Are you confused about PROTEIN

Are you confused about PROTEIN?

Protein seems like a straight forward topic- eat your chicken breast…grow your muscles.

But when I asked a small group of athletes and gym members, most of them seemed confused about everything from how much they should consume to the best sources of protein for meat and non-meat eaters.

Protein powders was its own source of confusion.

Let's break down some facts about protein.

Merriam Webster English dictionary defines protein as "any of various naturally occurring extremely complex substances that consist of amino-acid residues joined by peptide bonds, contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulfur, and occasionally other elements (such as phosphorus or iron), and include many essential biological compounds (such as enzymes, hormones, or antibodies)".

Most people just think of it as a substance found in meat, fish and eggs that you need in order to grow muscle mass and be healthy.

The most common question about protein is "How much do I need?" (1 gram of protein has 4 calories).

Like most health-related things there is not one size fits all answer.

I weigh 140 pounds. I plugged my info into various sites. Here are my results:

  • Mayo Clinic - 81g
  • USDA – 56g
  • - 200g

So, I did what I always do when I have a complicated health and fitness question – I asked Terry Balder (NASM-CPT, FNS, Pro Natural Bodybuilder, Co-Owner of Fitness Evolution).

Terry suggests the following:

  • Start logging your current intake so you know where you are
  • Then increase your protein intake slowly (make sure to find ways to add real food protein sources to your meals).
  • As you add and adjust amounts keep your current goals in minds – building muscle mass vs losing weight.
  • Most people will settle between .75 and 1 gram per pound of body weight with this method.

The second most common question I encountered was “is it possible to get too much protein?” The answer is a strong YES.

The body cannot store protein. After metabolic needs are met the excess is used for energy or stored as fat. Extra protein can also be taxing on the kidneys for some members of the population. The Mayo Clinic defines excessive protein as over 2g per kg of bodyweight per day.

I put together a list of the most common protein sources:


  • Eggs – 6g
  • Greek Yogurt 23g/8oz
  • Cottage Cheese 14g/.5 c
  • Whey or Casein Protein Powder 24g/scoop
  •  Peanut Butter 8g/2T
  • Mixed Nuts 6g/2oz
  • Soba noodles, green peas, edamame and quinoa are also good non-meat sources.


  • Pork 26g/3oz
  • Chicken/Turkey 24g/3oz
  • Steak 23g/3oz
  • Ground Beef 18g/3oz
  • Fish such as yellow fin tuna, halibut, octopus, tuna and tilapia average 20-25g/3oz

People often worry about the timing of protein. The best advice is to spread the intake throughout the day. Be sure to get a good amount (about 20g) with breakfast to help stave off hunger during the day.

There is a period of about 45 minutes after a hard workout where the muscles are primed to take up protein -- 15-25g is the recommended amount at this time. Spread the rest throughout the remaining meals and snacks.

Protein in and of itself does not build muscle. Strength training builds muscle. Protein aids in this process but in the absence of exercise will simply serve as fuel and then be stored as fat.

Protein powder is another area of confusion. Some basic guidelines:

  • About 200 or less calories
  • 2g or less of saturated fat
  • No trans-fat or partially hydrogenated oils
  • 5g of sugar or less
  • And remember that protein powder is a supplement and should not be your primary source of protein.

However, there are many different kinds of protein powders, each with their own list of pros and cons.

In fact, the topic would make a great June blog post! :)

Stay tuned…

In the meantime, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Megan Leipholtz, Certified Personal Trainer