How Much Protein Should You Eat for Exercising?

Chicken Chimichurri Wraps and Cilantro Mint Sauce (same picture)

When you think of what an athlete or bodybuilder eats, what foods usually come to mind? Chicken breasts? Egg whites? Tuna? These foods are all packed with protein and many athletes and bodybuilders eat them because they need the extra protein to build and repair body tissue after intense workouts.

Knowing this, people who exercise a few times a week assume they too should eat extra protein so they buy jugs of protein powders, cartons of egg whites, and boxes of protein bars. But do they really need all that protein? Probably not. In fact, most of us get plenty of protein from our regular diet. Consider that one cup of milk has 8 grams of protein, a chicken breast has about 30 grams, and a cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt has 18-20 grams.

The average woman needs about 46 grams of protein a day and men need about 56 grams (according to the CDC). If a woman eats a chicken breast and a cup of Greek yogurt, she has met her needs for the day in just two foods! Since many foods contain protein, you can see how easy it is to get far more protein than the body needs.

If you work out at an intense pace for more than a half hour a day, your body may need a little extra protein but you probably already get that additional protein in your diet. So there’s no need to make buy special protein-enhanced foods. And if your diet does lack protein, go for whole food sources instead of highly processed protein shakes and bars. A cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt has more protein and fewer calories than most protein bars.

Through her Des Moines-based nutrition company, SK Health Communications, registered dietitian Stephanie Karpinske writes and develops recipes for magazines, books, supermarkets and food companies. She is the author of Read Before Dieting: Your 4-Step Plan for Diet Success and writes a blog about healthy eating, She’s coaching the Lehman family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.