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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 14, 2008

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

By Mark Sisson
67 Comments

Protein Never Looked So Tasty. Dear Mark,

I hear conflicting advice on the percentage of protein in a healthy diet. How much protein should I be getting?

The subject of protein intake is, as you’ve noticed, a contentious issue. It’s gotten a lot of attention (and scrutiny) since the Atkins and derivative diet plans became all the rage several years ago. Let me first say that, while I can tell you my perspective on protein, it’s not a stand-in for your physician’s advice. Individual health history is crucial to determining appropriate protein intake, and your doctor will be able to look at the full picture with you.

That said, I think high protein diets get a bad rap for a number of reasons. Too many people approach a high protein diet as a free pass to eat whatever meats they crave, and that too often means fatty, cured, conventional meat. They also don’t balance their diet appropriately.

Protein should be lean and clean, as I always say: low in fat and free (or as free as possible) from the toxins of our modern food supply: pollutants (like dioxin in dairy), nitrites, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides from feed, and chemical sanitizers or irradiation used in processing. A healthy diet, by definition, means plenty of vegetables, fruits and varied protein sources such as eggs, fish, and a variety meats. Dairy products also contain protein, but I suggest limiting dairy and focusing on the above foods as the staples of a healthy diet.

First, let’s look at what conventional recommendations are. The current U.S. RDA for protein is 63 grams a day for the average sized male, or for your individual RDA, 0.80 g/kg/day (grams of protein per kilogram of your weight per day). Many nutritionists suggest that athletes and very active people can maintain their muscle mass at 1.0 g/kg/day. Most nutritionists say protein should constitute no more than 20% of your calories each day.

Now I’ll give you my perspective.

Based on latest research findings and in the context of the Primal eating strategy I talk about on the site, men and women can and do thrive on higher than conventional protein diets. Humans evolved with a high protein diet. Experts from the Medical Research Council at the University of College London estimate that, while the typical Western diet today is composed of 49% carbs, 35% fats and 16% protein, the diet of traditional hunter-gatherer populations included twice the protein intake.

Current study of tribal populations that maintain traditional diets shows that high protein, fruit and vegetable rich (virtually no carb and few unhealthy fats) “hunter gatherer” diets seem to protect against the “diseases of wealth” we experience in the developed world (i.e. many forms of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, etc.).

In keeping with this research, I don’t believe people need to limit their protein intake to 20% of their daily calories. The upper limit of protein recommendations is hotly contested in all circles. I, myself, try to get at least 1 gram per pound of body weight per day (165). I can survive on less, but I’m all about maintaining my lean mass. You can only do that with protein, and I don’t believe the current RDA allows for that, especially in active individuals.

One of the most common critiques links higher protein diets to impaired kidney function. Recent research suggests, however, that people without prior or developing kidney or liver impairment do not experience any kidney or liver issues with a higher protein intake (1.3 g/kg/day). People most at risk for this kind of kidney stress include those who have a personal or family history of kidney or liver problems or those who have high blood pressure or diabetes. (Because developing kidney and liver problems don’t always have obvious symptoms, it’s important for your doctor to know your protein intake exceeds conventional recommendations.) People with liver or kidney problems, doctors warn, are less able to process and excrete the waste products (mostly nitrogen left over from amino acid breakdown) that are produced when the body metabolizes protein.

I would repeat here that it’s important that you feed your body the “cleanest” protein you can. Animal products, meat and fish in particular, are the most protein-rich options, and they contain vital omega-3s. However, they also can carry the heaviest “toxic” burden of our modern food supply. These toxins are powerful and plentiful enough over time to put a strain on anyone’s body – including liver and kidneys. Choose organic, grass-fed meat and poultry whenever possible, and go for wild instead of farmed fish.

You might also hear that high protein diets can put you at risk for osteoporosis. This outdated claim simplifies the picture and doesn’t hold up well under detailed scrutiny. Most new research, including USDA studies, suggests bone density improves with added protein intake in most deficient or borderline people when they also have adequate Vitamin D. These findings are particularly important for older men and women, for whom the loss of bone density and muscle mass is of vital concern.

