Protein Proportioned Properly

Debra Wein, MS, RD, LDN., NSCA-CPT-D, CWPD

The effect of exercise on dietary protein requirements has been a controversial topic for years. Despite the debate, many athletes have routinely consumed extremely high protein diets with the hope of increasing size, getting cut, and gaining muscle mass. Indeed, protein performs extremely important functions in the body as part of enzymes, hormones, antibodies (in the immune system), and components of tissue, especially muscle tissue. However, more protein in the diet does not necessarily mean more muscle on the body.

Over the last 30 years, the protein debate has fueled quite a bit of research, and it has now become clear that regular exercise does in fact increase protein needs — good news for athletes who thought this was the case all along. On the other hand, the interpretation of what the increase should be is extremely variable. In fact, what a lot of athletes fail to realize is that the typical American diet contains excess protein, so that most exercising individuals obtain sufficient protein without any extra effort.

How much protein is enough?

Although muscle is indeed made of protein, eating excess amounts will not cause muscle hypertrophy or growth. Muscle stimulation and contraction, through strength training, causes muscle hypertrophy and eating extra carbohydrate — stored as glycogen — fuels intense strength training workouts. Without adequate glycogen, you cannot contract optimally and hypertrophy will be limited, whereas, consuming carbohydrates supports both glycogen and protein synthesis through the insulin response (insulin, an anabolic hormone, is produced in response to carbohydrate intake).

Table 1 – Protein recommendation based on activity
Activity level Conversion factor
Sedentary individuals / Sporadic exercisers .4 grams per lb. body weight
Active exercisers .5 – .6 grams per lb. body weight
Very active weight lifters .7 – .8 grams per lb. body weight

So what should you eat?

When eating, read food labels and use Table 2 below to track the number of grams of protein you eat each day. Do this for a few days to figure out your typical protein intake and make adjustments in your diet accordingly.

Table 2 – Protein content of food groups
Food Group                                       Protein (grams) Calories
Dairy – nonfat and low fat              
1 cup milk, 1/3 cup dry milk, 8 90-120
1/2 cup evaporated milk 3/4 cup yogurt 8 91-120
Meat and Meat substitutes 7 35-55
1 oz lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, 7 35-55
2 egg whites, 1/2 cup cooked beans, 7 35-55
1 oz. low fat cheese 7 35-55
1 slice bread, 1/2 cup pasta 3 80
1/3 cup rice, 1 small potato 3 80
1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw 2 25
Fruit 0 60
 1/2 cup juice or 1 piece raw 0 60
Adjusting your protein intake to the recommended levels above (Table 1) will help fuel your future strength training workouts to get the best results possible. Fortunately, the digital gym does this automatically — monitoring each member’s lean muscle levels, strength gains, activity levels and other key biomarkers to customize daily meal plans that contain the right amount of protein to make the most out of every workout.

Interested in Koko?
Try 30 days of complete fitness and coaching for just $30.


About Debra Wein

Debra Wein, MS, RD, NSCA-CPT, CWPD, is a nationally recognized expert on health and wellness. She has nearly 20 years of experience working in the health and wellness industry and has designed award winning programs for both individuals and corporations across the country. She is president and founder of Wellness Workdays, ( a leading provider of worksite wellness programs, and president and co-founder of Sensible Nutrition, Inc. (, a consulting firm that provides nutrition and wellness services to individuals. Debra is also the Program Director of the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship, the only worksite wellness focused internship for dietetics students interested in becoming Registered Dietitians that is approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Debra helped to formulate and design KOKO’s current nutrition program.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s