Low Carb

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

How much of this should you really eat?

How much is too much?

As we discussed last week, excessive protein is turned into glucose and then to fat. But how much protein is excessive? That’s the real question that stirs up all kinds of controversy. The Recommended Daily Allowance for an adult is 0.8 g/kg per day. How did we get that number? Let’s start at the beginning.

First, I am only dealing with the steady state here. If you are trying to build muscle (body building) then you would need more protein. If you are pregnant or breast feeding or a child still growing, then protein requirements are higher because you are trying to add protein to your body. This discussion only deals with adults at a relatively stable state.

What protein is – and why we need it

Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids, of which there are about 20 common ones. While we talk about protein requirements, really the body needs amino acids. This makes up about 16% of the weight of protein, so that if you eat 56 grams of steak, you do not get 56 grams of protein, but really require about 6 times more by weight (approximately).

Proteins are being degraded and resynthesized continuously. Old proteins get broken down, and the amino acids are reabsorbed to be built into new proteins. The amount of turnover is several times larger than the amount of amino acids eaten daily. However, some amino acids do get lost in the process, so we require a certain amount of protein intake. This is lost predominantly in the stool and the urine. Sweat, hair, nails etc make up a miniscule proportion of the lost amino acids.

marasmusAmino acids cannot be stored for long term energy. Any protein eaten in excess needs to be converted to glucose or fat for storage. Nine amino acids are called ‘essential’ amino acids because our body cannot synthesize them – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanin, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. We must get these from our diet or we will get malnourished. There are also essential fatty acids such as the omega 3 and 6. There are no essential carbohydrates.

No, we do not ‘need’ to eat 130 grams of glucose daily for our brain. It’s a complete lie. Fasting for 1 day does not cause our brains to become ‘starved of glucose’ as we become blubbering idiots and lose control of bowel and bladder. I would vote that widely circulated ‘fact’ as ‘most idiotic statement not made by Donald Trump.

Kwashiorkor

What happens if we get too little protein? This can occur in isolation, or it can occur as part of a general lack of food. If there is general starvation (no food at all), then there is not only protein deficiency, but also carbohydrate and fat deficiency, too. Obviously, people become skeletally thin, with no body fat, and loss of muscle. This is called marasmus.

kwashiorkorBut there is also a situation where people get sufficient calories, but very little protein. This typically occurs in third world countries where people have some form of food, but almost no protein.

People are usually subsisting on refined carbohydrates alone, which come from food shipments donated by First World countries. These refined carbs (sugar, flour, rice, corn) provide calories at a fraction of the cost of protein, and do not require refrigeration during the long trip. So, in the 1970s and early 1980s, protein deficiency was rampant – called kwashiorkor. You see swollen feet, loss of muscles in the arms and legs, hair loss, and a big swollen fatty liver (due to excess carbs).

So, for all the teeth gnashing I heard about how we must eat lots of protein, remember that we are nowhere close to protein deficiency since kwashiorkor is virtually non-existent in the developed nations. It exists primarily in war-torn nations who get food aid.

How much protein is enough?

This would depend upon how much is lost from the body daily. This varies depending upon intake. More protein intake means more turnover of protein and more losses. Less intake means less turnover. So there is quite a variation. It is also energy-dependent. That is, if you are trying to achieve negative energy balance (lose weight) then you need LESS protein. Why? Because there is all sorts of protein loss associated with fat loss. There is less skin, connective tissue, capillaries, blood, dermis etc associated with weight loss – all of which need to be catabolized (burned up and not replaced).

Think about those bariatric surgery shows on TLC where surgeons remove 20-30 pounds of excess skin after weight loss. Yes, that’s all protein that should have been catabolized. As an aside, in my clinic where we do a lot of intermittent fasting, I have not yet sent a single patient to the plastic surgeon for removal of excess skin, loose-skin-after-weight-loss-652x400-1-1465991756even though weight loss sometime is over 100 pounds.

