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Too Much? Not Enough? How To Perfect Your Protein Intake

Find out how much protein you need and the best protein sources for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
Max Cotton

As a personal trainer, I get asked lots of questions about protein. Am I eating enough to build muscle? Can you eat too much protein? What are the best high-protein foods? Will protein make me fat or ‘get big’?

The information on protein available online is a minefield of misinformation. From entire industries preaching powdered protein to varying recommendations on how many grams per pound of body weight we should be eating.

In this article, we’re giving you the goldilocks answer to protein intake, exactly how much you should be aiming to eat according to your goals, and which foods to reach for and avoid.

Ready for the ultimate lesson in protein? Let’s get into it.

How to calculate how much protein you need

Whatever your goals, increasing your exercise output increases your body’s protein requirements. Protein won’t do much to stop your aching muscles (aka delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS), but it will help make the pain worth it. Protein helps your muscles recover from exercise, which is essential for fat loss, muscle gain, or any athletic goal.

Be reassured that most people with fitness goals are protein-deficient in line with what they want to achieve. If you only eat protein at lunch and dinner, or if you’re vegetarian or vegan, consuming just 50-60g of protein per day is pretty standard.

However, if you’re training a lot (3-5 times per week at a high intensity), it's important to aim for 0.7-1g of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you’re doing a bit less, I think it’s reasonable and achievable to aim for 100g+ of protein per day as a loose target to aid recovery. It’s easy to calculate that from the nutritional information on the foods you eat.

At Another Round, our goal is to gradually increase your protein levels without making it feel unnatural or unsustainable. It’s also better to spread your protein intake throughout the day rather than try and get it into 1-2 meals.

What are the best protein-rich foods?

For most people, breakfasts are the most protein-light meal, with most morning food being carb-heavy (bread, pastries, fruit, cereals). Protein cereals like ELEAT are great for getting protein into your breakfast without adding a huge amount of calories or having to cook eggs, meat or eat something weird. Plus, it’s vegan!

Snack-wise, we recommend snacking on fruit over sweets or pastry, but to get your protein up easily, you can add Greek yoghurt or a protein shake. I love a scoop of chocolate protein powder in 200g 0% greek yoghurt in the evenings – 300 calories and 40g protein.

Are protein shakes good for you? Standard protein shakes are excellent as a supplement. However, if you have them as meal replacements, make sure they include extra calories, carbohydrates, fat and vitamins.

If you’re dieting, look for high-protein low-cal swaps. If you’re a meat-eater, turkey or lean beef might be a good option. If you're vegetarian or vegan, try incorporating tofu and replacement meats (textured vegetable protein is a member favourite!) or up the protein ingredients in your dish – beans, pulses, and broccoli will help you add more protein. Of course, meat-eaters can leverage this too.

It’s worth tracking your food to know if you’re getting enough protein. It’s easy to think you are until you complete a food diary and realise you’re in the sub 60g per day range. You can either note your protein quantities in a food tracking app or just check your amount from the labels on your food.

What happens if you get too much protein?

Unless you’re sensitive to a type of protein such as whey, there’s not usually much of an issue with going over your protein number. High protein diets are generally very satiating, meaning you might even find it easier to eat fewer calories overall if you’re dieting.

If protein accounts for over 50% of your calories, it might not leave enough room for carbs and fat to train well and feel good. It’s also worth bearing in mind that living by calories and macros doesn’t always account for nutrients, so make sure you’re getting at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day for a complete nutrition profile.

Will protein make me fat or ‘get big’?

Your body can only process so much protein at a time (usually 20-30g every 1.5-2 hours), though this does vary slightly from person to person. If you eat more than this, you’ll likely excrete it through urine if you’re in a calorie deficit or add it as muscle or fat in a calorie surplus.

Increasing your protein intake won't automatically make you big. You will gain muscle if you're eating in a high-protein calorie surplus and following a consistent strength training programme. On the flip side, a high-protein diet with resistance training is best if your goal is to lose weight or become more toned.

You should treat your protein intake like water intake. You don’t drink all your daily water in one sitting, as you’ll urinate most of the excess that your body can take in at that time. If possible, spread out your protein intake throughout the day. For example, if your target is 150g of protein per day, this is better consumed as five portions of 30g rather than three portions of 50g.

It’s very easy to be protein deficient and, unlike a vitamin deficiency, it won’t usually impact your quality of life, but it will mean you’re not making the most of your exercise and not giving your body what it needs to recover and repair.

If you want to see more progress in your aesthetics and function, I always recommend looking at your calorie and protein input; you’d be surprised at what advances you can make with a few small tweaks.

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