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Tuesdays With Jeff. Insights Into Your Health: How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

First! Our two winners from last weeks giveaway: Camilla Blossom and “New Mexico Troyer”! Please e-mail: giveaway@engine2.com 

For all of you who did not win last weeks giveaway, good news! Jeff is offering a discount code on his amazing DVD “Burgers and Fries” . You can get $4.00 off his DVD. This is for a very limited time, so if you entered last weeks giveaway, be sure to pick up the discounted DVD today! 

And, if that wasn’t ENOUGH good news,  we are doing another giveaway today! This giveaway is for Jeff’s latest DVD “Fast Food: Shopping School” . Almost THREE hours of the information you need to become a rock-star, plant-strong shopper! Just leave a comment, and tell us what your favorite answer is when someone asks you “Where do you get your protein?” :)

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How much protein do we need and do we need to focus on concentrated sources of protein (protein powders, bars, supplements, etc) to get in enough?

This question was posed to me in regard to someone who is 220 lbs and engaging in regular weightlifting several times a week for several hours and besides focusing on consuming high protein foods,  was adding in 100 grams of protein 2x a day.  In addition, they were curious as to what happens to any excess protein.

In general, according to the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine,

“The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for both men and women is 0.80 g of good quality protein/kg body weight/d and is based on careful analysis of available nitrogen balance studies.”

So, for someone who is 220 lbs, 220 lbs is 100 kgs. 100 x .8 – 80 grams of protein/day.

For those who are involved in higher levels of strength training, they may need a little more, even up to 1.25 to 1.5 grams/kg as recommended in the American Dietitic Association position paper on the topic;

“Protein recommendations for endurance and strength-trained athletes range from 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg body weight per day.”

This would be the equivalent of 120 to 150 grams of total protein.

However, the key here, and one that is often overlooked, is to evaluate the amount of protein their regular diet is contributing.

Someone who weighs 220 lbs and is engaging in the level of activity mentioned, will need about 3000 calories per day or more. The average American diet is about 15-20% protein which means that from their diet alone, this person would be getting about 115 to 150 grams of protein.

And this is exactly what the ADA position papers says…

“These recommended protein intakes can generally be met through diet alone, without the use of protein or amino acid supplements.”

So, in the situation above, their regular diet alone would provide more than enough protein and no extra protein would need to be consumed. Adding in 100 grams of protein 2x a day would bring the total protein to 315 to 350 grams per day, which is way more than excessive.

As you can see, the focus on “getting enough” protein, even in athletes, is often misplaced, as most are getting in more than enough protein from their diet. This is where the focus should be, to get our protein, and all of our nutrients, from our regular diets. To do so, focus on high quality protein foods that are also low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol such as beans, lentils and peas.

Now, in regard to your question about what happens to the excess protein, the body does not store excess protein and therefore must eliminate it. Over time, excessive amounts of protein can potentially put a strain on the kidneys, liver and our bones. In addition, excess protein can raise the levels of a hormone called IGF-1, which can stimulate the growth rate of certain cancers.

So, I would consider the above situation protein overload and as we see, this person would easily get enough protein from their regular diet and that is where the focus should be.

In Health

Jeff

About the author

Jeff Novick
Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LD, LN is truly a unique dietitian and nutritionist. With over 24 years of experience in nutrition, health, fitness and natural living, he offers expert health advice distilled into powerful, easy-to-understand language on a variety of current topics.Novick’s insightful and humorous approach to nutrition and health has helped thousands worldwide make the transition to healthy living. He holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Indiana State University in nutrition, with a minor in exercise science.Novick serves as Vice President for Executive Health Exams International and lectures at the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California and at the Engine 2 Immersion program in Austin, Texas. He is also the Director of Nutrition for the Meals for Health program, which is helping empower low-income families to achieve optimal health.For almost a decade, Novick served as the Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Center in Aventura, Florida, and as Vice President of the Board of the Directors for the National Health Association (NHA). He also served as the Director of Health Education for the NHA and as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Health Sciences for Kaplan University.Novick has taught nutrition classes at Indiana State University, Indiana University Medical School, the University of Miami Medical School and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians. He regularly lectures at medical conferences across the country. While in Indiana, he created and taught the Nutrition Education Initiative, a preventive medicine curriculum for medical doctors, residents and medical students. In recognition of this groundbreaking project, Indiana’s governor awarded Novick the Indiana State Public Health Excellence in Health Science Award and Indiana State University awarded him the Graduate-of-the-Last-Decade Award.He has been interviewed by Newsday, Parade, Men’s Health, Shape, Women’s World and has appeared on Fox News, Discovery Health, the Today Show and other media outlets nationwide. He recently appeared in the documentary Processed People and the movie Fatboy, which won the Best Documentary award at the Fort Lauderdale and Queens Film Festivals.