Back to the normal daily amount. In 1985, the WHO reviewed studies of daily obligatory losses of nitrogen, and found that an average is 0.61 g/kg/day (total). Presumable, the diet should replace (roughly) this 0.61 g/kg/day being lost. Remember, this average is for normal healthy people, not people losing muscle or otherwise sick.

So the international group recommended that normal healthy people should get roughly 0.6 g/kg/day. In order to make sure everybody was covered, the WHO added 25% (2 standard deviations) above the mean to get 0.75 g/kg/day which sometimes gets rounded up to 0.8 g/kg/day. In other words, 97.5% of the healthy general population loses less than this 0.75 g/kg/day of amino acids. This is not a low standard. This is a very, very high standard of protein intake.

For a standard 70-kg male this is 52.5 g/day. Remember this is for absolutely healthy adults, not gaining or losing weight and the amount needed to cover the average amino acid losses are only 42 g/day (0.6 g/kg/day). Remember that if you want to lose weight, you should be eating less protein so that you can break some down. For reference, the USDA in 1985 determined that in the US, 14-18% of calories were protein and the average consumption is 90-110 g/day (male) and 70 g/day (female). So the average male is eating twice the recommended amount, which is already super high. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

Are long term high-protein diets harmful?

Hard to say. There is some suggestion that high animal protein intake may cause osteoporosis. Many of these proteins are acidic, which require neutralization in the body. This acid is buffered in the bones and then eventually the acid is excreted as phosphoric acid. Because bone consists of Calcium bound to phosphorus, there is extra calcium which gets excreted in the urine. This leads to higher urinary calcium losses and potentially osteoporosis.

Also, there is concern that long term high-protein intake may cause scarring in the kidneys, although this is not proven.

So, how much protein should you take? The average necessary would be 0.6 g/kg/day (around 50 g/day) and LESS if you are trying to lose weight. However, I have seen recommendations that vary widely. Some suggest 120 g/day. Drs. Phinney and Volek recommend 1.5–2 g/kg/day. Yowzers. That’s super high. Do I worry about protein deficiency? No. When I start seeing a North American outbreak of kwashiorkor, I’ll be worried. Until then, the average intake is still 2-3 times what is physiologically necessary.

Dr. Ron Rosedale, in fact, suggests going even lower. In a fascinating Low Carb Vail talk, he said “Your health, and likely your lifespan, will be determined by the proportion of fat versus sugar you burn in your lifetime”. Remember that excess protein falls into the ‘burning sugar’. He also said in that talk, to a group of Low Carb aficionados that “today, it is perhaps more important to restrict protein than to restrict carbohydates”. Strong words, indeed. I tend to agree.


Jason Fung

Earlier

Why Low Carb Is High in Fat – Not Protein

Protein Intake – Effects on Aging, Longevity and Cancer – Dr. Ron Rosedale4.4 out of 5 stars5 stars70%4 stars13%3 stars7%2 stars0%1 star8%112 ratings11231:12

More

Low Carb for Beginners

How to Lose Weight

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Earlier with Dr. Jason Fung

Practical Tips for Fasting

The Common Currency in Our Bodies Is Not Calories – Guess What It Is?

Why the First Law of Thermodynamics Is Utterly Irrelevant

How to Fix Your Broken Metabolism by Doing the Exact Opposite

More with Dr. Fung

Dr. Fung has his own blog at intensivedietarymanagement.com. He is also active on Twitter.

His book The Obesity Code is available on Amazon.

The Obesity Code


Low Carb Made Easy How to Lose Weight Low-Carb Recipes Low-Carb Success Stories

29 Comments

  1. Heather
    I just wanted to clarify if protein is calculated based on kilo of total weight, or kilo lean body mass?
  2. Eunice
    I also have some confusion after reading the above by Dr. Fung. Previously I read that protein was calculated as: 1 g protein for every kilo of lean body weight ( that is ideal or goal body weight)but now it seems like it should be less if you are trying to loose weight. I have lost 47 lbs in 4 months, but I have met a plateau...... perhaps I need to eat less protein. I am female 71 years old and restricted activity, and still need to loose between 80 to 90 lbs. My question is should I lower my protein to .5 g / lb of ideal body weight? I am no longer t2 diabetic nor do I have high BP, I do IF eating only 1 or 2 meals a day. Thank you Dr. Fung for your information and concern for all of us.
  3. Mary
    "The average necessary would be 0.6 g/kg/day (around 50 g/day) and LESS if you are trying to lose weight."

