Why do you need to eat more protein?

Why do you need to eat more protein?
By Dr. David Ryan

American’s don’t eat enough protein. Nearly every day, I have at least one patient who could have prevented some aliment if they would have just ingested more protein. It seems too simple, but it is a real fact that is often missed by most athletic trainers, coaches, sports physicians and other health care providers.

The young athlete is 98% likely to not consume enough protein. The typical 35 year-old divorced female is also likely interested in joining the new workout club, but has a 95% chance of not consuming enough protein. In either case, the lack of protein leads to serious and significant disease and injury.

It is no shock that our bodies are made up mostly of proteins and water. We all know how important water is, but often miss the necessity of protein. Your body also uses proteins for most of the chemical reactions internally. The functions of your nerves, hormones, brain transmission, blood production, immune defense, digestion, all tissue growth and repair are all directly related to protein consumption.

The common presentation of a lack of dietary protein is related to simple muscle pulls, tendon irritation and then leads to more consistent strains and sprains. The issue of poor sleep, multiple colds, a flu that never quite goes away, aches that seem to dance around the body or jumps between areas, are all related to a protein deficiency.

The lack of protein is most common in females, who think that eating protein is a “guy thing” and will lead to too much muscle mass. The low protein diet often results in “holes” that form in a muscle and tendon and also the ligaments. These “holes” are commonly in areas that are used consistently as part of the training. Eventually they expand and cause larger unexplained or misdiagnosed problems that most physicians are too naive about?

How much protein do I need?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommended 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight for any school age athlete and now as of late 2011 has changed that number to 1.2-1.5 grams/kilogram. That number doesn’t change much for someone who is 21-62 years-of-age, but read on to get a realistic answer of your protein needs. As you age past 65, you need less protein since the body isn’t recovering at the same pace as a younger person.

A 130 pound female has approximately 90 pounds of muscle that needs feed, based on lean muscle mass, not whole body weight. So realistically a diet of 90 grams of protein per day is appropriate for that specific individual.

What foods have protein?

The best sources of protein are eggs, fish, poultry, lean meats and protein supplements, basically in that order. Eating real food is much better than any protein supplement since the trace nutrients help with proper digestion.

Foods such as nuts, beans, rice, grains, cheese, dairy products and soy products are not complete proteins and don’t absorb completely in your body.

When should I eat protein?

The average person cannot absorb more than 20 grams of protein at a time. This means, eating multiple meals per day is necessary. Is that a pain? Yes!!!! You have no choice, but to eat multiple small meals a day. The average person should eat 5-8 small meals per day. This also helps stabilize your insulin levels, which is very important for both weight loss and lean muscle gain.

The times you should eat protein is relative to your exercise patterns. It typically takes 60 minutes for “real food” protein to be absorbed, but isolated supplements can be digested in less than 30 minutes.

Avoid pre-workout drinks and eating an hour before exercising. Always workout on an empty stomach if you are trying to lose weight, this forces your body to use stored fats as energy, rather than circulating blood sugar.

Eating immediately following a workout is the best choice. Choose foods that are both simple and complex carbs that have some small amounts of protein, such as fruits, grains, and dairy. Avoid post workout drinks unless you have no other options.

Which protein supplements should I buy?

Let’s be honest here. There are basically 4-5 companies that sell wholesale protein around the world. Yes, all of your major companies are buying from those few manufactures of bulk protein. Now they sell all kinds of protein supplements in all kinds of forms. That is the confusing part, but let’s make it simple to understand that some are “isolated” more and that means they digest faster, but are typically more expensive to produce.

The closer the actual protein content is to serving size the better off you are. When a serving size is 20 grams and the protein content is 19 grams, you are basically at 90% or better of actual protein. It simply means you are getting more protein for your dollar instead of filler.

Next look for companies that are established and offer self-funded university studies to back their claims. Companies such as Labrada produce excellent research to prove their products are complete proteins and absorb very well.

Lastly, and most important is taste and texture. You are not going to eat anything that doesn’t taste good and “feel” right. Proteins that mix well and are not “grainy” feeling are the best proteins to eat and you are more likely to want to eat them.

Last word on total calories

Calories in verses calories out, is still the golden rule. Eating more food makes you gain weight, eating less food will make you lose weight. The concern is starving your muscles, ligaments, tendons and internal chemistry.

Low carb diets are dangerous since they produce ammonia, which is toxic to your nervous system. Typically you can eat the same amount of carbohydrates as your lean body mass suggest. Hence, protein equals carbohydrate intake for the safest diet. Then add 10% for non-trans fats to round off the diet. Zero fat diets can lead to health issues, specifically in children.