110 Responses to “Tuesdays With Jeff. Insights Into Your Health: How Much Protein Do We Really Need?”

  1. The same place the animal on your plate did! Plants!

  2. Patricia Zeigler says:

    Thank you for the protein article. I’m still new to eating vegan. I’m sticking with the least processed foods possible. I use the info I’ve gained from Fast Food Shopping School that I’ve gained from the excerpts available on-line. I would enjoy seeing the who;e video.

  3. mary says:

    I get my protein from pleanty of green veggies. Would LOVE to have Jeffs newest dvd . I heard great reviews on it.

  4. Sharon says:

    I say….I get my protein from everything I eat!

  5. Sue Lee R. says:

    Green veggies, beans, nuts and seeds.
    I would LOVE to view your DVD about being a better plant-strong shopper!

  6. Plantstrong says:

    Would love the DVD! Get protein from fruits, veggies and whole grains!

  7. Lindsay says:

    Where do [name any large herbivore] get theirs?

  8. Jenna says:

    Straight from the source.

  9. Laurie says:

    I get my protein the same place a stallion or a gorilla gets their protein. I eat a wide variety of plant foods and I don’t worry about it! I would share Jeff’s video in my coking classes.

  10. Rileen says:

    “From almost everything I eat or drink” :-)

  11. Ginger Godwin says:

    Thanks for the info – My husband and I are new to the plant based diet :D After watching Forks over Knives we decided to change everything we were doing and the results are great! Who knew ditching caffeine would give you triple the energy!?! We have been trying a recipe a week using Quinoa for protein and have loved everything we have tried so far.. The Fast Food – Shopping School DVD would help us tremendously on our new journey :D

  12. foe says:

    All you did what quote what the ADA says and quoted RDA’s. You haven’t done any actual research. I could have wrote this article myself simply by cutting and pasting from any thousands of articles. Real knowledge comes from forming a hypothesis and years testing it.

    • friend says:

      Look up the WHO’s results of their hypothesis and years of testing and you’ll find that it matches the ADA numbers.

  13. Carol Kenny says:

    I tell people there is protein in everything I eat. But unlike your sources of protein, meat and dairy, my sources don’t promote heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

  14. Margaret says:

    When I get asked that question, I tell them from nuts, beans, and that you actually get protein from almost every natural food we eat like fruits, vegetables, and grains.

  15. Tanya C. says:

    Whole grains, beans, nuts and delicious fruits and veggies! (The same place that the animals we eat get their protein, as many have said.)

  16. Kaitlin says:

    How do YOU avoid getting too much protein?

  17. From grass, obviously! And you should see my boyfriends! Kidding aside, my name is Ann and I happen to live on a cattle ranch. My mother, especially, worried so much about where I was getting protein when I switched to eating plants only. And there is, of course, the irony….that we have such easy access to meat, but choose plants, instead. I usually point out that Americans worry far too much about protein and ingest far too much. Even I was surprised to learn that it’s everywhere and how much better I feel getting protein from plant foods like leafy greens, nuts, beans, fruits, grains, and that wonderful array of veggies out there. All hail Kale!

  18. Beverly says:

    I get my protein from almost everything I eat and then begin to list some great sources.

  19. Pam Honthumb says:

    This is great information. I believe I do take in enough protein but often times I get no vegans telling me I have to eat meat to get the protein and this is why they can’t go plant strong. Some people think it is essential for them to eat plain spaghetti prior to running the marathon and to get plenty of protein. Now I can point them to this post.

