Person exercising at a gym

You might say it was love at first bite.

Professional eaters (yes, that’s a thing) Randy Santel and Katina DeJarnett initially met through their online channels, but it wasn’t until Santel met her in person that he realized he really did kinda like her.

It was July 2020. DeJarnett had accepted Santel’s invitation to join him on a road trip through Alaska to take part in five food challenges in 10 days.

The challenges involved eating a 40-inch pizza, reindeer meat, six eggs, a 1.5-pound cinnamon roll, $300 US worth of barbecue, seafood, and beef burgers.

There’s a lot of protein in all that food. Which begs the questions: Can too much protein be harmful? What kind of protein should we be eating? How much protein should we be eating?

If you’re asking the same questions, you’re in the right place: We’ve set out to answer them in this article.

What Is Protein and Why Do We Need It?

You may have heard that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. It’s true: Proteins are organic molecules built from a set of 20 amino acids.

Amino acids fall into two camps: Essential and non-essential. 

Essential amino acids are those that our bodies can’t produce on their own, so we have to get them from food. There are nine essential amino acids. Our bodies can make up to 11 amino acids (pretty cool, huh?), so these ones are called non-essential amino acids.

Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is a macronutrient. These are the nutrients we need in larger quantities to provide us with energy. We also need protein to repair and rebuild muscle, bones, cartilage, skin, hormones and our immune system.

Eating food high in protein can also help our bodies recover faster from exercise or injury, and reduce muscle loss. 

And because protein makes you feel full, it can help you drop a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight.

What Are the Recommended Protein Intake Guidelines in Canada?

The amount of protein you should eat daily depends on your body weight and activity level.

For sedentary, generally healthy adults, about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is enough to cover the basic daily requirements, according to Precision Nutrition, a Toronto-based nutrition coaching company. 

Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds. Divide 150 by 2.2 to get the weight in kilograms: 68 kilograms. Multiply 68 by 0.8 to get your number of grams of protein per day. Or use this online calculator.

68 x 0.8 = 54.4 grams of protein per day

Let’s break the requirements down further:

Active but overweight: 1.2.-1.6 g/kg

Active and at a healthy weight or body composition: 1.6-2.2 g/kg

Healthy and looking to change your weight and/or body composition: 1.6-3.3 g/kg

When it comes to actual protein intake, a quick way to determine portion size is in the palm of your hand. Literally. One serving of protein for you is the size of your palm.

If your goal is weight loss and you’re tracking your daily calories, note that 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories.

Protein Quality and Protein Digestion Speed

In addition to recommended daily intake and portion sizes, there are a couple of other important things to know about eating protein foods. Kristine Faza, certified nutritional practitioner, highlights quality protein and digestion speed.

“Quality can mean two things,” Faza says. “First, how clean the ingredients are, and second is what amino acids are included in the protein. A high quality protein includes all essential amino acids.” 

Clean ingredients are in their whole, “clean” state. In other words, they’re not processed or refined. By choosing clean sources of protein, such as organic chicken or organic almonds, you’ll receive all the nutritional benefits of the food in its freshest and most natural form.

Digestion speed refers to how fast your body can break down and absorb the protein.

Let’s say you just finished a workout. One option to help your muscles recover is a shake that contains hydrolyzed protein powder. These powders contain “pre-digested proteins,” so they’re easier to absorb. 

Fast-digesting protein sources are thought the be the most beneficial protein sources to consume after a workout to increase muscle protein synthesis — the process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage.

Is Too Much Protein Harmful?

There are times when our bodies need more protein. These include times when we’re:

  • Sick or injured
  • Recovering from surgery
  • Training hard frequently, or have a physically demanding job
  • Over the age of 50 (we digest protein less well as we get older, so we need more to meet requirements)
  • Losing protein for another reason, such as chronic physical stress

Otherwise, Faza says people consume too little protein more than they consume protein in excess.

“It is really important to consume what your body needs, which depends on the type of exercise you do and what your weight goals are,” she says. “It is always helpful to work with a nutritionist to make sure you are consuming the right amount for your body and your goals.”

One common concern about eating too much protein is that it causes kidney damage. Canadian Science Publishing reports this isn’t true: “The most often-cited/held beliefs regarding higher protein are that higher protein intakes lead to renal failure and/or results in reduced bone health. Evidence-based analyses of these beliefs show, however, that neither has a foundation.”

Regardless, we recommend you check with your doctor if you have any health concerns about the amount of protein you’re eating.

Faza adds that being active is a great way to ensure your body is using all the protein you consume. 

“If you consume more than your daily intake, the nitrogen-containing amino group of the protein gets converted into urea in the liver and is then excreted in the urine,” she explains. “The remainder of the protein gets converted into glucose and is used as energy.”

The Best Sources of Protein

Canada’s Food Guide recommends choosing plant-based protein over meat-based sources. Red meat tends to be higher in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol. 

Terrific plant-based sources of protein include:

  • Beans 
  • Chickpeas
  • Edamame*
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Quinoa*
  • Seeds
  • Tofu*
  • Tempeh*

Lots of dark, leafy greens and vegetables, such as kale and broccoli, contain some protein. They’re a great option to snack on, to help you meet your daily protein requirement.

*These are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. You can also combine incomplete proteins to form a complete protein. For example, whole grains with beans (rice and beans), or whole grains with nuts or seeds (almond butter on whole wheat toast).

For more inspiration, don’t miss our article on high protein vegetarian breakfasts.

Get Your Protein in Your Hot Coffee or Latte

Consuming enough daily protein for our weight and activity level helps keep us healthy and strong. 

Regular exercise and chowing down on plant-based, clean sources of protein as part of healthy eating will also go a long way in maintaining our overall well-being. 

And speaking of exercise, consider having protein you can digest quickly after a workout. Like hydrolyzed protein. Quick digestion will get protein to your muscles more quickly, so they can start to recover faster.

Allo, which has 10 grams of hydrolyzed whey protein per serving, can help you achieve your daily recommended protein intake. Simply stir it into your hot coffee or espresso, and watch it easily dissolve. Enjoy a flavorless version of Allo if you like your coffee black, or try a creamer option and flavors such as vanilla, caramel and hazelnut. Browse flavors now.

Calculate My Recommended Protein Intake