Other factors important for maintaining bone density include: salt consumption, magnesium to calcium ratio, sunlight exposure and Vitamin D deficiency, ph dietary balance, and physical activity levels. To protect your bone density, reduce salt (and salt derivatives) as much as possible, get plenty of sunlight, do regular weight bearing exercise and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to balance both the acidity of many protein sources and to boost magnesium levels in your diet.

Lindsey Spirit Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

What I Eat in a Day

Avoid These Meats Like the Plague

Art De Vany: Does Muscle Attract Women?

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67 Comments on "Dear Mark: Pondering Protein"

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Paul Krause
Paul Krause
8 years 8 months ago

I may be riding the retarded train to a slow and certain end but I think a high protein being a sort of gateway to osteoporosis is counterintuitive. I would think the more protein the better, right?
Question: Can you get to much protein in your diet??

Gordon
Gordon
8 years 8 months ago

This is the first time of heard the ‘1g of protein per pound of body weight’ and I love it! I always assumed more protein was better (i.e. less hungry for longer periods) but I had no idea what I should be shooting for. Thanks!

charlotte
8 years 8 months ago
Back when I was an omnivore, I followed Tom Venuto’s advice about protein (to eat 1 – 1.5g per pound of bodyweight) and often exceeded that. I didn’t have any problems with osteoporosis or kidney function etc. I was a healthy weight with a relatively low bodyfat % (about 18-20). But I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life for moral and ethical reasons and after a few years eating meat, reverted back to being a veg. The result? I weigh a few pounds less than I did as a meat eater and my bodyfat % is now 16-18%.… Read more »
Mark Sisson
8 years 8 months ago
Paul, The protein-osteoporosis argumant was based on an assumption that excess protein made your blood acidic and that, in order to acheive pH homeostasis, your body was forced to pull calcium from your bones to rebalance itself. That may be what’s happening, but it turns out the calcium “reservoir” is sufficient that the bones will readily readmit the calcium, so there is no net loss of calcium and, hence, no loss of bone density. Of course, all that assumes you are exercising (causing the bones to need calcium) and that you are not over stressed (cortisol prevents uptake of calcium… Read more »
markus
markus
8 years 8 months ago
can’t see why you seem to think that Paleolithic man ate lean meats (certainly not on purpose anyway) many anthropologists and ethnobiologists since the turn of the century noted traditional societies actively sought out the fat – Aborigines come to mind. Never mind the Samburu and Masai herdsmen or the North American Indians or Eskimo (the latter did not all eat fish). Are you influenced by Cordain? His views on animal fats and hunter gatherers is less about evidence and more about keeping his reputation amongst modern nutritionists – who are ignorant of the health benefits of animal fat. The… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 8 months ago
A question and a comment. The question: if you’re attempting to lose weight, should that be 1 g per pound of desired body weight, or 1 g per pound of current body weight? And, given that men and women have different proportions of muscle mass to fat, is the recommendation different for men and women? I currently weigh 144 lbs, and am female, and I can’t imagine eating 144 g of protein. 100 g, maybe, but 144 g is a lot. That’s, like, 2 dozen eggs, isn’t it? A comment: I don’t know about Loren Cordain, but I have heard… Read more »
andyinla
5 years 9 months ago
Your math is off a little bit, here’s how it breaks down. 1 pound = 453.59237 grams. 144 grams divided by 453.59237 equals 0.31746565754622371624108227393684 pounds, or roughly 1/3 of a pound. In the US, eggs are sorted according to size grades which are defined by the weight of a dozen eggs, i.e. Jumbo eggs equal 30 ounces per dozen, Extra Large 27 ounces Large 24 ounces Medium 21 ounces Small 18 ounces Peewee 15 ounces, almost exactly 1 pound of eggs. Your 144 pounds of body weight as grams of protein would only be 1/3 of a pound of protein,… Read more »
Erik
Erik
5 years 7 months ago

on the contrary, i believe your math is off. No food is 100% protein by weight, especially not eggs.

Robert
Robert
4 years 2 months ago

Where did you get your math? Migraineur was correct at 144 grams. That’s what 1g per 1 lb means. Not sure why you’re dividing anything and getting all calculousy.