    But then how much is that "less" in average?
    0.5? 0.2?
    Is there a formula to help someone who wants to lose weight to accurately calculate the right amount of "less" protein?

  4. Sara
    Gosh, this is too much of everything for me! One of them says decrease protein to 0,6 g/kg; another advises even 120 g daily and decreasing fat for weight loss. Really confused. I weigh 53 kg, so it means 32 g of protein for me!
  5. gbl
    Restricting protein more important than restricting carbs? Now we are reducing both of these, what are we eating?
  6. gbl
    Two scrambled eggs with butter at noon-ish and one roasted chicken breast some other meal and I'm over the recommended protein intake?

    "4-ounce roasted chicken breast gives you more than 35 grams of protein."

    Andreas et al, this seems to contradict "eat (what?) until satiety." Also aren't NUTRITION needs a valued concern here, not protein perhaps, but the rest of the body needs?

  7. Alex
    So what's the best protein intake for children?
  8. Pierre
    Funny can't post link?

    So you are kept in the dark.

  9. gbl
    Annnnnnd... if you're still not confused enough remember "eat less fat if you're on a plateau?"
  10. 1 comment removed
  11. Apicius
    I use a simpler rule with protein. I eat the volume equivalent of 1 to 2 hands. Some days I eat less (1 hand) and other days I'm more hungry I eat up to 2 hands volume. So, look at your hands...imagine the volume of protein (eggs, steak, fish, chicken breast, etc) to replace the size of your hands. So, if you eat 2 meals per day, just eat between 0.5 and 1 hand volume per meal. That's it. Simple.
  12. gbl
    Hand, or palm?
  13. Pierre
    Summary
    It is important to get enough protein. We looked at the RDA, and that is certainly too low, so we looked for other sources of evidence. We also tried to determine if some common conditions would alter the amount needed, without coming to any strong conclusions.

    We wanted to find evidence that would be relevant to ketogenic dieters in particular. Studies based on the Protein-Sparing Modified Fast don't match our needs exactly, since we eat lots of fat, but at least the participants were in ketosis. Based on those studies, we think females need at least 1.2 g/kg of ideal body weight, and men at least 1.4.

    However, we still don't know how high protein can be before it interferes with ketosis, and this is likely to vary by individual. Moreover, we don't know if it would be better for your health to have just the minimum, or to have substantially more. It is certainly plausible that having more would allow for better functioning.

    by L. Amber O'Hearn

    http://www.ketotic.org/2014/01/how-much-protein-is-enough.html

  14. gbl
    Thank you Pierre. What about those of us with gout or arthritis?

    We are urged to eat foods that are fatty. Or olive oil. Apart from olives, what Olive oil rich protein foods are there? What do we eat for protein if we really cannot eat meat (and other gout inducers like cheese, nuts) almost every meal?

    Reply: #15
  15. Pierre
    You can take a look to spirulina.

    But it is very expensive and you should consult a doctor before taking spirulina.

  16. gbl
    I'm not asking what we can take. I thought we were over that.

    My question is should we eat meat so often and so much. Don't many older and Diabetic people get gout? I'd guess yes.

    Reply: #17
  17. Pierre
    I think that when you stop eating junk food and you start eating a low carb diet will real food , then a lot of diseases and inflammation disappear.

    For example, fructose increase uric acid that causes gout. So a low carb diet will be a step in the good direction.

    Also what do you mean by eating meat so often and so much?

