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I've read in multiple locations (including fitness se) that the recommended protein intake is a minimum of 0.8g/kg, and 2g/kg is a better target for fitness training.

To me this seems outrageously high. I feel there's no way I could feasibly consume that every day. This makes me think I must be misunderstanding the recommendation.

Here's my understanding of it: I weigh 92kg (BMI 23.5), and do regular cardio and weight training, so apparently I should aim for 184g of protein a day. That's:

  • About 37 eggs (6g protein each), or
  • About 6 chicken breasts (30g protein each), or
  • About 9 scoops of protein power (20g protein each)

I can't physically or financially manage to consume any of those (or combinations of), every day, indefinitely.

What am I missing or not understanding? Or do athletes really just consume that much stuff every day?

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You're also missing that almost every food has protein in it. Take a meal of a 4 oz chicken breast (35g), an 8 oz glass of milk (8g), a cup of spinach (4g), 1/2 cup peas (4g) and a medium potato (4g). That's 55g right there. –  JohnP Apr 10 at 15:04
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The biggest thing I think you are having an issue with is not paying attention to the serving size when you get your protein figures. –  Berin Loritsch Apr 10 at 17:25
    
Milk and curd are quite cheap. Here you could get 2 liters of milk for about 1euro (or a little above). This amounts to 70g of protein. And in addition to beeing cheap, it has the advantage that it is easier to drink some milk than to eat alot more than used to. –  Flo Apr 10 at 19:42
    
@Flo, so I'd need 4 to 5 litres of milk a day, 2400 to 3000 calories, just from milk? –  Hugh Apr 11 at 0:37
    
I don't like the GOMAD (Gallon of Milk A Day) approach. Yes, it gives you protein, but you will gain fat--particularly if you are over 70kg total body weight. It's best to use varied foods to reach your protein needs. –  Berin Loritsch Apr 11 at 1:24
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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

184g of Protein does not sound unreasonable to me for someone who is actively exercising. It can be a lot, but it only amounts to ~740 Cal of your daily consumption. So you will need to be eating more than that overall.

First, I would check your math. Most lean meat has about 25g / 4oz serving--or as much space on your plate as a closed fist. A chicken breast is commonly 8-9oz and in some cases as much as 10oz. That translates to about 3.5 chicken breasts.

Next we can look at low cost sources of protein:

  • 1 large egg has about 8g protein
  • 1 can of Tuna has about 42g protein
  • 1 chicken breast (8oz) has about 50g protein

You could easily break down your protein needs into the following:

  • Breakfast: 3 large eggs (24g) + 3oz Chicken (20g)
  • Lunch: 1 can of tuna (42g)
  • Snacks: 2 scoops protein powder (~50g)
  • Dinner: 8oz chicken breast (50g)

Of course you can mix and match. There's also a number of other ideas for high protein foods on a budget:

If you search around you can find other recommendations. Check the nutrition information, and pay attention to the serving size! You may find you have the wrong idea in your head about how much food 180-200g protein really is.

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I've always heard a good starting point for building muscle is 1g protein per lb of lean body mass (or about 2.2g/kg). Lean body mass is your percentage of bodyfat subtracted from your weight. Take this with a grain of salt, however, because some people may have higher protein needs than others.

Anyway, take a 200lb (91kg) man with 20% BF for example. He would have 40lbs of fat, making his LBM 160lbs. That equates to about 50-55g of protein per meal, which is pretty manageable. Or, maybe 30g per meal and a couple of scoops of powder during the day.

If you think about it, that's not even that much food for a 200lb man. 1g of protein = 4 calories. 160g protein * 4 calories = 640 calories.

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Your math is off. There's 2.2 lbs per kg. You adjusted the wrong way. 1.8g/kg is roughly .8g / lb which is a pretty reasonable target. –  Berin Loritsch Apr 10 at 17:02
    
@BerinLoritsch Thanks Berin! –  Doc Apr 10 at 18:56
    
Looks a lot better! –  Berin Loritsch Apr 10 at 18:57
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I've also seen numbers in that range, there are a couple things you may consider:

LBM (lean body mass) is a much better number to base calculations from because fat tissue has a tiny fraction of the protein needs that muscle has. LBM is not really correlated to BMI. So for an example, if we imagine you have a body fat % of 20% you have LBM = 73.6kg which gives 147g protein/day.

I've read/used 1g/lbLBM = 2.2g/kgLBM as a maximum protein intake. That is to say that more than that you are not really seeing much additional benefit to eating the protein; it is probably being converted to glucose. Furthermore, depending on context in your body, this could be counterproductive (increasing blood sugar). So the 2 you've read is probably for the high end, you do not need this intake to get to where you want to be. The ideal will be a matter of opinion, my personal target is .8g/lbLBM = 1.76g/kgLBM which, for example at your weight and 20% LBM (of course you need to calculate your own LBM) would get 118g per day.

As @JohnP mentions, protein comes from plenty of places and you do not need to get it all from your protein powder. If you supplement with 2 scoops of a good protein powder, giving you 50g of protein, you're down to 68g from food (again using my 20% body fat example with .8g/lb target) and that can be taken care of with a chicken breast, a few eggs and a glass of milk.

And finally, yes, I know big serious lifters that will eat 10+ eggs/day, 4 scoops of whey protein and have meat for dinner.

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I would suggest you stop your focus on total amounts and have a look at your protein intake relative to your intake of other macro nutrients (fat and carbohydrates). When you are concerned with how much you can eat in a day, it may be worth noting that fat holds much more calories per gram (9) than protein (4) or carbohydrates (4), so moving calories from carbohydrates to fats would reduce the amount of macro nutrients you need to physically consume in number of grams. You won't want to reduce your carb intake to much, especialy your pre-workout carbs are essential to get the most out of your work-outs, but the following might be a good way to chop up the grams of your macro nutrients that you consume over the day:

  • 30% carbohydrate (about 20% of the calories)
  • 30% fat (about 50% of the calories)
  • 40% protein (about 30% of the calories)

If you are more of a low-fat person, an alternative may be:

  • 50% carbohydrate (about 40% of the calories)
  • 15% fat (about 30% of the calories)
  • 35% protein ( about 30% of the calories)

Don't force feed or starve yourself, just try to listen to your body and make sure you get between 25% and 35% of your calories from protein. If you wish you can play around with the carbs/fat portion of your calories, but don't go either all 'low-fat' or all 'low-carb', the above examples are probably the most extreme you should go on the fat/carb balance. The first is probably best if you are worried that you may not be able to eat enough given that you will need significantly less grams of macro nutrients for the same caloric intake.

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