Your protein intake do matter. Man or woman - it matters. Carnivore, vegan, gluten-free, pescatarian, keto, name it - it matters. Athletes or active individuals - it matters even more. But why does it?
According to Harvard's School of Public Health, protein is and essential macronutrient which is found throughout the body - in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part or tissue. At least 10,000 different proteins make you what you are and keep you that way. Protein is made from amino acids, nine of them deemed essential and mostly comes from food since our body cannot create it (or cannot create enough of it). So we all agree, if Harvard's says it - protein is essential.
But why is it so important for athletes and active individuals you may ask? Yet essential for everyone, the quantity varies from person to person. Since active person burns more calories (energy) than sedentary people, it only make sense to assume they will need to consume more macronutrients than others. Calories in vs calories out. Right?
But why more protein? As you may, or may not know, protein is the main macronutrient helping muscle growth and recovery. Since athletes are normally breaking more muscle fibers than sedentary or non-active people, they need to give their body a better chance to heal, which means giving the body more protein overall. Protein is also a thermogenic macronutrients, which means it helps activate your metabolism and burns more calories. It can be really useful for people who wants to lose weights, or maintain a leaner physique and/or building more muscles. Basically, protein is gold when it comes to general health.
It is important to understand that everybody is different and that all bodies react differently to given food. So the source of protein matters. Some people can fuel with mostly red meat and feel fine, some others can't due to inflammation. Some people digest Whey protein (which comes from dairy) some others can't digest it properly. If not digested properly (bloating, cramps, farts, overall discomfort), it is normally a sign that your body isn't assimilating the nutrients as it should. This is where the quality of the protein ingested becomes so important. This is also where a balanced diet is crucial - to know what works, and what doesn't.
Okay, you got my point. Protein is important for athletes. We need protein. We want protein. But how much? For years and years the scientific community fought to build a "perfect" guideline when it comes to protein intake. In 2021, we still don't have a consensus. But we have a better understanding of the human body and it's need.
1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (BW) was the basic of any newbie in the gym. Many people still use it as a guideline and I can't tell you it is wrong. However, it can seem like a lot for many people. Is it dangerous? Can eating too much protein can harm your body? The science says no. Your body is a well rounded machine and is able to process protein really efficiently - it takes what it needs, and reject what it doesn't. So if you eat too much protein and that your muscles, bones and tissues don't need all of it, you will simply digest it. No problem here.
The International Society of Sport and Nutrition tried to break it down a little bit deeper and tried to give a range for athletes. The final decision - 1.4 to 2g per BW Kilos. The higher the activity level is, the higher in this range the individual should aim for. The amount of protein within that range also varies with the carbohydrate intake of the individuals and the quality of the protein sources.
One last thing to consider is the person body fat percentage. The leaner the athlete is, the more protein his body can utilize and transform. Studies have shown that a lean individuals can ingest, use and benefits from up to 1,6g of protein per lean pound of BW. It is quite a lot. But this can also explain why high level athletes need so much protein in their daily calorie intake in order to recover and keep growing muscle mass. This amount of protein intake can also help athletes get leaner because of the thermogenic effect of protein on the human body. So, the leaner you are, the more protein your body can use. And the more protein you eat, the leaner you will get. I hope you get my point here...
To conclude, I don't think there is a magical and perfect number to guide people into their fitness journey when it comes to protein intake. Following those three guidelines, the minimum protein intake you should be striving for would be 1.4g per BW Kg. So when calculating macronutrient ratio into your diet, most specialist would recommend starting with protein target, than go to your carbohydrates and fats. It would be a good start, than see if you can increase the quality of your protein sources to duplicate the benefits, than try to include more and more into your diet until you feel like your body has enough to recover, grow, and help you reach your fitness goals.