  18. gbl
    Meat every day: Is there anyone here not eating meat, cheese, eggs every day? All high Gout inducers.
  19. Dora
    Yes, I eat meat only 3 times on week, I eat more fish (I live close the see). And I don"t eat cheese, eggs every day. And, Pierre has the right, I stoped eat junk food 9 months ago and my gastritic problems disappear.
  20. gbl
    What is your protein source then other times you don't eat meat. Stopping junk food does not provide protein. That is the answer to a different question.

    We need approximately 50 gr of protein or maybe higher as Andreas has indicated, per day. So what is your source? I'd like to adopt what you're doing.

    Pierre I'm sure stopping junk food is a positive move, if that applies. I've never eaten junk food.

  21. Dora
    When I don"t eat meat I usually eat fish or eggs or cheese.
  22. gbl
    I could increase my fish consumption, but it will be frozen, and not high fat. I'll have to add fatty sauces.

    I like Salmon. It's $30 plus a kilogram here, so $3 plus per 100 gram. I do eat the kinds of canned fish I can get as low-salt.

    Many thanks.

  23. Matthew Klein
    Clarification from the authors would be great here!!! The units may be correct but there is definitely confusion among average readers like myself. I've seen the 0.8-1.0 g/pound of body weight used by the "keto gains" community.
  24. Linda thoresen
    While the question hasn't come up here, I did read it this morning and think it's worth reiterating quite often that 30 g of a protein rich food like meat, fish etc has 5 or 6 grams of actual protein. Sometimes I wonder if people are calculating their protein on the actual protein rather than the ratio. I've a 100g steak will have 17 g of protein. Much more satisfying and true for the fat protein ratio we need. Then you calculate your needs as described above by Matthew Klein. Best wishes everyone.
  25. Laurie
    So I'm going to jump off the protein consumption subject and onto the protein catabolizing subject. Am I understanding correctly what was referred to - that basically if a person gives it time when they lose massive amounts of weight, that their skin will indeed shrink to fit around their reduced frame? They need not go to a plastic surgeon to remove excess skin? The body will eventually use it as a protein source, IF the person stays on a low carb, lower than needed protein profile?
    Reply: #29
  26. gbl
    Linda. Here's a good nutrition analysis site: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/poultry-products/699/2
  27. Roel
    Dear Mr. Fung & Mr. Andreas,

    After reading this article I am confused. Would it be possible to create a GUIDE section specifically for loose skin ? Topics could include.

    1. Introduction and how to prevent loose skin when on a weight loss.
    2. What exactly is recommended to eat? is it per body weight (including muscle, water and fat) or per lean muscle body weight or ideal body weight (just to be more specific).
    3. Recommendations and pictures of portion sizes if possible.
    4. Perhaps other topics that are relevant to loose skin.

    I've lost 20 kg and is planning to loose even more, loose skin is always on my mind and I know for sure that it is a topic on allot of other peoples mind when on a weight loss mission.
    I eat once a day and fast for 24 hours straight, I only drink water, coffee and tea. My daily meal consists of minced meat with fat (size is a portion of my hand palm) with added olive oil, granulated Parmesan cheese and two sticks of normal cheese.

    From what I've read from this article, I am eating more protein than what I should've been eating to reduce loose skin.

    Please update or create a guide to remove the confusion.

    Kind Regards

  28. Warren
    Roel,

    I can't answer any of your questions, but if your meal doesn't have any veggies at all you aren't doing your long term health any favours. Congrats on losing 20kg.

  29. Jessica
    Laurie, I think that's what Dr. Fung is saying. Based on this, I am going to stop using bone broth during fasting, and switch to quick broth (only simmered for a little while) and I'm also going to reduce my protein consumption during my eating period. I carried twins to full term and I already have a lot of excess skin. If I could lose that, it would be friggin' amazing.
  30. Mette
    Does protein from plants (seed, cabage etc) also "count" in the 50 grams?
    Since they don't contain (or much less) amino acids, which seems to be the "problem" here?

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