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How much protein do I need?

Proteins contribute a little, not a lot, but a little to your energy needs--10% at most. More in males than in females. Protein will not make a perceptible difference on your performance level, so it's not the fuel needs you're concerned about, but the building of tissue--especially muscle tissue, that is taking place. For the muscle-building/restructuring that is going on, an adequate supply of protein is necessary. The general recommendation for athletes is 1 g protein/kg body weight or 12-15% of your diet, only slightly higher than that recommended for the general population. Most Americans regularly consume twice that much protein, so your trail diet may have considerably less protein than you normally eat at home and still supply more than ample protein for the muscle building and energy needs of your body.

To calculate you protein needs, take your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 lb/kg. to get the number of grams protein (refer to the chart below).

Example, with 174 lb. hiker:

That's not a lot higher than the usual recommendation, but it may be less likely you are getting enough because of dietary preferences (Overheard: "Jerky makes me thirsty, so I don't eat it."), or the anxiety about properly storing /refrigerating protein over the long haul. So you need more, but you may be getting less. If you are concerned, do as I have done and add up all the grams protein in all the food you pack or buy along the trail. Easier: just try to get 15% of your diet from high quality protein sources. (Recipes include number of grams of protein.)

 Vegetarians: Do you have to eat meat to get enough protein? No, but you DO want to think carefully about your food choices if you go vegetarian. Plan to get at least four servings per day of dried beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy, if dairy is included in your diet. To make sure you are getting high quality protein, the following combinations are suggested:

 If you are left feeling vaguely uncomfortable, the easiest way to assess whether or not you are getting proper amounts of protein is to look at the "weak link", lysine. Lysine is one of the 20 amino acids that compose protein. If any are likely to be inadequately supplied in your diet, it would be lysine. The recommended level is 58 mg lysine/gram protein. From the example above, if you require 63 g protein, then multiply 63 x 58 (=3654 mg lysine required/day). If you require 79 g protein, multiply 79 x 58 (=4582 mg lysine/day). Then look on Table 4 (Lysine Content of Common Trail Foods) to see if you are getting the amount you need. If you are, then it is likely you are getting plenty (more than enough) of the other 19 amino acids. Keep doing what you are doing. If you aren't measuring up, consider replacing some of the no/low lysine foods (cereals) with high lysine foods (legumes/nuts/dairy/meat).

 Now that your mind is at ease, do you have to calculate your mg lysine every day? No here's the short cut: Get 4 servings per day of protein rich sources--dairy, legumes, nuts, and if you want, meat. As long as you are eating enough food to give you the energy to keep going, the remaining protein you need will be supplied by even relatively poor protein sources, such as potatoes, rice and spaghetti.

 Should I take an amino acid supplement just to make sure I am getting enough protein?

NO! If you are eating carbohydrates and adequate amounts of protein, there is no need to supplement your diet with ANY amino acid. At worst, supplements may be harmful to your health; at best, unnecessary supplements put a greater demand on your kidney to excrete the extra nitrogen, and it just gets flushed down the toilet (or the pit, depending on location). Instead, eat a balanced diet.



dried salami, pork & beef (5 slices) 910
beef & chicken jerky (0.7 oz. smoked stick) 652
chicken, canned (1 oz) 501
tuna, white, canned in oil (1 oz) 758
egg, dried (2 T) 478
cheddar cheese (1 oz or 1/4 cup, grated) 585
powdered skim mild (5T -->1C liquid) 631
parmesan cheese (2T) 384
instant pudding, choc. with lofat milk (1 cup) 670
Ben & Jerry's ice cream (1 cup) 366
black beans (1 C) 1046
chili beans (1 C) 1043
hummus (1 C) 768
peanuts, oil roasted (1 oz) 294
peanut butter (2T) 280
cashews (1 oz or 18 med. nuts) 240
10 M & M peanuts 240
trail mix (nuts & raisins)(1 oz) 146
dried apricots (10 halves) 89
dried tomatoes (1/2 C) 140
dried onion (1T)  15 
inst. mashed potatoes (1C) 280
barbecue potato chips (2 oz) 284
bulgur (1 C) 155
couscous (1 C) 130
granola, homemade (1/2 C) 302
choc. chip granola bar (1 oz bar) 79
inst. cream of wheat (2 pkt.) 144
inst. oatmeal (1 C) 162
inst. rice (1 C, cooked) 123
spaghetti, enriched (1 C, cooked) 135

Return to lysine text.

EXAMPLE: If you drank 2 glasses of milk (made from powdered skim milk), and ate half of a 6 oz. can of tuna (= 3 oz.), then multiply the mg lysine given in the chart by 2 (for two 8 oz. glasses of milk) and multiply the tuna value by 3 (since you ate 3 oz., not 1 oz).

Powdered skim milk (5T-->1C liquid) 631 x 2 servings = 1261

Tuna, white, canned in oil (1 oz) 758 x 3 servings = 2274

TOTAL 3535

So your total for this simple lunch was 3535 mg lysine. Even if you're a 220 pound athlete, you are well on your way to meeting the protein needs of your body for this day.

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