y now, I am sure you have all heard about the Australian woman, training for a bodybuilding competition, who died while on a high protein diet. If not, here is the article on cnn.com. There has been a lot of debate about high protein diets since this woman’s death; and I have had many clients asking how much protein they really need?
There is no need to be alarmed if you are eating more protein than the recommended 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. The woman that died from the high protein diet had a rare disorder called urea cycle disorder. A healthy urea cycle process involves a series of biochemical steps in which nitrogen, a waste product of protein metabolism, is removed from the blood and converted to urea. The urea is transferred into the urine and removed from the body. In urea cycle disorders, there is a mutation that results in a deficiency of the enzymes responsible for removing ammonia from the blood; which causes nitrogen accumulation in the form of ammonia, a highly toxic substance, resulting in hyperammonemia (elevated blood ammonia). Ammonia can then reach the brain through the blood, where it can cause irreversible brain damage, coma, or death. Please remember, this woman died due to her disorder; which caused the protein she was eating to not be metabolized correctly.
So, how much protein does a healthy person need? Personally, I am a fan of higher protein diets. Many dietitians may not agree with me, but the research just does not lie.
- A high protein diet can be beneficial in gaining muscle mass – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1qV9MnwlOU; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518828/
- Protein needs are higher if you are active – https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-4-8; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
- Protein increases satiety – http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1558S.full.pdf+html; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/41.long
- Higher protein diets may protect fat-free mass during energy deficit – https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/pubag/downloadPDF.xhtml?id=58116&content=PDF; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19927027/
The normal recommendation for protein is 0.8 g/kg body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, divide 150 by 2.2 to get to kilograms, which is 68.1 kg; then times 68.1 by 0.8, which is 54 grams of protein. Does this seem like a small amount to anyone else? This would be equivalent to 5 eggs in the morning, 4 ounces of chicken for lunch, and 4 ounces of salmon for dinner. What about cottage cheese, yogurt, nuts, milk, lentils, or beans? I absolutely eat higher protein than the recommendation – I eat more like 0.8 – 1.0 gram per pound body weight. Most of the protein I eat comes from: eggs, chicken, turkey, beans, lentils, cottage cheese, cheese, and nuts and nut butters.
My recommendation is to spread protein out throughout the day, aiming for 20-30 grams per meal and 10-15 grams per snack, especially if you are active. Don’t be scared to consume protein if you are an active person – it is needed!