  20. Janet Young says:

    I get my protein from everything I eat, but especially beans, legumes and nuts/seeds,

  21. Hannah Moore says:

    Plants have all the protein I need. I love one of Happy Herbivores suggested responses, “The same place your protein gets its protein.”

  22. Vicky Miller says:

    Almost all plant foods have some protein in them. We eat a lot of beans and vegetables and some grains and seeds and nuts.

  23. Pike says:

    I get my protein from plants!

  24. louiseb says:

    I tell people there is protein in everything I eat, it is something I don’t worry about

  25. I never realized that protein is practically in everything. If I eat a well balanced diet from all 4 food groups (fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes) I never have to worry!

  26. Debbie Kuehnle says:

    When people ask me where I get my protein I use this as an opportunity to share how amazing my life has been since going Plant Strong and how much I love how I look and feel. By the time I am done, they forgot all about the protein question, lol

  27. Debby says:

    Veggies, beans, quinoa, etc. You get the picture. Can’t wait for Tucson in a few weeks to see Jeff in person!

  28. Debbie says:

    “I get all the protein I need from whole plant foods – how do YOU know you’re not getting too much?”

  29. Susan H says:

    I get it from the food I eat. It’s much healthier to get protein from plants than from meat.

  30. Gordilly says:

    How come nobody ever asks where the cow gets her protein?

  31. Bisbd says:

    From the produce and grain isle in the grocery store! All the protien I need!

  32. I am trying to raise two young girls as plant-strong. I believe that protein from meat or dairy sources would be harmful to them. How do I make sure that they–as picky eaters–get enough protein, espeically since green foods are considered “yucky”?

    • JustMe says:

      Vegetarians always ask about getting enough protein. But I don’t know any nutrition expert who can plan a diet of natural foods resulting in a protein deficiency, so long as you’re not deficient in calories…it is practially impossible to get below nine percent in ordinary diets.-Nathan Pritikin

      Sooo…protein is found in all foods as amino acids. The body doesn’t care ask the source of the amino acids. Grains, beans, all vegetables, and fruits contain some amino acids. Your children will get enough if they aren’t eating junk. It’s our programming from propaganda that makes us worry so much about protein.

      My doctor was all up in arms about my protein intake. I went to Cron-o meter and entered a typical day’s foods. There was more than enough protein from a plant strong diet.

      Finally, you can put tons of extra vegetables into spaghetti sauce and soups with the addition of dehydrated vegetables. Even spinach and cabbage virtually disappear. I buy these by the bucket load from Harmony House and add them to almost everything in lue of vegetable broth. Then if they don’t like chunks in their food, puree everything. They can’t pick it out if they can’t see it.

    • Gina McLean says:

      I make smoothies for my kids and maybe take Melissa’s advice about putting it in sauces, soups, pancakes, etc. Good Luck. Trying to go gluten free and plant based with kids from 13-17 and it is a challenge. My 21 yr old is away at college and it is even harder to convince her of this diet. Though I hope that her preparation for an ND school interview will help.

  33. fdzimmerman says:

    Almost everything in my plant strong diet provides ample protein. In fact, it would be hard to avoid protein on a (non-junk food) plant based diet.

  34. Sheree says:

    Everyonealways asks so how do you get your protein. People animals are not the only thing with protein. Thanks for the great information Jeff!

  35. Deb says:

    As a beginner on this journey, I use the proteins I am familiar with such as eggs and tofu. However, I am excited to see where this takes me and what my answer will be in 6 mo or a year from now. :)

  36. “The same place your protein gets their protein.”

  37. The question or problem is how do you get 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight if you are an athlete and also need to keep calories in check. Difficult to get 100-120 grams that I need and want per day on a 1500-1800 calorie diet.

  38. plainoldsarah says:

    potatoes. and a whole bunch of other plants.

  39. Christine in MN says:

    Everything I eat-put it all together and I’ve got plenty of protein!

  40. Jane Smith says:

    From plants! Where do you get your fiber?

