Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue Health & Wellness

Protein Power: The Ultimate Guide to Protein

Out of all of the macronutrients, protein tends to be the favorite for most firefighters. Station dinners often center around what meat or protein is on the table. But what is protein, and how much do firefighters really need?

What is Protein?

Before we get into protein, it is important to understand what a macronutrient is. Macronutrients, or “macros,” are the nutrients that provide our bodies energy in the form of calories. There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The amount of each can vary based on personal goals, dietary preferences, medical conditions, etc.

Protein plays a crucial role in the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. It is made up of amino acids, otherwise known as the “building blocks” of protein. Our bodies need protein to repair cells, support a healthy immune system, and of course build muscle!

In general, protein is found in animal based foods like beef, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. Vegetarian, or plant based, sources of protein include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy.

How Much Do I Need?

It depends on your goals! Protein needs vary based on workout routines, body composition goals, medical conditions, and more. In general, 0.6-0.9 g/lb (1.4-2.0 g/kg) is recommended for active people. Ideally, protein intake would be spread over 3-4 meals daily to optimize muscle growth or maintenance in a deficit. For a 180 lb firefighter, this is a range of 108-162 g protein per day.

That range is pretty big and can be narrowed down based on calories. The higher end of the range is recommended for those trying to lose weight via a calorie deficit. Basically, when your body gets fewer calories than it needs, it looks for calories in your body’s tissues. You want those calories to come from body fat as much as possible, not from muscle! A higher protein intake can help maintain muscle mass and maximize losses from body fat.

Those in a caloric maintenance or excess (aka bulking) can aim for the lower end of the protein range. Of course, if more protein is desired, go for it!

How Much Protein is Too Much?

Rumors circulating the internet suggest that “too much” protein is bad for kidney health. For healthy individuals, this is a myth! Studies suggest up to 2.5-3.3 g protein/kg/day (1.1-1.5 g/lb) in healthy, resistance-trained individuals show that higher protein intakes do not harm kidney or liver function.

Another myth is that the body can only “absorb” 30g of protein per meal or that meals over 30g of protein will waste the excess protein. You would know if your body could not absorb it (hello, diarrhea). However, it will take longer to digest more protein, which can help keep you fuller longer. So, go ahead and add double meat to your Chipotle bowl!

Now, a high protein intake can have some “downsides”. If most of the protein sources are higher in fat, that can lead to extra calories, making it harder to stick to a calorie deficit. Higher protein intakes can also cut into carb intake on a calorie-restricted diet. Cutting into carbs could impact workout performance and energy levels. If you just like eating extra protein and are not working around a calorie deficit, then eating more protein is not necessarily a bad thing for a healthy firefighter. Work with a dietitian to determine the right amount of protein and how what food choices fit based on your goals.


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  4. How Much Protein Can You Eat In One Sitting?
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long, healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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