Number Crunching

How much protein do you really need? A lot more than Uncle Sam's telling you.

Protein

Getting enough protein     Photo: Outside Magazine

THE GOVERNMENT is lying. OK, that may be a little strong, but if you're adhering to the Food and Drug Administration's daily recommendation for protein, this much is true: You're not getting enough. "Athletes need higher amounts of protein; that's the consensus," says the University of Western Ontario's Peter Lemon, a leading protein researcher for the last 27 years. Like most nutritionists, Lemon feels that active people need 50 to 100 percent more protein than the 0.4 grams per pound of body weight the RDA has been suggesting since the Nixon administration.

So how much is enough? Zealots of Barry Sears's Zone Diet say 30 percent of your daily ration should be protein. Recovery expert Ed Burke argues that protein should make up 15 percent of your diet. And the supplement industry urges you to gulp down protein shakes like it's your patriotic duty. All the alternatives to Uncle Sam's advice can leave your head spinning.

Hoping to cut through the confusion, this summer the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences plans to publish a revised RDA that takes into account athletes' unique requirements. In the meantime, you can use the above numbers from Dr. Lemon—based on a 3,500-calorie-per-day diet for a physically active adult male—to make sure you're getting the right amount of protein.

Next: Build flexibility in part three of our Shape of Your Life fitness plan.

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