One of the questions that nutritionists and personal trainers are asked fairly routinely is the question of how much protein that’s required to support the growth and maintenance of the human body at different life stages and under contrasting circumstances. I’ve previously offered my take on this issue in several regular articles here on the site, as well as in a previous edition of Ask Eirik; however, I haven’t provided a list of the main factors that affect one’s protein requirements or summarized my recommendations regarding how to achieve a prudent protein intake. This is something I’ve now done…
Is it really necessary to keep track of how much protein one takes in?
Over time, I’ve moved farther and farther away from the evolutionarily novel practise of striving to reach a particular protein intake level and counting the number of grams of protein that one takes in, which is a fairly common approach to protein consumption within many parts of the health and fitness community. It’s also an approach I’m personally familiar with, as it’s the one I adhered to in my late teens, at a time when I was heavy into strength training and bodybuilding.
I recognize that protein is important and have previously suggested that most people would benefit from deriving >20% of the total calories they take in from this macronutrient – a recommendation that is consistent with the evolutionary nutrition model (1, 2, 3, 4); however, I think it’s unnecessary to go around worrying about exactly how much protein one takes in. Rather, I prefer to put my faith in the human biology, which has systems for regulating appetite and desires for protein built into it. I think it’s not only unnecessary, but potentially injurious, to consistently take in more protein than one desires on the basis of the outputs generated by these regulatory instances.
The power of this feature of the human design is clearly highlighted by studies on protein leverage, which have shown that humans, as well as a number of other organisms that have been scientifically examined, prioritize protein in the regulation of nutrient intake (5, 6, 7, 8). When considering that protein is fundamentally required to build and maintain living things, this doesn’t come as a surprise.
What’s important to recognize though is that one can’t expect one’s body to prudently regulate one’s nutrient intake if one doesn’t cooperate with it and set it up for success by paying attention to the composition of one’s meals and making an effort to avoid noxious foods. This is something I’ve tried to highlight in the infographic below, which summarizes my general approach to protein consumption.