Migraineur
8 years 8 months ago

I used to know someone named Paul Krause! Paul, if you’re still following this thread – did you go to a small liberal arts school in Maryland?

Mark Sisson
8 years 8 months ago
Markus, I am definitely a “high-fat” guy and I am starting to think we may have to alter the bias we show on this site towards “lean meats.” Because 99% of the meat consumed in this country is grain-fed, most of the fat content in our meats is very high in Omega6 fats. Since I also harp on the fact that inflammation is a serious factor in disease (and a high 6:3 ratio increases inflammation), I have a bit of a dilemma in giving diet advice. My recommendations of “lean” presupposes that most of my readers do not have access… Read more »
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[…] to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!There’s been a lively discussion going on in the comment board of yesterday’s “Dear Mark: Pondering Protein” post. I want to make myself clear […]

markus
markus
8 years 8 months ago
Mark you are very generous in your reply. i am humbled. i believe you when you say that the fatty acid profile of grass fed meat is probably better than grain fed. But in the context of offering a generalised food advice to poor and rich, i think that giving the message that high fat low carb is the best is more important in combatting the disease promoting western diet (and its ugly little sister the Standard American DIet). those of us who can afford grass fed meats and dairy and unpasteurised milk may have a little better quality of… Read more »
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[…] Dear Mark: Pondering Protein […]

Brian A
Brian A
8 years 8 months ago

I’ve always believed in the high-protein diet for active people, specifically as someone trying to add muscle mass. I guess that’s why even as a meatless eater, I don’t find it difficult at all to consume 150-200g of protein a day. 7-8 meals, 20-30g of protein per meal.

Migraineur, ever have a 12-egg-white omelette?

PS Is it possible that the liver damage can occur whilst using supplements for protein like powders and amino capsules rather than the naturally-occuring protein in real food?

Migraineur
8 years 8 months ago
Bryan – I think you’re probably right – real food is probably the key – one of the keys, anyway. And I think “real food” generally means “whole food.” I’m not a fan of the several meals a day approach, partly because I find it impractical to drop everything several times a day to eat, and partly because 20 to 30 g of protein leaves me sated for several hours. But I don’t know of any scientific reason why someone should avoid this approach if it works for them. It just doesn’t work for me. What would be the advantage… Read more »
Brian A
Brian A
8 years 8 months ago
I do eat whole eggs, but if I’m having them as a primary source of protein the meal, I just use the whites. It’s a matter of calorie math – 8oz of egg whites is 117 calories with 26g of protein; 8oz of whole eggs is 3 times as many calories. I prefer then to get the remaining calories in my breakfast from veggies and olive oil. Remember, I have 6 more meals that day, I don’t want to ‘blow’ 700 calories on the first one! As for the wasting the yolks, I switched to egg whites in a carton… Read more »
Stacey
Stacey
8 years 6 months ago

Mark: I want to know, how much fat, sat. fat, protein and carbs are there in egg whites? Please help me out if possible.

Thank you

Mark Sisson
8 years 6 months ago

Stacey,

Insignificant carbs in eggs. Forget the fat/sat fat…they are both good for you. Fat is our friend.

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[…] Dear Mark: Pondering Protein […]

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[…] Pondering Protein: How much protein should I be eating? […]

Sunday
8 years 5 months ago

Hey Mark:

I haven’t gotten around to trying your product, but it is something I want to do. Just don’t have the funds to do it, yet, without worrying about other stuff. But soon…

Since we are on the topic of protein, I wanted to know your thoughts on bison meat, grass-fed, of course, as opposed to cattle. Also, do you know what makes grass-fed, or otherwise “organic” products so expensive?

God bless!

marc white
8 years 4 months ago

Actually protein is probably single most important nutrient needed in a healthy body besides water. It allows all your bodies functions to perform more efficiently. .75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is sufficient for the average person.

I agree with your sources of protein, very good choices.

