Protein is a very interesting macronutrient for two big reasons. First, it’s not a fuel source like carbohydrates or fats, although it can be used as one in dire situations, but it is still absolutely necessary for all major bodily functions. Hormones, enzymes, skin, muscles are all made of protein. We need to make sure that we get enough of it. Second, we don’t store it well. Which seems counter intuitive since it’s so necessary for our health. That may be because we are constantly using it up. There’s no “down time” for protein. Our cells are constantly building up or breaking down, communicating, replicating or dying, cleaning up, and adapting to new stressors. And protein is needed for all of those things all of the time. What this means is that adequate protein needs to be consumed on a daily basis.
How much protein do I need?
Protein estimates vary. The most common numbers used are 0.7-1.2 g of protein per day per pound of body weight. Just like everything else, your protein needs are individual to you. And to your current goals. Trying to build muscle? More protein. Trying to lose body fat? Many recommend more protein. Trying to get stronger and get leaner? You definitely need to keep your protein intake higher.
How do I get enough protein?
Note: This section is going to address animal sources of protein. I am not as familiar with vegetarian sources, but if you want help, please ask! I would be happy to do some research for you.
The best way to get enough protein is with high quality, whole food sources. Top of the list is going to be organic and sustainably sourced grass-fed beef (or other ruminant animals) and wild-caught fish. Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios are optimal in these meats, nutrient density is the highest, and the impact on the environment is minimal to even having a positive one in the case of certain grass-fed beef practices. If you can also mix in some organ meats and bone broths from these sources, you will be golden. After that, pasture raised poultry and especially the eggs are a great source protein, but poultry tends to have a less optimal balance of omega fats. Knowing that organic, sustainable, grass-fed, and pasture-raised comes with a price tag, if you do need to buy conventional meats, focus on lean cuts of beef over conventionally raised poultry. In addition, wild-caught fish should be purchased over farm-raised, regardless of the organic label. Remember! Soup bones and organs of the organic variety are going to be cheaper than traditional muscle meat cuts and you get a pretty high bang for your buck, nutrient-wise.
Wild game trumps all of these sources, especially if you’re the one who did the hunting. But I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Time is can definitely be a constraint that limits your ability to get enough quality protein, so protein supplements are definitely worth considering. Just remember, it’s a supplement, not a meal replacement. I like pureWOD because the protein isolate is from beef. This is also a great option if you are sensitive to dairy.
What does adequate protein look like?
Take your approximate body weight and multiply it by 0.7 and 1.2 to get the range of grams of protein for you. If you weigh 160 pounds, start by aiming for 160 g of protein per day. But remember! Even if you don’t hit that number, especially if you are at a pretty low amount right now, just aim for a little more tomorrow. To start, add an egg or a serving of meat. Quantity may be your first hurdle. Always start your day with protein. If you already eat protein at breakfast with few carbohydrates, but you still feel hungry by 10 am, eat more protein! For protein in the morning, I usually eat 2-4 eggs with some other meat, but I’ve been doing this for a while.
Below, I made a table of common protein sources, grams of protein in a serving, and an estimate of the cost per gram of protein. The bottom range is the estimated cost of the least expensive sources, the top range is the estimated cost of organic or sustainable sources. If you connect with a wholesaler, or directly with a farmer, it is possible to get lower prices for higher quality. I get a majority of my beef for about $6-$7 per pound for all cuts–ground beef, soup bones, steaks, roasts, and organs–direct from a farmer.
|Protein Source||Grams of Protein per Serving||Approx. Cost per gram of protein
(conventional – organic/sustainable)
|Egg||6 g in 1 large egg||$0.04 – $0.07|
|Beef 85% lean||22 g in 3 oz||$0.03 – $0.07|
|Steak||62 g in 1 steak (8-9 oz)||$0.11 – $0.16|
|Chicken||27 g in 4 oz||$0.03 – $0.07|
|Venison||26 g in 3 oz||A hunting trip|
|Salmon||23 g in 3.5 oz||$0.07 – $0.19|
|Beef Liver||22 g in 3 oz||$0.08 from US Wellness Meats|