  41. WriterMs says:

    I know it is not scientific nor a real answer, but I like to mention that bulls seem to be able to build protein-rich bodies on a vegetarian diet. It provides a memorable “visual” (strong as a bull). If someone seems truly interested, I do share more info.

  42. Bonnie W says:

    From Greens and Grains.

  43. Fran says:

    Greens, greens, greens!!!

  44. JB in Chicago says:

    Why have another animal ‘Pre-Chew’ your Vegetables? Plenty of Protein in Plants. My family and I have been Plant-Strong for over 18 months. Cholesterol has dropped, my wife and I have lost over 50 lbs. (combined), and our kids love it!

  45. Kris Lesperance says:

    I’m an outrigger canoe paddler, and became a vegan about 4 years ago. No problem building muscle during the season, despite my age and gender (50, female). The only loss was that which occurred when I discovered I no longer needed Ibuprofen, at all!

  46. Lauren Gladstone says:

    I tell people I get everything I need from the gumball machine! Then I tell them from plant based foods.

  47. Larry Bard says:

    I like to tell people I have cut out the protein middleman (the cow, chicken, fish….) and get my protein right from the source. Why go retail when you can go wholesale. BAM!

  48. Plant based foods give me more than enough protein!

  49. Pam says:

    My answer is, from real food. (That is, plants!)

  50. Brenda McGinn says:

    First, thank you for all you do and share and teach- your work is not only saving lives but also impacting the quality of our lives! I say to our extended family of naysayers- We get our protein in the same places you do– just different aisles!!

  51. Abe says:

    Frustrated. I’ve struggled with my weight on an Esselstyn diet (now 26+% body fat and have gained 12lbs just this year despite being very active – ran marathon, bike 50+ miles, train for tris). I am now working with a plant-based nutritionist who says I am too focused on grains (too many raw oats), veggies and fruits and am not getting enough protein or fat. She is recommending I add protein and fat via protein powder, seeds, nuts, peanut butter, hummus, seitan, wheat roast, etc. every time I eat .

  52. 1jazzy30 says:

    I’m new to a plant based diet so I I have to remind myself that following the diet will provide enough protein for me.

  53. Dawn Martin says:

    I get most of my protein from the beans, whole grains and veggies I eat on a regular basis. However, I have some challenges. I have had gastric bypass and do not absorb as much as the “normal” person. In addition, I am now pregnant. SO, I DO supplement my diet with Sunwarrior Warrior blend which is 100% plant based protein supplement. I just do one shake a day which is just 17g of protein. The only reason I even did this was because my doctor said the baby wasn’t gaining weight properly and she told me to eat more protein. She wanted me to supplement with Carnation instant breakfast. 2 problems w/ that.. dairy & sugar! So, this is working well! I use the chocolate w/ almond milk & half a banana for sweetness. Went back a month later for a check up and baby is growing just fine now! YAY PLANT BASED PROTEIN!!!

  54. I am printing out the formula for determining protein requirements. I am sooo sick of answering this question every time my being plant based comes up in discussion. I love the eye rolling when I tell people I get my protein from plants. Thanks for this Jeff..

  55. Jen4Ever4Always says:

    “Protein? What’s protein?”

  56. Plants, grains, beans, nuts, tofu, seitan, pretty much from everything I eat!

  57. Kathy G says:

    This was a really good article. I calculated what both my husband and I need for protein. Happy to see that I get plenty from my plant based diet.

  58. Same place you do….the food I eat.

  59. Mmc says:

    I like to respond with “Beans and greens and nuts and seeds and tofu and oatmeal…i like to get my protein without cholesterol. Hey, did you know broccoli is 34% protein?”

  60. I have been whole food plant strong for a mere five weeks, so perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I haven’t encountered this question yet. Perhaps that is because everyone I have encountered is so focused on wanting to know the “secret” for why I am glowing! Once they see how much energy I have and how positive my mood is they want to know more. Then when they learn that in only four weeks my total cholesterol dropped 19 points and I’ve lost 14 pounds, they’re more interested in the learning the how and more open to the why. Educate don’t berate!

