Lean on Protein: A Primer on a Basic Building Block for Good Health

Protein for fitness

When you’re looking to get bigger and preserve muscle mass during your diet, there’s nothing like protein to help you stay healthy. Here’s a quick basic intro to a vital nutrient.

No matter what their fitness goals are, I always ask my clients to take enough protein. Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three major nutrients which you can find in meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and beans. Among many well-known functions, protein is a powerful building block as well as an  energy provider. It is used to make some hormones and enzymes and produces an immunoglobulin; a substance in the body which helps fight disease, assists with  bone formation, and builds muscle. Therefore, when you want to stay healthy, become bigger and stronger, and preserve muscle mass during your diet, you need to consume an adequate amount of protein.

You may understand you need protein as part of your fitness regime, but how much do you actually need? The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein in Canada is 0.8g/kg of body weight. It’s sufficient for about 98% of the general population to maintain their health. If you weigh 70kg, your protein intake should be 56g a day, which is about equal to a very large chicken breast. Some claim however, that this RDA is far too low for those engaged in regular intensive exercise like strength training, running, and team sports like basketball. Recovery from exercise, maintaining the immune system and building muscle are all become compromised with only this limited intake.

Many organizations and nutritionists propose increased protein intake to enhance muscle building and athletic performance. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) for example, states that athletes need 1.4 – 2.0g/kg of their body weight in protein to maximize strength and endurance [1]. A study suggests muscle protein synthesis plateaus with 1.3-1.8g/kg of protein intake when caloric requirement is satisfied [2], so the number which the ISSN proposes sounds legit. If you weigh 70kg, you need as much as 140g of protein daily. This number is roughly equivalent to nearly three large chicken breasts.

Protein Shake

When you’re dieting, the situation is a little different. The body metabolizes protein/muscle to obtain energy when you have a caloric shortfall. You easily lose muscle when dieting, so you need more protein to sustain it. One paper suggests that 2.3 – 3.1g/kg of Fat-Free Mass (FFM)–fat mass weight which is excluded from body weight–of protein intake is required to minimize muscle loss during a diet [3]. Furthermore, a higher protein intake helps you lose weight and provides more satisfaction during your diet. Thus, it’s beneficial to add extra meat or fish to the main dish while you control the total calorie intake during your diet.

Some might worry about the safety of a high protein diet because there’s a perception in some circles that taking protein over the RDA limit is bad for the kidneys and liver. Unless people have pre-existing health problems where a doctor restricts protein intake, safety is a non-issue. It goes without saying you must follow your physician’s guidance when dealing with any health problems.

In short, increased protein intake is a priority for fitness. It’s crucial for muscle building, body sculpture, sports performance, and good health. And, unless you have a pre-existing health condition, it’s safe.

So, go ahead: Indulge in all those wonderful mouth-watering meat, fish and legume dishes you’ve been meaning to try! Your body will thank you!

Atlas Motohashi

Copyright: Oleksandra Naumenko / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. CAMPBELL, Bill, et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2007, 4.8: 8.
  2. PHILLIPS, Stuart M.; VAN LOON, Luc JC. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences, 2011, 29.sup1: S29-S38.
  3. HELMS, Eric R., et al. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2014, 11.1: 20.
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