How To Find Your Ideal Protein Intake
Part of being Bulletproof is self-experimentation. Everyone’s biology is unique, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for living well.
That includes food. Bulletproof offers an excellent free guide to upgrading your diet, and within that framework is plenty of room to personalize and figure out what works best for you. Finding your ideal carb intake is a good example: based on your personal biology, you may do best on 30 grams of carbs a day, or you may perform better on 150 grams.
How much protein you eat is just as flexible. Both the type and amount of protein you eat depend on your lifestyle. Here’s a quick guide to protein: both the best kinds, and how to find your ideal protein intake.
What is the best protein for your body?
First, let’s chat about types of protein.
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids, and eight of them are essential – that means your body doesn’t make them, so you have to get them from food.
In general, you want complete proteins, which are proteins with meaningful amounts of all eight essential amino acids. Meat, fish, and eggs are all complete protein sources. The most Bulletproof options are:
- Grass-fed beef and lamb
- Pasture-raised pork
- Wild-caught fish (Alaskan salmon pairs protein with a big dose of omega-3s)
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed whey protein
Incomplete proteins from nuts, vegetables, and starches are helpful, but they aren’t enough on their own. Ideally, most of the protein you eat will be complete.
One big exception to the rule is collagen. Collagen is not a complete protein, but it’s especially high in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, the three main amino acids that your body uses to make connective tissue. Collagen provides your body with the building blocks for:
- Smoother, more elastic skin
- Faster wound healing
- More resilient joints and ligaments
If you’re looking for one of those specific benefits, consider adding 10g-30g of hydrolyzed, grass-fed collagen to your daily routine.
You don’t, however, want to use collagen for muscle-building. A complete protein will increase muscle synthesis. For post-workout protein, you’re better off using grass-fed whey or enjoying a grass-fed steak.
To sum up: ideally, you want to get complete protein from animal sources. One exception is collagen, depending on your goals. Now let’s talk about how much protein to eat.
How much protein to eat for fat loss, muscle gain, and recovery
How to maintain body weight: 0.4g protein/lb bodyweight
A good starting point is 0.4 grams protein for every pound you weigh. A 120-lb. woman, for example, would eat 48 grams of protein a day (120 x 0.4 = 48).
If you’re healthy and sedentary, this should be enough protein for maintenance. In fact, some studies find that 0.4-0.5 g/lb is enough to maintain lean muscle for people who are working out. At this level, you probably won’t gain muscle, but you won’t lose it either. Notice that this is far less protein than many diets recommend.
How to build muscle: 0.8g protein/lb bodyweight
If you work out regularly, opt for about 0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight. Rebuilding torn up muscles takes a lot of amino acids. You want to provide your body with plenty of raw material to grow.
Again, you don’t need to overdo it. A study of people doing heavy strength training 90 minutes a day, six days a week, found that they didn’t benefit from going above 0.75 g/lb. On top of that, a 2011 review of research on optimal protein intake for athletes and bodybuilders settled on 0.82 g/lb as the ideal amount for muscle-building.
But what about all those studies showing that you get crazy gains from several hundred grams of protein a day?
Most studies that show significant benefit from higher protein were funded by protein powder/supplement companies and conducted by researchers working for those companies. Unbiased research shows that 0.8g/lb is plenty of protein to build muscle.
How to burn fat: ~1.0g protein/lb bodyweight
If you’re looking to lose weight, increasing protein will help. Protein is more satiating than fat or carbs. It also increases thermogenesis, meaning you’ll burn more fat if you eat higher protein.
If you start craving sugar, scale back your protein a bit. You need glucose to break down protein, and you don’t need cravings standing in the way of your goals.
How to speed recovery: ~1.0g protein/lb bodyweight (with ~30g from collagen)
When you’re injured, your body uses extra protein to rebuild damaged tissue. The amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline speed up wound recovery and support joint, bone, and tissue damage. Collagen is rich in all three. To get back on your feet faster, shoot for 1g protein/lb bodyweight a day total, with ~30g coming from hydrolyzed collagen.
This is a starting point. You have to take your own biology and lifestyle into account when determining your individual protein needs. Age, diet, pregnancy, lactation, and activity level all factor into your personal protein requirement. With some experimentation, you’ll zero in on what works for you.
Of course, you’ll want to balance your protein with lots of high-performance, hormone-supporting fats and enough green veggies to stuff a moose. Check out this free infographic on what foods will help you upgrade your biology. And if you want more about building muscle, these two articles are great places to start. Thanks for reading and have a stellar week.
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