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Protein and exercise: How much do I need to eat?

Protein Typewriter

The first month of the new year is almost gone and most of us are still trying to maintain our resolutions and get back in the gyms or out on the streets, trying to push our bodies into becoming leaner or fitter. And the question arises:

“Now that I exercise more, should I eat more protein or maybe even try those shakes that everyone swears by at the gym?”

Before you hit the stores searching for the best supplement in the market, let’s break down the basics about protein and how much you actually need.

Why do we need protein?

Protein, alongside carbohydrates and fats, is a macro-nutrient, the type of molecule our body uses as fuel for energy. Unlike carbs and fat though, protein is not really the most preferred source for providing energy. Instead, proteins are broken down to amino acids (building blocks of protein) which our bodies use to support functions like:

  • muscle/ tissue building and repairing

  • hormone and enzyme production, hence supporting neural function, digestion, growth and development

  • maintaining a healthy immune system by creating antibodies and supporting the body’s fighting mechanisms

  • substance transportation around the body (for example the oxygen is transferred around our blood attached to the protein haemoglobin)

Unfortunately, our bodies cannot store any extra dietary protein; instead most of the extra protein gets broken down to nitrogen and leaves our body during urination. That is why we need to ensure we take adequate protein from our diet to meet our daily requirements.

How much protein do we need?

The current guidelines suggest that most people need a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of their body weight (RDA of protein intake). However, since protein intake is directly related to building and maintaining muscle mass, an overall daily intake of 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg/day) may be more appropriate for active individuals.

For example, an active 80kg male would need to eat around 112 up to 160 grams of protein per day to support his body functions and his physical activity.

The optimal amount of daily protein intake depends on many parameters such as :

> Intensity and volume of training

Strenuous exercise may lead to a greater muscle breakdown compared to moderate, therefore more protein may be needed to rebuild and repair the muscles

>Type of training

Even though most studies focus on the benefit of protein intake on resistance training, studies show that adding protein during or after an intensive bout of endurance exercise can prevent muscular damage and reduce feeling of soreness even though it does not seem to improve endurance performance

>Training status of the participants (novice vs more advanced athletes, recreational “gym goers” vs competitive athletes),

>Daily energy intake and the goals they have set (lose weight, gain muscle mass etc)

Even though there have been concerns over the past years regarding the effect higher intakes of protein may have on blood lipids, kidney and liver function, studies in resistance trained males showed that even intake of 3.3g/kg of body weight did not have any harmful effects on any of those markers (however, it may be best to consult with a professional if you aim to follow a very high protein diet for a long term basis or you have any medical conditions)

Want to know more about how you can reach your daily requirements, which foods to choose and which protein supplement is best to top up your needs? Contact HP Nutrition here .


Jäger R, CM Kerksick, BI Campbell, PJ Cribb, SD Wells, TM Skwiat, M Purpura, TN Ziegenfuss, AA Ferrando, SM Arent, AE Smith-Ryan, JR Stout, PJ Arciero, MJ Ormsbee, LW Taylor1, CD Wilborn, DS Kalman, RB Kreider, DS Willoughby, L Breen, JR Hoffman, J Antonio. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 14:20, 2017, DOI: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8, 2017.

Antonio J., Ellerbroek A., Silver T., Vargas L., Tamayo A., Buehn R., Peacock C.A. A high protein diet has no harmful effects: A one-year crossover study in resistance-trained males. J. Nutr. Metab. 2016;2016:9104792. doi: 10.1155/2016/9104792.

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