The truth about protein and athletic performance: How much do you *really* need?

‘He said science was going to discover the basic secret of life some day,’ the bartender put in. He scratched his head and frowned. ‘Didn’t I read in the paper the other day where they’d finally found out what it was?’

‘I missed that,’ I murmured.

‘I saw that,’ said Sandra. ‘About two days ago.’

‘That’s right,’ said the bartender.

‘What is the secret of life?’ I asked.

‘I forget,’ said Sandra.

‘Protein,’ the bartender declared. ‘They found out something about protein.’

— Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

Apologies for the long, dweeby intro. It had to be done. Now:

We’ve all seen him: the guy in the gym who seems to spend as much time chugging a protein smoothie as he does working out and spends half a paycheck each month on supplements.

Though the protein-guzzling gym rat is an extreme example, Jared Rice, a registered dietitian and an ACSM-certified Health and Fitness Specialist, says the prevalence of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets (think Atkins in the ’90s and the Paleo diet these days) and a host of misconceptions about protein’s role in athletic performance have created a “society of protein junkies.”

“I think the biggest misconception about protein, especially among people eating an American diet, is that we’re not getting all of it that our bodies need on a daily basis,” Rice says.

Below, Rice and registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield debunk several popular myths about protein and athletic performance.

Myth 1: You’re not getting enough protein in your daily diet.

Though protein requirements vary based on age, gender, size, body fat percentage, activity levels, and other factors, most people need roughly 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, says Rice, a triathlete. That’s roughly 80 grams of protein per day for an 180-pound man (81 kilograms x 1 = 81 grams protein). Most Americans eat that much protein easily without modifying their diet, he says.

To read more, visit Washingtonian’s Well + Being blog.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The truth about protein and athletic performance: How much do you *really* need?

  1. chasingthekenyans

    I eat Paleo most days and I’m a vegetarian (well I eat fish and eggs). I think it is just popular interpretation (maybe even mis-interpretation) that the diet is high-protein. I’m sure many of the meatheads that eat Paleo do probably OD on protein, I won’t argue that. Anyway, to me Paleo = all organic, no processed, no grains or white potatoes. This leaves you with meats, veggies, fruits and sweet potatoes. That’s how I eat anyway (sans meat). But like I said, I won’t argue that most people probably go nuts on protein. I agree that we don’t we need as much as we’ve been told / people think you need.

    • Really good point—it’s worth noting that the Paleo diet doesn’t mandate going heavy on the protein so much as it is, almost by definition, extremely low in carbohydrates (unless you really hit the sweet potatoes and fruits hard). And of course, as you point out, it often ends up being an extremely high-protein diet for the meat-eaters of the world, though that’s certainly not the intent or focus. Thanks for weighing in … and cheers to the idea of eating fewer processed foods, and lots of plants!

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