The timing and quantity of protein consumption has long been recognized as important for athletes to support post-training recovery. However, research shows that it may be just as important for everyone, not just athletes, to pay attention to when and how much protein they are consuming. One key concept to recognize is the difference between sufficient and optimal protein consumption.
As health professionals, we know that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams protein per kilogram of body weight. For a 150 pound reference person, this equates to 56 grams of protein per day. However, emerging research points toward an optimal amount of protein of 90 grams per day for most adults, distributed as 30 grams at each meal. 1 This quantity of protein helps promote muscle synthesis and prevent muscle loss, which is especially important for our growing population of older patients prone to sarcopenia.
Today’s Dietitian recently featured an article on sarcopenia prevention and discussed the importance of optimal protein intake in older adults. The article discusses a study that found older adults produce less muscle than younger adults after consuming meals with equal amounts of protein. Besides increased muscle synthesis, higher protein diets have also been linked to more successful weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, better insulin response and stronger bones.
Consuming 30 grams of protein at each meal may seem daunting for some individuals, but it is actually very achievable. Eggs are a great way to get in protein at any meal, and one large egg provides 6 grams of protein. Below is a sample day of how 30 grams of protein could easily fit into each meal:
Breakfast: 1 whole egg, 1 ounce Canadian bacon, 1 ounce low-fat cheese, 1 slice tomato, ½ whole wheat English muffin, ½ cup melon, 1 cup non-fat milk (350 calories)
Lunch: 2 cups romaine lettuce, 3 oz grilled chicken, ¼ cup black beans, ¼ cup corn, ¼ cup diced tomatoes, ¼ cup guacamole (400 calories)
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled salmon, ½ cup wild rice with 1 Tbsp pecans and 1 Tbsp dried cranberries, 1 cup zucchini sautéed with 1 tsp olive oil (450 calories)
1. Paddon-Jones D, Rasmussen BB. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2009;12:86-90.