For certain! At a recent meeting sponsored by P.I.N.E.S. (an international group of sports dietitians who met at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Convention, June 1, 2012 in San Francisco), Dr. Stuart Phillips, PhD of McMaster University in Canada reminded us that rapidly-growing infants require 1.3 grams protein per kilogram, whereas the RDA for fully-grown adults is 0.8 grams protein per kilogram body weight. Adults need less protein because they simply are not growing as fast as infants and young children.
The same goes for novice athletes who are building muscle; they have higher protein needs than a sedentary person. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), according to Phillips, is really a minimal dietary allowance for athletes. Just as children have higher protein needs during growth periods, athletes also have higher requirements to 1) build muscles and 2) maintain a flow of amino acids for processes that may function at a higher rates in athletes than non-athletes (such as the synthesis of protein, neurotransmitters, and immune proteins).
Phillips supported the ACSM Position Stand on Nutrition for Athletes, citing their recommended daily protein intake of 1.2 g/kg body weight (0.5 g/lb) for endurance athletes and 1.7 g/kg body weight (0.75 g/lb) for strength athletes.
Most elite athletes eat 1.6 grams protein/kg/day, spread over 4 to 5 meals and snacks, so they already meet this higher protein recommendation without the use of supplements. Hence, the real answer to the question “do some people need more protein than others?” is yes, but they likely get that extra amount in their standard diet; they just have less excess. Them ore you exercise, the hungrier you get and the more protein you are likely to eat.
For more information on estimating your protein needs and learning how to consume that from food, please refer to the chapter on protein in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.