How much protein should you be eating per day?
Marketing in nutrition is subtle.
It’s giving your opinion as a fact and using your credentials to support it...
When you put 'Doctor' in front of a claim, a person has 100k+ followers, or they’re a guest on a Top 10 Podcast...
It adds credibility – even if it's unfounded.
Big bold statements turn heads and go against the grain.
And that’s exactly what happened on the Diary of a CEO podcast with Tim Spector. Tim made some BIG claims about nutrition. In particular, about protein, calling it "massively hyped".
But is that actually true?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition.
Individuals need nuance.
But saying ‘it depends’ or ‘it’s a little more complicated than that’ isn’t sexy. It doesn’t catch attention. And it doesn’t sell books.
You see, the Diary of a CEO has shot to fame by creating controversy and clickbait titles.
Big names + Statements against the common narrative = more downloads.
It’s tonnes sexier.
On the episode in question, Doctor Tim Spector commented "Protein is massively hyped." With a clickbaity clip titled uploaded to YouTube
"Protein myths that are probably making you fatter."
At the time of writing it has over 22k views on YouTube and the episode itself has over 526k views.
His statement contradicts a large body of evidence suggesting the opposite.
And Tim won’t be the first or last person to make a claim like this.
The nutrition space is full of twisted truths and bold claims all trying to grab your attention.
But you're actually left confused, overwhelmed, and questioning:
What the fuck do I need to eat to be healthy?
And the answer...
(That’s not sexy I know – but hey, it’s the truth).
The way I see the only thing your nutrition should be is sustainable. It should meet your needs now, without compromising your future needs.
But let’s get into some debunking. How much protein is enough protein?
You’ve got some debunk in the trunk
The segment starts off:
“Protein is massively hyped, there are very few people that are protein deficient in this country (UK), there are a few but I would say it’s less than 5% of the population”
He presents the narrative that everybody is already getting enough protein.
Then he mentions the government's recommended daily protein intake. He states around 0.8g per kg, although official guidance is 0.75g per kg (but we can let that one slide).
To be deficient in protein, someone must eat less than the recommended daily intake.
So let’s take me for example at 65kg, using the 0.75g per kg, I’d need to be eating 49g of protein per day.
For context even if I ate:
Breakfast: Coco pops with semi skimmed milk
Lunch: Cheese sandwich and a packet of crisps
Dinner: Chicken, mash, and veg
I’d still hit 66g of protein per day.
So I’d be over my protein goal.
So I guess, Tim’s right, most people aren’t deficient as per these guidelines.
But deficient and optimal are two different things.
And optimal depends on your goals.
So if you want to be more than ‘not deficient’ - the amount of protein you need goes up – actually by quite a lot.
Let's break it down.
Goal: I want to lose weight
Protein has two superpowers one of them, is that it keeps you fuller for longer.
When you eat protein, it’s harder for your body to break down than carbs or fats.
So it stays in your stomach for longer – helping you to stay fuller for longer.
If you’re in a calorie deficit, staying full makes it a lot easier to be consistent – because well... you can only ward off the belly growls for so long before you want to eat again.
It’s also important for building and maintaining muscle – which brings me to goal 2.
Goal: I want to have more definition/ look more toned
In general, the more muscle you have, the stronger you are.
Now I’m not just referencing what you can lift in the gym – but also the strength you’ll have in daily life.
Like how much easier it is to move around your 23kg suitcase on your next trip away.
Or how you can move the sofa around with ease as you reshuffle your living room.
Or how you’ll be able to scoop up your dog for snuggles without worrying about popping your back out at the ripe old age of 30...
Yanno – the more practical stuff.
So building muscle requires you to eat more protein (that's the second superpower - muscle growth). But how much protein?
Morton et Al (2017) suggested anywhere between 1.6g per kg – 2.2g per kg in their meta-analysis of over 49 studies for those looking to build muscle.
The International Society for Sports Nutrition suggests having 1.4g- 2g of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight. (ISSN, 2017)
But what does that mean for you?
Well if you want to build more muscle, hitting somewhere between 1.4g - 2.2g per kg of bodyweight is probably a good idea. (Even on the lower end that's almost double what the Doc said...)
Goal: I want to maintain my weight and be a healthy human
Protein is your friend too. The same principles apply here. Protein helps protect muscles, improve strength, and keep you full longer (thus it's easier not to overeat).
With more protein, it's easier to maintain your weight and overhaul health.
Alrighty – but
Is there an upper limit? How much protein is TOO much? #WhatAboutMyKidneys
“Long term consumption of protein at 2g per kg of bodyweight per day is safe for healthy adults, and the tolerable upper limit is 3.5g per kg of bodyweight per day for well adapted subjects” (Wu, 2016).
Unless you’re eating over 3.5g of protein per kg (hard to do by accident) for a prolonged period of time... you’ll be fine.
So how much protein do you need to be eating?
Well, it depends (see it’s really not a sexy answer...).
But if you are doing some sort of resistance training (lifting weights) you’ve got body composition based goals, or you want to eat more than just ‘not being deficient’...
Somewhere between 1.4g-2.2g per kg of bodyweight is about right. Start on the lower end and work your way up if that’s easier for you.