Daily Protein Requirement


Your daily protein requirement is effected by several factors:

  • Activity level: the more active you are, the more protein you can eat. This is especially true of resistance type exercise such as weight lifting.
  • Essential protein intake: There are 9 amino acids (protein molecules) which the body cannot make, and so they must be obtained from the food we eat.
The USDA recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein intake is set to .36 grams per pound of body weight each day. This figure represents the minimum intake needed to maintain health in already healthy people. The protein requirements for those who are sick, injured or on a very low carb diet are different.

Recent studies have indicated that dietary protein has important roles in cell signaling, hunger and satiety, metabolic temperature regulation and blood sugar regulation, and that each of these roles is dependent upon optimal amounts of protein intake and the resulting amino acid availability in the body.

But there are differing opinions on the subject of a daily protein requirement from several highly respected authorities. I've summarized their positions, as I interpret them, below:

Dr. Ron Rosedale

Dr. Ron Rosedale , a pioneer in Leptin research, talks about protein requirements being lower than recommended by some. He discusses his reasoning here, and associates higher protein intakes with higher blood sugar.

Dr. Rosedale recommends 1 gram of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight, minus 10%. So for instance, if your ideal body weight is 150 pounds:

  • Divide 150 pounds by 2.2 = 68 kilograms
  • Multiply 68 x 1 = 68 grams of protein. Now subtract 10%.
  • Multiply 68 x 10% = 6.8 grams
  • 68 - 6.8 = about 61 grams of protein per day.

Dr. Donald Layman

Dr. Donald Layman, a nutrition professor and research scientist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been researching the effects of dietary protein for 3 decades.

He recently did a podcast with Jimmy Moore, and had some interesting things to say about protein consumption.

Dr. Layman's research on the effects of a daily protein requirement shows that:

  • Total amounts of protein are not the most important thing to track. He said it's more important to make sure that you get at least 30 grams of protein at each meal, balanced across 3 meals during the day.

  • Dr. Layman says consuming this amount at each meal is critical (especially for weight loss) because the 30 gram level of intake at each meal triggers a muscle response and increases mitochondrial biogenesis. This increase in protein synthesis and mitochondrial numbers increases thermogenesis (calorie burning). He said the energy expenditure of muscles involved in protein synthesis is greater than the expenditure when the muscle is doing intense exercise.

  • If you eat less than 30 grams of protein at each meal, there is no muscle effect. The protein is then wasted as simple calories. It gets converted to glucose or fat and lean tissue is lost.

  • Dr. Layman, when asked, said that consuming protein levels of up to 3 grams/kg ideal body weight of protein intake is safe. He has found in this research that most adults can’t eat more than 140 grams per day because of satiety issues. They are pretty full at that point.

  • He emphasized that protein intake should be consistent from meal to meal AND from day to day. Eating large amounts all at once is not good.

  • As for blood sugar and insulin response, Dr. Layman said his research shows that protein, and even branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) cause a much lower insulin response than that of glucose (the insulin response is only about 20% of what carb causes) and that protein causes a "Phase 1" short term response, where as carb causes a much longer term "Phase 2" response. It's this "Phase 2" response which is more detrimental.

    This makes sense to me and explains why eating protein and carb together (for instance, eating sweetened yogurt) causes a larger insulin spike. You get both a Phase 1 and Phase 2 response combined.



Lyle McDonald

Lyle McDonald, in his book The Ketogenic Diet explains that because of the metabolic adaptations which happen as the time spent on a ketogenic diet increases, the daily protein requirement is higher during the first three weeks on the diet than it is once the body has adapted through ketosis.

His calculations are based on what studies have shown about brain glucose requirements when carbohydrate or food intake is restricted.

At the beginning of a ketogenic diet, the brain requires a larger amount of glucose. To spare muscles from being converted to glucose to supply the brain, a dietary protein intake of 150 grams per day is suggested to minimize the loss of muscle mass to glucose production.

However, after 3 weeks on a ketogenic diet, the body has adapted to ketosis and the brain is using ketone bodies for fuel for the most part. This adaptation means a much smaller amount of glucose is needed for brain function. At this point, the daily protein requirement drops significantly, and only about 50 grams of dietary protein are needed per day to spare muscle mass. (He notes that intense exercise or a higher carb intake would alter these recommendations to some extent).

In the real world, I've found a good indicator which alerts me that I'm not eating enough protein - my eyes get very dry, especially at night. Eating more protein resolves the issue for me. I believe this has to do with the body reducing mucus production when protein intake is too low. (Lucas Tafur talks about this here).


Dr. Jeff Volek, Dr. Eric Westman, and Dr. Steve Phinney

In contrast, Dr. Westman, Dr. Phinney, and Dr. Volek recommend a higher protein intake. Their book "New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great" recommends a daily protein requirement as follows:

  Women Men
Height (in shoes, 1-inch heels) grams per day mid range ounces per day grams per day mid range ounces per day
4' 10" 63-125 13    
4' 11" 64-130 14    
5' 0" 65-135 14    
5' 1" 66-138 14    
5' 2" 70-145 15 74-154 16
5' 3" 71-149 15 75-157 17
5' 4" 71-149 16 76-159 17
5' 5" 73-152 16 78-162 17
5' 6" 75-156 16 79-165 17
5' 7" 76-159 17 81-168 18
5' 8" 78-162 17 82-171 18
5' 9" 80-166 18 84-175 18
5' 10" 81-169 18 86-178 19
5' 11" 83-173 18 87-182 19
6' 0" 85-176 19 89-186 20
6' 1"     91-190 20
6' 2"     93-194 21
6' 3"     95-199 21
6' 4"     98-204 21

These are daily totals. Remember to divide the total ounces by the number of meals you are eating. For instance, if your total daily protein requirement is 18 ounces of protein, and you eat three meals a day, you would divide 18 by 3, and eat 6 ounces of protein at each meal.

Here's a quick reference to help you figure out how to follow a daily protein requirement on a visual basis. An ounce of protein looks like:

  • An ounce of meat or chicken usually contains about 7 grams of protein, and visually is about the size of a car key remote.
  • A large egg contains about 6-7 grams of protein.
  • Fish contains about 7 grams of protein per ounce, and 3 ounces is about the size of a checkbook.
  • An ounce of hard cheese can contain between 6 and 7 grams of protein, and is the size of 4 dice put together in a block.

Other Sources of Information on Protein Requirements

There's an excellent blog post on the Ketotic.org website about protein requirements.

And here's a great interview with Dr. Jeff Volek on the individual variations in low carb diet implementation.



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