How Much Protein Do We Need?


For years I have felt that we as a society consume too much protein. It is a perpetual debate that has gone on for years, and is still going on. How much protein do we need?

In centuries past, meat was harder to acquire and was not eaten at every meal. Now that we have access to any type of food we want, meat is no longer as rare as it once was. Many people eat some type of meat with most meals currently.

Unfortunately we get confused by watching professional and amateur athletes who believe that they need to eat lots and lots of protein to get big and strong. There is some truth to that, when we are younger. As we age though, our nutritional requirements will change.

When we are young and growing, we need more protein to fuel the development of our bodies. Once we are fully grown, developed and in middle age, we need less protein to keep our bodies functioning well. Then as we get into our senior years, we actually need more protein then we did in middle age.

A study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism that studied our protein requirements and how it changes throughout the years. This study concluded that middle-aged people are less likely to die of cancer and other causes if they reduce their consumption of animal proteins. But after age 65 it is better to increase protein intake to combat muscle loss, maintain weight, and prevent frailty.

Researchers studied thousands of adults for almost two decades. They found that those who ate a diet high in animal protein were four times more likely to die compared to those who ate a low animal protein diet. This is a risk factor that is the same as smoking. The high protein diet eaters were also several times more likely to die of diabetes as well.

Valter Longo, one of the study’s co-authors, and a University of Southern California gerontology professor and director of their Longevity Institute said, “The great majority of Americans could reduce their protein intake. The best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins, but especially animal derived proteins.”

Longo goes on to say that too often researchers look at adulthood as one long, continuous period of life, rather than looking at how our bodies, and therefore our needs, change over our lifetime.

Eileen Crimmins, another co-author of the study, said that “At older ages, it may be important to avoid a low protein diet to allow maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty.”

In the study, a high protein diet was 20% calories from protein. A low protein diet was considered to be less than 10%.

How much protein we should consume remains a perpetual source of debate. Diets such as the Paleo Diet and Atkins Diets only confuse the situation. These diets are very protein oriented, and mostly focused on animal protein. They do result in weight loss, but are very hard on your system, and impossible to keep up consistently in the long term. Longo said that these diets could lead to worse health down the road.

I couldn’t agree more. I feel that any nutrition program that doesn’t let you eat fruits (because they are high in sugar, even though it is a different type of sugar than what is found in processed foods and desserts) and lets you eat as much bacon, sausage, etc as you want can’t be that good for you in the long term. This approach doesn’t make sense to me.

I believe that most of us eat way too much protein. We just don’t need protein at every meal, especially in middle age.

This sentiment is echoed by Longo who said that people are eating more than 2 to 3 times as much protein as they need to. Most of that is animal based protein and not coming from plants, nut, beans, etc.

Longo cites the recommendations of several top health organizations that recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day. This is equivalent to 150 pound person eating an 8-9 ounce piece of meat, or a few cups of beans, per day. That is all the protein we need during middle age.

We can’t treat our bodies the same throughout our life. Our bodies change and therefore our needs change. My body is not the same it was 10 years ago.

This pertains to exercise as well. As we age, our bodies change and we can’t exercise the way that we used to when we were 20, or even 30. As we age we lose the ability to recover quickly from all types of injuries and irritations, no matter how big or how small.

When you exercise, you create micro traumas in the muscles. You tear muscle fibers when exercising, which is why you get sore after exercising. Go too hard and overdo it, and you can get really sore. Sore enough to prevent you from exercising. Sore enough to cause an injury such as a muscle pull, sprain or strain, or worse. People who push themselves too hard in those extreme exercise systems such as p90X, Crossfit, Insanity can injure themselves badly enough to get rhabdomyolysis, which is when the muscle is pushed so hard that it explodes and spills it contents into the blood stream. This ruins the muscle permanently and can cause severe kidney damage.

As we age we lose the ability to recover injuries, no matter big or small, as quickly as we did when we were younger. Couple that with more wear and tear and on your muscles, joints, tendons over the years, and it gets harder and harder to recover from minor to major injuries.

If you are in your 50’s, if you try to exercise like you did when you were younger you would seriously hurt yourself enough to prevent you from exercising.

The only constant in life is change. Our bodies are changing constantly. We literally have a new body every 7 years. Our body actually remodels itself down to the cellular level every 7 years.

Be realistic about where you are in life pertaining to how you eat and how you exercise. If you are in middle age, don’t eat and exercise like you did when you were 20. If you are in your senior/golden years, then don’t eat and exercise like you did when you were in middle age. It makes sense.

Pain Free Lifestyle is easy on your body. It is easy to follow and easy to incorporate into your lifestyle. It can be altered and modified to fit your specific needs.

Appreciate where you are in life. Each stage of life has its’ own advantages and disadvantages. Be realistic about what stage you are in life. If you are not a professional athlete, there is no reason to train or eat like one. It is the Pain Free way.

Here are a few other articles that I wrote about protein and meat consumption:

Is It Safe To Eat Red Meat?

The Heart Disease Link To Red Meat

Is Red Meat Bad For You?

Vegetarians And Meat Eaters



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