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[…] Dear Mark: Pondering Protein […]

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[…] much protein should I be […]

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[…] acids. In addition, since it isn’t mass-farmed, you can bet that buffalo on your plate was grass-fed and is generally free of the antibiotics and hormones often used in commercial […]

Darlene Brehm
7 years 4 months ago

Listen to Brian Peskin lecture on carbs like youhave never heard before. Proteins and Fats feed the structure of the body and do not turn into fat. Carbs turn to sugar in your blood, then into fat that stores IN and On your body. IN means that fat stores in your organs and arteries. Also go to the website and read his articles like this one: http://brianpeskin.com/articles/evilofcarbsnatutalbodz.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=29A2754B7E0AA9C6&search_query=brian+peskin

Also know that all he says is based on SCIENCE N O T Opinion

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[…] as you’re going low carb, the extra saturated fat isn’t a concern. Of course, I always suggest “cleaner” versions of any animal product (especially anything high in fat, where most toxins are […]

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[…] your conversation mate targets the protein piece. From the “You’ll kill your kidneys” (actually, no) claim to a whole host of […]

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7 years 3 months ago

[…] Dear Mark: Pondering Protein – Jan. 14 […]

Alcinda
7 years 1 month ago
Late to posting…but I have a few things to add. I’ve long believed in the power of protein, partly because of my nursing background. Recently I saw an article about people going into an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and they found that those that had the highest blood albumin levels were more likely to survive and recovered faster. This held true regardless of the reason for being there, accident or illness. Eating protein is the only way to raise your blood albumin levels….except getting it via and IV of course! RE: Protein shakes. I use them as a convenience, but… Read more »
Ben
Ben
6 years 8 months ago

What are the drawbacks of eating more than 1gram/lbs of lean body mass a day. I used Fitday.com to chart myself for a week and noticed that I eat about 240g of protein a day but have a lean body mass of 180. I read in your book that this protein can be converted to glucose. Should I consider these extra 60g to be glucose and therefore cut back on my carb intake?

Mark Sisson
6 years 8 months ago

Ben, yes, most of the extra protein will convert to glucose, so there’s no need to exceed the 1/lb.

john wells
john wells
6 years 7 months ago

would it be more reasonable to calculate 1 gr protein per pound of lean body mass?If I am 200 lbs and 20% bodyfat,but get in better shape and lose 10%,your standard would drop my protein requirement from 200 gr to 180 gr,even though I would be more fit,active,and with a better metabolic profile

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[…] amount of indigestible fibrous plant matter. We moderns have access to real animal fat and protein, so I doubt we need anywhere near 135 g of inulin and […]

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[…] amount of indigestible fibrous plant matter. We moderns have access to real animal fat and protein, so I doubt we need anywhere near 135 g of inulin and […]

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[…] 100% as of today. I’m still trying to make sure I’m consuming enough protein every day. Mark’s Daily Apple recommends 1 gram per pound of body weight per day, but at 213.2 lbs, that’s an awful lot, so […]

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[…] in protein.  The body needs between 1g and 0.8g of protein per pound of lean body muscle.  See: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/dietary-protein/.  If you are not getting that amount, then it is likely you need protein.  Do your research […]

Cat
Cat
5 years 8 months ago

Hi! I am new to the Primal Diet (1 week) and FitDay says my ratio has been Fat 38%, Carbs 30%, Protein 30%. I was told to increase the fat and decrease the carbs to start losing weight (always hungry in the first week). I am recovering from an injury and cannot workout right now, can anyone please tell me if even without strenuous exercise, do we still need to keep within the .7-1 gram protein per pound of body weight a day? Or do we need less protein without exercise? Thank you!

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5 years 6 months ago

[…] put, healthy kidneys can handle plenty of protein; heck, they are meant to handle protein. One of their primary functions is to process the metabolic […]

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[…] workload should be avoided. As simple as that. . For further reading on this topic, I recommend this article from Mark Sisson and this wiki […]

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[…] Protein — Dietary Protein; and also Protein Amounts in […]

Shelly
Shelly
5 years 4 months ago

I’m just starting the transition from my carb/grain-loaded diet to the primal diet. So This is all new to me and I’m really trying to wrap my head around it.
I’m weighing in at 195lbs right now, so am I supposed to be eating 195+g of protein? If so, how? I can eat 3 eggs for breakfast and not be hungry again until 2 in the afternoon. If I try to eat that much protein, I’m going to be eating when I’m not hungry.
Can you all help me figure this out?

