The Importance of Protein
Proteins are the building blocks of life and every liv- ing cell uses them for both structural and functional purposes. They are long chains of amino acids linked together like beads on a string, then folded into com- plex shapes. There are 9 essential amino acids that we must get from the diet and 12 that are non-essential, which the body can produce out of other organic mole- cules. The quality of a protein source depends on its amino acid profile. The best sources of protein in the diet con- tain all the essential amino acids in ratios that are appropriate for humans.
In this regard, animal proteins are better than plant proteins, which makes perfect sense given that the muscle tissues of animals are very similar to our own tissues.
The health authorities recommend an intake of 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women, varying between individuals based on age, body weight, activity levels, and some other factors. While this meager intake may be enough to prevent downright deficiency, it is not in any way sufficient to optimize health and body composition. People who are physically active or lift weights are going to need a lot more than that.
How Much Protein is Too Much?
The body is in a constant state of flux, constantly breaking down and rebuilding its own tissues. Under certain circumstances, our need for protein can increase. This includes periods of sickness or increased physical activity.
We need to consume enough protein for these processes to occur. However, if we eat more than we need, the excess protein will be broken down and used for energy. Even though a relatively high protein intake is healthy and safe, eating massive amounts of protein is unnatural and may cause harm. Traditional popula- tions got most of their calories from fat or carbs, not protein.
Although I don’t know of any study that demon- strates exactly when it becomes harmful, I’d say that 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2 grams per kg) or 30-40% of calories should be safe, but going beyond that is uncharted territory. I personally eat about 100-150 grams of protein per day, but on work- out days I eat about 200 grams because I like to have some whey protein right after my workouts. Keep in mind that athletes need more protein than sedentary individuals, especially strength athletes or bodybuilders.
Take Home Message
In my opinion, the idea that protein is harmful to humans is one of the more ridiculous myths out there. Our species evolved as meat eaters, not to mention the fact that we’re literally made of meat. How could something we’re made of be bad for us? It just doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day, there is no evidence that a high protein intake causes harm and plenty of evidence showing benefits. If you have healthy kidneys, then it’s probably best to be on the side of a higher protein intake, rather than lower.
For the majority of people, there is no reason to be concerned about the exact number of grams of protein in the diet. If you eat healthy, unprocessed animal foods every day, then your protein intake should automatically land in a safe and healthy range.