How Much Protein Do You Need on a Low Carb Diet?

Protein is one of the major nutrients for our bodies. This substance not only builds up our muscles and connective tissues but also takes part in the production of enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and DNA.

Most low carb diets recommend the substitution of foods rich in carbohydrates with high-protein products such as meat, fish, eggs, and milk, and the right amount of protein consumption is a topical issue for all people who undergo such a diet.

At present, there are two basic approaches in determining how much protein a person should take. Nutritionists who take the first approach estimate the daily consumption of proteins by taking a person’s weight in pounds and multiplying it by 0.37. Thus, an individual weighing 200 lbs would have to take 74 grams of protein per day.

Many dietary specialists argue that the level of activity – and not just body weight – should taken into consideration when determining the right amount of protein intake. They recommend that a person who is actively engaged in endurance exercises (for example, long distance running) have to consume 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, while a person who regularly does heavy strength training has to receive between 1.7 to 1.8 grams every day.

The first method to determine protein consumption utilizes the overall body weight, while the second one employs a person's lean weight (i.e. the total body weight minus the fats). This approach, used, for example, in the Zone and Protein Power low carb diets, mealalso takes into account a person’s mode of living. There are six basic modes - sedentary, slightly active, moderately active, active, very active, and athletic – which require different daily rations of protein. A sedentary person has a fairly inactive job, uses public transport or drives, and does not engage in sports or physical activities. The sedentary type requires 2 grams of protein per kg of fat free mass (FFM comprises of non-fat elements such as bones, skeletal muscles, and water). A moderately active individual has a fairly sedentary occupation and spends little time in walking and exercise. He or she will need between 2.5 and 3 grams of protein per kg of fat free mass. A very active person is one who has an active job (for example, warehouse worker or yoga teacher), exercises regularly and spends considerable time in walking. Very active persons require around 3.2 grams of protein per kg of FFM.

If you want to do the math yourself, here is how the calculations work: let’s assume a person weighs 150 lbs and has 30 percent of fats (there are fats calculators available online, which can estimate the percentage of fats in your body). This means that the person’s lean weight is 105 lbs. The lean weight is multiplied by a variable factor which depends on the mode of living (for example, the factor for the sedentary mode is 0.5). Thus, if a person has lean weight of 105 lbs and leads a sedentary lifestyle, he or she would have to consume 52.5 grams of protein per day.

These are the two main methods of determining protein consumption. Keep in mind that protein needs also depend on age, sex, and body build-up. On the other hand, not consuming protein is not an option: our bodies have little capacity to build up protein depots. If you limit the consumption of protein, your body will begin to break down muscle tissue to secure the needed amounts. If you consider starting a low carb diet, you are well-advised to consult a nutrition specialist and ask about the amounts of protein, fats, and carbohydrates that are optimal for your body.

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