  61. Shari says:

    My fiance and i have had a discussion about protein several times. I am a vegetarian and working more toward vegan while he is a devout carnivore. I am working to change his views about plant-based diets but he’s quite resistant. While he supports my being a vegetarian he surprised me when i told him I was working toward veganism he begged me not to do it telling me that vegans smell bad and it would make me sick siting Steve Jobs as his basis for both those claims. He said it was Steve’s diet that killed him and he was known to not take showers for days (what that has to do with his diet I’m not sure). It’s amazing the ideas people have about those who live on a plant-based diet. for me it saved my life. About 9 years ago I had an accident which cause a birth defect I had to be a problem. I had to have 7 surgeries in 6 months, almost died and ballooned up to 307 pounds. My doctors had me on several narcotics and i was still going to the E.R. several times a month with migraines. My doctors told me there was nothing else that could be done for me. I was advised to live on narcotics and go on disability and just accept that I would always be like that and never improve. I refused to live like that and started doing my own research into pain triggers. To make a long story short, I became a vegetarian and got away form processed food (though I cheat sometimes), Today I do not take any prescription medicines, haven’t been to a hospital for my condition since I became a vegetarian and I’ve dropped about 80 pounds and working my to losing another 40. I was so happy with my health change i have gone back to school to become a dietitian and help other people find their way out of pain the way I did. The world needs more people like Jeff Novick and I hope to one day be one of them!

    • sukijones94 says:

      what a fantastic story! you look fabulous! isn’t it wonderful when you take control of your health and your life? being plant strong is the way to go. i’m in my third year and love it, something clicked one day and i never looked back. i wish the best for you!

    • sukijones94 says:

      i keep thinking how it would be even more rewarding and so much easier if your partner was on the same path as you…

  62. Lisa DesRochers says:

    Yhea- that’s a myth- based on my healthy weight, I only need 47 grams a day. I can easly get that from veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, & rice/quinoa. I tracked my diet for a week using one of the online programs and averaged 55-65 grams a day…

  63. Scott Haas says:

    My best response when someone asks me where I get my protein? “The same place the cows get theirs silly.” It does make them think and if they still don’t get it I ask them how many carnivore cows they ever met. Then I go back to chewing my cud.

  64. Alison Chu says:

    Where do I get my protein? Where do I not get my protein? Grains, salads, potatoes, beans, veg…I am plant based and proud. When I get asked this, I really want to look at some people and say…Where do you get your fat? But that would be too snarky. I keep my preaching to myself.

  65. sheila zipfel says:

    My answer……. my kidneys are thanking me for not overloading them with excess protein.

  66. Ceil Hook says:

    I tell everyone, KALE (leafy greens), tofu, tempeh…! Then I try to get them to watch a food documentary, or read a book, about plant-based diets. For health and environmental reasons, plant-based diets are becoming a necessity.

  67. Thanks, Jeff, for breaking it down by the numbers.

  68. Marina says:

    Broccoli! :)

  69. Kelsey Chute says:

    From where your protein gets it’s protein!

  70. I’m going to start using the one I’ve seen here “From where your protein gets its protein”. Love it

  71. me2sweet4thee says:

    I tell them, “GTS.” Which means Google That Sh*t.

  72. Texas Tim says:

    I usually glare at them and tell them I get my protein from people that constantly ask that question ;-)

  73. two wheelin mom says:

    From the best “LIFE STYLE” ( not diet) that there is!! All of the nice leafy greens, nuts, fruits, grains and mock meats!! More than you can even imagine

  74. Caroline says:

    I usually say, “from beans and legumes” but I have also said, “the same place as elephants and giraffes do – from plants.”

  75. Ellen Morshedi says:

    Prior to becoming a vegan 1.5 yrs ago I tried a high protein low carb diet, the results were 8 kidney stones, we Americans consume way too much protein. I am so much happier and healthier now!

  76. I usually just say – I get more than enough protein. But, I LOVE the quote below, “The same place your protein gets its protein.” That’s awesome! I’m completely going to say that from now on. :) I’m really new to a plant based way of living, and have had my ups and downs. But, I keep coming back. And coming back. And coming back. It just feels right to me. Also – as a side note – it would be really awesome if the videos could be made available digitally – iTunes or Amazon. Would love to be able to stream this to the television or tablet. BTW – thank you! You do an amazing job – I am lucky I’ve found you and this whole community of plant based eaters! I think it’s why I can keep coming back!

