Judging by all the protein bars, shakes and powders out there, you get the impression you need more protein.

There are claims it curbs appetite, helps with weight loss and builds muscle. But what’s the real story?

“Contrary to all the hype that everyone needs more protein, most Americans get twice as much as they need,” said Kristi Wempen, a Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian nutritionist. “This is especially true for males 14-70 years of age, who the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise to decrease meat, poultry and egg consumption.

True or false: Big steak equals bigger muscles

Although adequate protein throughout the day is necessary, extra strength training is what leads to muscle growth – not extra protein intake.

You can’t build muscle without the exercise to go with it.

“The body can’t store protein, so once needs are met, any extra is used for energy or stored as fat,” added Wempen. “Excess calories from any source will be stored as fat in the body.”

Wempen explains extra protein intake also can lead to elevated blood lipids and heart disease, because many high-protein foods are high in total fat and saturated fat.

Extra protein intake, which can tax the kidneys, poses an additional risk to individuals predisposed to kidney disease.

How much protein do you need?

Anywhere from 10% to 35% of your calories should come from protein.

So, if your needs are 2,000 calories, that’s 200-700 calories from protein (50-175g).

The recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person who weighs 75kg should consume 60g of protein per day.

“Once you hit 40-50 years old, you start losing muscle mass as you age,” Wempen said. “To help prevent this and to maintain independence and quality of life, your protein needs increase to about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight.”

People who exercise regularly also have higher needs, about 1.1-1.5 grams per kilogram.

People who lift weights regularly or are training for a running or cycling event need 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram. Excessive protein intake would be more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight each day.

“If you are overweight, your weight is adjusted before calculating your protein needs in order to avoid overestimating,” Wempen said. “You can see a dietitian to help develop a personalised plan.”

Where does protein come from?

Wempen says the healthiest protein options include:

• Plant sources, such as soy, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils

• Lean meats, such as skinless, white-meat chicken or turkey, and lean cuts of beef or pork

• A variety of fish

• Egg whites

• Low-fat dairy

“Meet your dietary protein needs with these whole foods as opposed to supplements,” she said. “Supplements are no more effective than food as long as energy intake is adequate for building lean mass. Manufactured foods don’t contain everything you need from food, nor do manufacturers know everything that should be in food. There may be compounds in real foods that we haven’t even discovered yet that may be beneficial for the body.”

When is the best time to consume protein?

Wempen recommends that you spread out protein consumption evenly throughout the day.

On average, she says, people tend to get most of their protein during evening meals and the least at breakfast.

Certain recent studies show moving some protein from supper to breakfast can help with weight management by decreasing hunger and cravings throughout the day.

Of course, more research is needed before these claims can be verified.

General recommendations are to consume 15-25 grams of protein at meals and in the early recovery phase (anabolic window) – 45 minutes to one hour after a workout.

Studies show higher intakes (more than 40 grams) are no more beneficial than the recommended 15-25 grams at one time. Don’t waste your money on excessive amounts.

If you want to use a protein supplement, Wempen advises to look for:

• About 200 or less calories

• 2 grams or less of saturated fat

• No trans fat or partially hydrogenated oils

• 5 grams of sugar or less

What does 15-25 grams of protein in whole foods looks like? Eating a banana, Greek yogurt and a hardboiled egg will get you 19 grams of protein on average.

Most people – even athletes – can reach their protein needs by including a serving of dairy at each meal and a piece of meat the size of a deck of cards at lunch and supper.

“Protein should be an accompaniment to fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It should not be the entire meal,” Wempen said. – Mayo Clinic News Network/Tribune News Service