Sure it is more complicated than this to be exact, but trust me; you are in the right ball park if you just start off this way and less likely to have injuries or illness from a protein deficiency.

Yours in Health!

Dr. David Ryan

Columbus Chiropractic Center Director

5 Responses for Why do you need to eat more protein?

  1. Tony


    February 15, 2013 10:59 pm

    I believe that the ACSM recommendations above are incorrect. ACSM recommends 0.5 – 0.7 grams of protein for every pound do body weight. This is for an athlete.

    • Dr. David Ryan


      February 18, 2013 7:53 pm

      Indeed they are recommending 1.5 per pound and also per kilogram, which would obviously take that number down by 2.2 in several references: Again, the references are confusing most average people, who are then giving up and not consuming more protein.

      ACSM In The News

      ACSM is fortunate to be the go-to source on sports medicine and exercise science for several national and international media outlets. You can find some of our most recent coverage below, or you can view archived articles.

      All news

      To Boost Endurance Performance, Try Protein-Loading

      Research identifies benefits of protein feeding to recovery in endurance exercise

      INDIANAPOLIS – For athletes, carbohydrates are often go-to foods when preparing for long-distance or intense exercise. A report released today by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) identifies a new nutrition option for endurance exercisers – protein.

      The report, titled “Effect of Increased Dietary Protein on Tolerance to Intensified Training,” was published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, ACSM’s official scientific journal. A research study led by Kevin Tipton, Ph.D., examined the effects of increased protein intake on endurance performance.

      “Endurance athletes – such as runners or cyclists – commonly rely on nutrition to enhance their post-exercise recovery,” said Dr. Tipton, a researcher with the University of Stirling in Scotland. “For years, athletes have relied heavily on carbohydrate feeding for recovery. However, we wanted to explore the benefits of protein.”

      Eight endurance-trained cyclists completed two three-week trials, divided equally into normal, intensified and recovery training. During the intensified and recovery training sessions, cyclists were assigned either a normal or a high-protein diet. Cyclists consumed 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass in the normal diet and double that amount in the high-protein diet.

      Results indicate that the high-protein diet not only improved athletes’ endurance performance slightly after intense training but also reduced their stress levels.

      “Previous research has identified tyrosine, an amino acid found in protein, as a mood-booster,” said Dr. Tipton. “Whereas, we can’t definitively say why the athletes felt a bit better with higher protein intake, it’s possible the availability of tyrosine in our high-protein diet helped diffuse stress, thus contributing to the increase in performance.”

      While the preliminary data are promising, the team hopes more research will be done to further explore the benefits of long-term protein feeding for athletes.


      The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 40,000 international, national, and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

  2. Dr. David Ryan


    February 16, 2013 2:05 am

    Essentially, you are saying the same thing. I disagree that the original amount of protein suggested was correct. I agree that the amounts of protein are lower and more appropriately as low as 50-80% of the original values presented by the ACSM in the early part of 2008. This was orginally presented as information in many of the seminars, but not published. The article is also pointing out that activity levels, age, percent body fat also play into this equation and have not be considered.

    The problem is again as scientist we are making this whole topic so complicated in an attempt to be exact, we are scaring off the average person from getting the big idea, which is to eat more quality sources of protein.
    Thanks for your input.

  3. Dr. David Ryan


    February 18, 2013 8:00 pm

    Here is one to verify your thoughts, but this is only as recent as Nov. of 2011. The main idea is to get people to eat more proteins and concern ourselves with the times they injest them.

    Resistance training and cardiovascular exercise induce beneficial muscular and structural damage. Because protein helps the muscles and tissues repair and rebuild themselves, the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Dietitians of Canada (DOC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggest that athletes have higher protein needs than the general population. These agencies advise endurance athletes to consume about 1.2–1.4 grams per kilogram (g/kg) (0.5–0.6 grams per pound [g/lb]), whereas strength-trained athletes should consume up to 1.6–1.7 g/kg (0.7–0.8 g/lb) (ADA, DOC & ACSM 2000).

  4. Dr. David Ryan


    February 19, 2013 10:49 am

    Here is another example of the ongoing debate:
    Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):709-31. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31890eb86.

    American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance.

    American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine, Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S.

    A piece of that abstract clearly shows the dodging of the issue as far as range being assigned.

    Because regulations specific to nutritional ergogenic aids are poorly enforced, they should be used with caution and only after careful product evaluation for safety, efficacy, potency, and legality. A qualified sports dietitian and, in particular, the Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics in the United States, should provide individualized nutrition direction and advice after a comprehensive nutrition assessment.