurement listed.  What’s listed is what most people perceive as a serving.

“What about Vegetarians?”.  I’m so glad you asked =)  Did you know that there is protein in literally every food?   Even berries have small amounts of protein.  So let’s do the math again, this time with plant based foods (uggghhhh, math! again?!?!)

We’ll start with the obvious… beans and legumes.  Lentils rank near the top for protein packed plant foods with 18 grams of protein per cup.  Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and others come in at about 15 grams per cup.  A serving size is actually 1/2 cup, but who only eats 1/2 cup?!?!

Before putting anything else on your plate, you could be getting 30-50% of your minimum recommended amount in 2 meals with just beans.

Now let’s look at a possible day’s worth of food for a vegetarian/vegan. (Switch out the oats for 2 eggs, and add a mid morning snack and this is very similar to my typical day.)

Breakfast – 1 cup oats (7g), 3 T. Chia Seeds (5g) and 1 Cup blueberries (1g) = 13g

Lunch – Kale Salad – 2 C Kale (6g), 1/4 Cup slivered almonds (6g), 1 Cup Edamame (17g) and 1 Cup other veggies (1g) =  30g

Dinner – 1 cup lentils (18g), 1 Cup rice (8g), Spinach Salad – 2 cups spinach (6g) 1 cup other veggies (1g) = 33g

Being very conservative and before adding snacks, a 130 lb vegetarian or vegan can easily get more than the recommended minimum amount of protein.

“And what about athletes, and people who work out a lot, don’t they need more protein?” The answer is no.  Performance athletes and even fitness athletes (body builders, figure competitors, etc.) should aim to for the higher range (.8g per lb of body fat), but do not need to double or triple their protein intake to build muscle mass or increase performance.  The body can only store so much protein, so it’s useless to add more in the hopes of storing or using more.

Now it’s time for you to do the math.  Divide your body weight by .5 and .8 to find the recommended range of protein for you.  Then take a look at your typical day.  My guess is that you will find that you are getting more than enough protein.  If you’re not, add more plant based proteins (veggies more-so than grains/carbs).

We’ll dive deeper into the different types of proteins, and protein shakes in upcoming posts.

Until next time,




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