What’s the latest on protein? It is essential that we get enough protein to maintain our muscle mass–if you are trying to build muscle, you can’t do it with out both resistance exercise AND adequate protein. But how much is enough. Recent research from the University of Texas by Douglas Paddon-Jones PhD has shown that we likely need more protein than our current Recommended Daily Allowance (0.8 gm/kg for adults–that would be 55 gm protein for a 150 lb person)–Dr Paddon-Jones suggests that adults need more like 1 to 1.2 gm protein per day (68 to 82 gm for that 150 lb person). Before you run out to have an 8 ounce steak, keep on reading……that protein needs to be spread throughout the day. A body cannot use more than a maximum of 30 gm protein at any one time to maintain or build muscle. That is the equivalent of about 4 ounces of cooked, lean beef, pork, chicken or fish (about the size of the palm of your hand).

The problem in our culture is that we don’t eat enough protein at breakfast, and we eat too much at dinner. How can we change that?

Here is some information about the protein content of different foods:

  • 1 ounce cooked meat, fish, poultry = 7 gm protein, a 3 ounce portion (size of a deck of cards) is 21 gm
  • 1 cup milk = 8 gm protein
  • 1 ounce cheese = 7 gm protein
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese = 7 gm protein
  • 1 large egg = 6 gm protein Extra large egg 7 gm protein
  • 1 large egg white 3.5 gm protein, 1 extra large egg white 4 gm protein
  • 1 cup plain, regular yogurt = 12 gm protein
  • 1 cup plain Greek Yogurt (depending on brand) = 19 to 23 gm protein
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans = 7 gm protein
  • 1/2 cup cooked starchy vegetable (potato, winter squash, sweet potato…) is approximately 2 gm protein
  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread (depends on the brand) 2 to 5 gm protein
  • 1/2 cup cooked grain or 1 ounce dry grain, approximately 3 gm protein (quinoa is 6 gm protein)
  • 1 ounce nuts (about 1/4 cup)= 7 gm protein (and about 170-200 calories due to the fat, BUT nuts are an extremely healthy way to add fat to your diet!!!)

What could you do to get enough protein at breakfast?

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt mixed with 1 ounce dry oats, or whole grain ready to eat cereal + fruit + 1/8 cup nuts.
  • 2 egg omelet with 1 ounce leftover meat and 1/2 ounce cheese (and, of course, chopped veggies) and a slice of whole grain toast.
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg whites scrambled together with seasonings of your choice, + whole grain toast and 1 cup fruit mixed with 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

How can you avoid excess at dinner?

  • Aim for 3-4 ounces meat/poultry/fish, or 2-3 ounces if your meal includes some vegetarian protein (beans/lentils AND a grain)
  • Roast veggies with meat–the veggies take on the meat flavor, so a lot of veggies with a 3-4 ounce serving of meat is adequate.
  • Make grilled shish-ko-bob (meat + peppers, onions, mushrooms…. on skewers), or a stir fry  rather than steaks.
  • Include a dish that contains beans + grains (e.g.  rice and beans) and just 2-3 ounces meat/poultry/fish per person.

Getting the optimal amount of protein each day is especially important when we are trying to lose weight. One study showed that people who bumped up their protein while losing weight actually increased muscle mass while losing weight, a control group eating the same amount of calories, and getting the same amount of exercise, lost the same amount of weight as the higher protein group, BUT, they also lost muscle mass.

Bottom line: We likely need more protein than we have thought we did in the past, BUT, we need to make sure we get it in small doses throughout the day….for our 150 lb person, 23 to 28 gm protein per meal, three times per day would do it.. ‘No room for monster steaks for anyone!