Can Protein Needs For Men Be Met By Food Alone?

Even though I ask both male and female clients about supplements it’s usually the men who are the most interested in protein. When we look at protein intake we generally think of meat, chicken, or fish. One of the mainstays in the Advisory Report to the Dietary Guidelines this year focuses on taking in less red and processed meat. So how do you follow the health guidelines for nutrition and still get protein in to achieve fitness goals?

Yes, protein is meat, chicken, and fish, but it’s also lean pork, beans, lentils, and found in cottage cheese, nuts, milk, eggs, and yogurt. Getting in protein from these dietary sources is more beneficial to us than in supplement form. Taking in protein in the form of snacks is a way to be sure we are getting what we need if we cannot get all of our needs in meals. Here is a chart from a recent article in Today’s Dietitian on snacks higher in protein:


How much protein do men need every day? The rule of thumb is .8 grams/kg of body weight. For a 175lb. man this would be 63 grams in a day. To make it easy we can round up to 1 gram/kg which is nearly 80 grams a day. If a normally active, exercising male took in these foods in one day, his protein needs would be met: 1 Greek yogurt (17 grams), 2 hard boiled eggs (12 grams), 5 oz chicken/fish/beef/pork (35 grams), 1 oz pistachios = 49 shelled (5.8 grams).

This equals nearly 70 grams of protein. Taking in 4 servings of whole grains (2 slices whole wheat bread & 1 cup of rice) is roughly another 8 grams and 3 servings of veggies (2 cup raw greens and ½ cup cooked broccoli) is about 6 grams bringing our total to 83.8 grams of protein. As you can see there is not a need to supplement with a protein bar or a powder. A reminder – the only foods which don’t contain protein naturally are fruit and fat.

Studies have shown us that protein requirements for strength-trained individuals are actually not elevated more than normal. As well, science points us to the knowledge that taking in any more than 20 grams of protein after acute resistance exercise shows no further benefit or gain. However, getting in 20 grams of high-quality protein within 45 minutes after exercise can promote a muscle recovery process. The latter piece can be where the snack comes in between meals.

Despite not needing to supplement with bars or powders, many of my male clients still appreciate these products in their diet and there are some that are safe and nutritionally sound. The products I generally recommend are those that fit into the budget and taste good.

Recently I came across Bi-Pro, which supplies 20 grams of protein in 80-100 calories depending on the chosen flavor. If you add 1 cup of milk to Bi-Pro in a shake of sorts, the protein increases to 28 grams. There is strong evidence to support that whey protein, in products like Bi-Pro, is more readily absorbed as whey is more easily and rapidly digested.

The secret to whey protein is its high concentration of essential amino acids and specifically, leucine. By clicking on the website link above for Bi-Pro, this product can be ordered with a 10% discount by entering ROBYN in the discount code. Note this is only when spending $16.99 or more.

Protein needs in endurance athletes can increase to 1.2-1.4 grams/kg of protein per day and those athletes taking part in resistance training can increase even further to 1.6-1.7 grams per kg per day. So for our example male above, this means 103 grams of protein per day if he’s training for a marathon and up to 128 grams of protein per day if he’s training for an iron-man triathlon.

There is usually always room in the diet to increase protein with food especially when working with a sports dietitian, but taking in shakes and protein bars can be beneficial if there is a shortage of time and a preference for these foods.

Other types of supplements I often get questions about from the male clients I see are glutamine and l-arginine. Unfortunately there is not strong enough evidence to suggest these supplements are necessary.

Feeding our bodies with the food it needs and not skimping on the needed carbohydrates for exercise is imperative. We only use about 2-6% of our body’s protein stores for energy production. The rest comes mostly from fat stores or glycogen (carbs, folks!). This is why male athletes or men trying to build muscle need to keep their intake up overall or risk loosing lean tissue.

Creatine supplementation may be helpful in vegetarian athletes and can be considered a safe protein supplement as a way to increase lean body mass in athletes (men or women) who are weightlifters.

The typical dose of creatine is 3-5 grams/day. Some athletes using a loading does of 20 g/day for the first 5 days, but this has not been shown to be beneficial. Side effects such as abdominal cramps can be experienced when using creatine but with the does of 3-5 g/day these side effects may be negated.

Another trend right now in athletes is with beet juice, which may have concerns around the amount of nitrate it contains and this relationship to the body. Early studies with this food show an increase in skeletal muscle due to the lower demand of oxygen.

Just as last month’s e-newletter was directed toward women and supplements, the recommendations can be applied to both men and women. In the information above, the same is true. Need more information on your own specific protein needs?

Training for a ½ marathon or another type of ultra-endurance event? Get in touch with me to determine a nutrition plan just for you.