  77. Kyle says:

    I usually answer, from the same types foods the animals you eat get theirs.

  78. Jeff, as usual you are the best!

  79. Barbara W. says:

    Beans and rice, ‘course! B-)

  80. Great info. I weight lift (strength training) and run regularly. The trainer at my gym has suggested (politely) a few times that I should buy protein supplements. In addition to suggesting a diet heavy in lean animal protein. I am continuing with my move to a plant based diet and have not experienced any problems with performance. I seem to be getting enough protein through beans, rice, quinoa, etc, etc, etc.

  81. The same place elephants and gorillas get theirs…plants! :-)

  82. nvrgvp says:

    First of all: Thank you for all that you do
    and your conviction and tenacity….My answer? “People like me are dying of heart disease and diabetes trying to get protein from animal products…”

  83. Pete says:

    Beans, nuts, seeds, and veggies

  84. john says:

    i answer “food”.

  85. Martha says:

    ALL PLANTS have some protein, so eating a variety of plants meets all a person’s need for protein, which most Americans eat too much of anyway. Yes, beans and whole grains are good sources. But so is broccoli!

  86. CoachBJ says:

    Just plug into cronometer and see the numbers, it’s so simple!

  87. Kirsten says:

    I get my protein from plants! Whole grains, beans, plants and fruits…simple!

  88. Mary Malloy says:

    Where do you get your vitamins?

  89. srowden says:

    Thank you for the information. My answer to this question is usually “beans and greens.”

  90. I get my protein from almonds, beans, quinoa, and whole grains.

  91. Janet Hough says:

    Love the gorilla image; truly makes the point!

  92. Bill Wessner says:

    So much ignorance and apathy about nutrition

  93. janew129 says:

    I say “you’d be surprised how little protein you need and I get it all from lentils and beans…there is protein in a potato”…at which point they either want to know why I am looking so good and where they can watch “Forks over

  94. Just learning and I am so excited to change my health and future. I am doing great when I am home or at work. But spending days with family is still a bit of a challenge. One of my concerns has been whether I am getting enough protein. Thank you for the info.

  95. Michael says:

    My favorite answer is to direct them to the plant-based professionals
    who have the information for the protein question and all their other
    misgivings about a plant-based diet. I think the more I can inform
    those I care about, the more likely they are to feel empowered to make
    changes to improve and maintain their health. Thanks, Jeff and Engine
    2!

  96. Melody says:

    I tell them I get first class protein from plants, just like elephants and gorillas.

  97. Bob says:

    I find the “Herbivore” t-shirts help address this question quite a bit. Rhinos make a very plant strong point.

  98. Another beans & greens girl here!

  99. Rick says:

    Now I can tell them that right answer: that I can get all the protein I
    need from whole foods, as long as I am not eating an all fruit diet.
    Thanks, Jeff!

  100. Maryanne says:

    I used to tell them I get my protein from beans, but now I know that
    all whole plant foods provide me with the protein that I need in the
    right proportions. Thank you for the valuable lesson.

  101. Dlee says:

    I go out with a big club stalking plants! Just like the caveman, and those weak Gorillas and Orangutans, Elephants etc. and most of the plant eating kingdom. Ha!

  102. Renee DeMan says:

    I get a bunch of crazy looks from my friends when they ask about my protein (and I say the same places animals too, plants!). You can see the puzzled looked on their face and then the ‘oh, i never thought of it that way’! I love Jeff’s posts, blog and newsletters!!

  103. Marylyn says:

    I get my protein from oats, legumes, veggies and more! Loved, loved, loved Jeff’s presentation at the immersion program at the Esseltyn family farm in 2012. I strongly encourage everyone to attend!!

  104. Carry says:

    “Do you remember where Pop-Eye got his protein? I prefer fresh spinach to canned, but it seems to be working really well! Oh, and I also get protein from beans, nuts, whole grains, fruit (yes fruit!), and other veggies. It’s amazing how much protein gets packed in your diet, when you focus on eating whole plant foods.”

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