Mark Sisson
5 years 4 months ago

@Shelly, the general rule of thumb is 1 gram per pound of lean body mass for active/athletic people. In your case, trying to lose weight, you will want to stay around 100-120 grams a day max. Also, there’s no reason to eat when you are not hungry while you are trying to burn off stored fat. If you can have 3 eggs for breakfast and not be hungry again until 2, you are well on your way to success, as your body will look to its fat stores for fuel.

trackback
5 years 2 months ago

[…] about protein while on the paleo diet? Check out this post from […]

elise a. miller
5 years 1 month ago
This is my first post. I love this site, am so grateful for the information and comments I find, and visit daily. I’ve been eating Primal for a little over a month now. I am lucky to live in an area with abundant local farms, so I eat organic grass-fed and pastured animal products, lots of vegetables, some of which I lacto-ferment, and raw dairy. I found my way to your apple via WAPF, Taubes, Croxton, Gedgaudas, Keith, etc. I have been experiencing great results regarding my emotional well-being following the Primal Blueprint. I was losing weight too, gaining lean… Read more »
Mark Sisson
Mark Sisson
5 years 1 month ago

@elise, 73 grams is not that much at all. I might try upping the greens, yes, or adding a good probiotic formula.

elise a. miller
5 years 1 month ago

Good to know. Thank you very much. I have upped my greens and probiotics, along with a magnesium supplement that has proven magical. Thanks again! I feel even better now.

Penn
Penn
3 years 9 months ago
Old thread, but have a question. In response to Elise’s question and your response: I, too, have been reading Nora G.’s book and started reducing my protein and still having trouble getting it as low as she recommends .8 x ideal body weight in K=kg. That would put me at 50 grams a day! I had 78 grams today (3 oz chicken at b’fas, tin of sardines at lunch-on big green salad, 4 ounces of homemade chili-put me over my “limit.” I am way hungrier than when I was eating as much protein as I wanted. I am late 50’s… Read more »
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[…] protein needs increase to 3 grams per kg of bodyweight. If you can’t stomach that much or dietary protein isn’t available to you, it comes from existing muscle. And, if you don’t have much […]

car
5 years 1 month ago

I thought it was going to besome boring old post like on every blog , but it really compensated for my time with your good posts,have a nice day.

Maaz
Maaz
4 years 11 months ago

@Mark I have been to so many bodybuilding websites and forums and they all have different opinion regarding the amount of protein ones body can utilize in one go. I don’t like the concept of having 5-7 meals a day, for me 4 is max(Including the protein shake). Is it true that anything over 20 gram of protein simply goes to waste and/or has minimal benefit.

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[…] put, healthy kidneys can handle plenty of protein; heck, they are meant to handle protein. One of their primary functions is to process the […]

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[…] novel bacteria to their bodies, to weight lifters craving meat after a hard workout to introduce protein to their hungry muscles, to pregnant women experiencing strong food aversions to minimize the […]

Pranay
Pranay
4 years 4 months ago

Hey Mark.
What is your take of the mTOR treshold for protein? Many people say that .8g/kg is sufficient in maintaining bodyweight, and extra protein will down-regulate our repair pathways while up-regulating our reproductive pathways. Also, our ancestors often were in feast or famine, so they probably did not have as much of an average protein intake as modern Americans.

Curious as to what this might mean for our adequate protein intake.

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[…] novel bacteria to their bodies, to weight lifters craving meat after a hard workout to introduce protein to their hungry muscles, to pregnant women experiencing strong food aversions to minimize the […]

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[…] with about 29g of protein while 3.5 ounces of garbanzo been hummus provides about 8g. Many experts (here, here, here) have said that for optimal health and fitness, people need between .7-1g of protein […]

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[…] your Protein Fix! Eating sufficient protein from meats with saturated fat will help your body digest the nutrient […]

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