Having more muscle burns more calories! Every 3 pounds of muscle you add will burn 120 more calories a day! Now that I know you’re listening, let’s do a little math (ugh I know, math…. I’ll do this part for you). You need to burn 3,500 extra calories to lose a pound. Put that together, 120 calories a day is pretty much a pound of fat a month, before added exercise, if you add muscle to your body. So it’s simple right? Build more muscle, burn more calories, lose fat. Well, not quite. We need to make sure we are getting enough protein to build that muscle. Otherwise we could be losing muscle along with our fat as we burn calories.
Here comes some more math, so get ready… I’m going to break down your protein needs by activity level. If are not exercising at all, you need 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you are strength training, you need between 0.55 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Endurance athletes should consume at least 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Finally, people over 65 should consume at least 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. These numbers represent the amount of protein necessary to maintain and build muscle. To make it a little easier, I made this table. It shows the amount protein (in grams) you need based on your body weight (in pounds) and your activity level. You will notice there are 2 columns for strength training, they represent the range of protein intake for varies strength training intensities.
Now that you know how much you need, where can you get that protein?
First let’s focus on our food sources. Protein containing food basically falls into 2 categories: complete protein and incomplete protein. Complete Protein includes all essential amino acids in the appropriate ratios for maintaining homeostasis (the self-regulating process by which the body maintains stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for maintenance and growth). Incomplete proteins are those that are missing or have too low levels of one or more essential amino acids and therefore, by definition, do not completely satisfy our protein needs. Take a look at the table below to see examples of complete proteins and combinations of incomplete protein combinations to achieve full protein requirements. Also, look at the table showing how many grams of protein a typical serving of common foods.
So the big question is, are you getting enough protein? I know I'm not. Based on my weight an my activity level I should be getting around 80 grams of protein per day. A typical day for me includes yogurt and granola for breakfast (13 grams of protein), hummus and whole wheat pita with veggies for lunch (10 grams of protein if i'm generous), then usually chicken (or fish) with rice and veggies for dinner (30 grams of protein). That's less than 55 grams a day. If I was sedentary, that would be fine, but I'm working out hard 3-5 days per week. I need to supplement with protein shakes and protein bars.
Do a little math of your own. How much protein do you need in a day AND how much are you actually getting? What are your main protein sources? Do you need to consider protein supplements?