Protein Counting – What is the Important Number?

The goal of most exercise regimens and diets is to reduce fat while adding tone or muscle mass in body composition. A part of dieting and most serious fitness routines is counting calories and grams. 

It can get far more in depth than that in tracking dietary intake with many choosing to separate saturated fats, sugars, and complex carbohydrates for starters; but calories, unsaturated fats, and proteins are important numbers for even casual fitness or health conscious individuals. The question is whether simply counting grams is of any real benefit.

What is the Goal?

If the goal is reduction of body fat percentage and weight associated with body fat percentage then reduction of calories through diet and burning of calories and fat with exercise are the primary methods. Since the goal is virtually never to reduce lean muscle mass, the counting of protein becomes a factor. 

Simply reducing intake of food completely (and therefore calories) without consideration of protein will put you at risk of catabolizing (breaking down) the lean muscle tissue as well as the stored fats.

Counting of Calories and Protein

A correct diet for weight loss or fat burning without loss of lean muscle will include a reduction in calories as well as maintaining protein intake. This is where the attention turns to the grams of protein in your daily diet. If your goal is to gain lean muscle mass, the protein counting becomes even more important.

In both instances, the ratio of calories and protein – or to be more precise the percentage of calories from protein is a more important number than actual grams of protein. You cannot effectively gain muscle mass without additional protein intake, and it is difficult to lose weight without a portion of it coming from breaking down muscles if you have inadequate protein intake. 

In both cases, you want a lower overall body fat percentage, so you do not want to simply eat protein if it means dramatically higher caloric intake from fats or other sources.

This leaves the number to be watched as a percentage of calories from protein. In dieting, to increase muscle mass and burn fat, a good goal is to get 35-40% of your calories from proteins. 

Calories from Proteins as a Percentage in Foods

             Sirloin Steak     59%
          Chicken Drumstick    51%
                    Typical Ground Beef    23%
                   Salmon   56%
                   Eggs    34%
                   Peanuts    18%
                   Plain Non-fat Yogurt   43%
                   Skim Milk    40%
                  Whole Milk    21%
                  Whey Protein    96%
                  Egg whites    95%
                 Chicken breast  80%  

This sample listing gives an idea of good (and bad) ways of getting a higher percentage of your total calories from proteins. 

Consistency is the key to building muscle mass and maintaining your lean and healthy body.

Mark Dilworth, BA, PES


About Mark

Hi, I'm Mark Dilworth, Nutritionist, Dietary Strategies Specialist, Nutrition for Metabolic Health Specialist and Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist. Since 2006, I have helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle habit changes which includes body transformation and ideal body weight.