When I first started my ketogenic journey I had apprehensions about proper nutrition, especially protein. I had read that too much protein is not good, that the body can convert excess proteins to sugar through a process known as gluconeogenesis. For a keto athlete, the last thing we want to worry about is excess sugars. On the other hand, I wanted to make sure my protein was adequate for my health and post workout recovery. It seemed to me, as it may for others, it’s a balancing act.
How much protein does a ketogenic athlete need?
Before we get into this question, let’s remind ourselves of what a ketogenic diet is. In short, the ketogenic diet is a fat-fueled vs. a carbohydrate-fueled system. Ketones are produced when the body burns fat for fuel, thus the name ketogenic. I bring this up because it’s the fuel source that’s changing, generally other nutrients like protein stay the same.
Back to the original question: How much protein does a ketogenic athlete need? When we look at it from the view of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), it says modest protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This is the amount of protein suggested to meet basic nutritional requirements – not a specific amount we are supposed to eat every day. RDA also doesn’t account for activity level, let alone athletes. Recommendations for athletes suggests a protein intake of 1 to 1.2 gram per kilogram of body weight, others suggest 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. When I look at the different medical, nutritional and fitness protein calculators for myself, I get a wide spread of 67 to 168 grams of protein. It’s no wonder people are confused on the subject of adequate protein.
Can you just calculate a number for me?
A number can be calculated for you, but it will only be a recommendation. Personal tweaks and adjustments will be required. There really are no hard rules for what is required, at best we have guidelines and recommendations. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to adjust and see what works best for their unique situation. Using guidelines and recommendations, we can input age, gender, weight, activity level, etc. – all the objective data and come out with a starting point. This doesn’t account for the specific individual, how they respond metabolically or nutritionally, or how a particular body responds to different forms of training to make the best of their protein.
Not all protein is created equal
No matter what your daily protein requirement is, the quality of protein matters. As a suggestion, choose whole foods like fatty fish, eggs, and quality cuts of meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.). Notice, I didn’t say lean cuts. Opt for the fattier stuff…it tastes better.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: When the option is available, choose whole foods, as Steve is suggesting. However, if you are in a situation where you have to make due with protein powder…I would suggest a powder derived from egg protein.]
With the various recommendations, suggestions and options, the subject of adequate protein and equally its answers are open for debate. At worst we eat too much or bad quality thinking we are making progress. At best we take the time to study our needs and goals, and get them dialed in – finding what works best for us. As with most things in life, we must be willing to do the work to reap the reward.