Are you having too much protein?

A month ago we identified which athletes/sports require more protein than others and also why our bodies need protein.  But how can we put those recommendations into actual food?


For the general public, doing low to moderate intensity exercise such as walking, you require 0.75 to 1.0 gram of protein per kilo of body weight per day.   So, for a 60kg female this would be 45 to 60 grams of protein per day.  In food terms, this would be a serve of dairy at breakfast, a serving of ham on a sandwich at lunch and a small piece of meat or chicken at dinner.


For a moderate exerciser who might do 40-60 minutes of exercise on at least 3 days per week, with some of this exercise including resistance training, it is recommended that you have 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.  For an 80kg male, this would be 96 – 128g per day.  In food terms, this would be the equivalent of 2 eggs at breakfast, a latte, a snack of a tub of yoghurt and a small handful of nuts, meat or chicken on a sandwich at lunch and a serve of meat, chicken or fish at dinner.


For those preferring endurance activity such as running or cycling at least 3 days per week, it is recommended you consume 1.2 to 1.7g per kilo of body weight.   This may surprise some people that endurance activity requires about the same amount of protein as a more strength based trainer.  The muscle recovery is quite similar from both types of training.


If you prefer team sports, you also require 1.2- 1.7 grams of protein per kilo of you body weight.


Adolescents who are growing rapidly may require up to 2.0 grams per kilo.


The table below outlines the food portions to achieve 10g protein:


Type of Protein Source Amount required to provide 10g protein
Small eggs 2
Milk 250mL/1 cup
Cheese 40g/ 2 slices
Yoghurt 200g/1 tub
Beef, lamb or pork 35g cooked weight
Chicken 40g cooked weight
Fish or seafood 50g cooked weight
Wholemeal bread 4 slices
Cooked pasta or rice 2 cups
Lentils or beans, legumes 1 cup
Baked beans 1.5 cups
Tofu or soy meat 100g
Soy milk 300mL
Nuts & seeds 50g
Protein powder Varies, approx. 1 tblsp
Protein bar 1 small or ½ large


You can see it is very easy to achieve the required amount of protein per day, even if you are a consistent exerciser.  So what happens to the additional protein you may eat?  Any unused food, whether it is from protein, carbs or fat will be stored in the fat cell for later use as a fuel.  So more is not better in this case!


There is a risk of some people not consuming adequate protein, particularly those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.  This is likely due to not consuming large enough serves of beans or tofu.  This may lead to inadequate recovery, sore muscles and fatigue.


Striking the right balance in your protein intake may be difficult as protein rich foods are often very satiating and you may find eating additional protein helps manage your appetite.  This needs to be weighed up against your individual requirements to ensure the additional protein foods you are consuming are not contributing to an increase in storage of fuel in the fat cells.  An Eat Smart Dietitian can formulate a personalized plan with adequate (but not excessive!) protein so that you get the most out of your work, activity and life!  A performance nutrition plan is not just for elite athletes, the everyday active person can also benefit from tailored advice that suits your personal circumstances.

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