Whether you’re wanting to lose weight, build muscle, recover from a tough workout, feel more satiated between meals or simply maintain good health, eating enough protein is key. But with the rise in popularity of high-protein/lower-carb diets and food manufacturers adding protein to everything — or so they say — you might be left thinking more is better. How much protein do you really need though?
Determining Your Protein Needs
When it comes to determining your protein needs, recommendations vary greatly and tend to be incredibly broad, mostly because needs can be dependent on several factors including age, gender, overall calorie needs, physical activity level, and even overall health status.
Currently, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight — about 55 grams for a 150-pound person or 73 grams for a 200-pound person. (To do the math yourself, first divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms, then multiply that number by 0.8 to get grams of protein). If this sounds a bit low, it might very well be, as here the RDA is a minimum to prevent against muscle loss in average, sedentary adults.
Of course, maintaining muscle and other lean tissue is the body’s first priority, but research now suggests that just meeting the minimum may not be enough to achieve optimal health, particularly if you’re wanting to lose weight, gain muscle or are even just moderately active.
The Institute of Medicine, on the other hand, has established a range based on calorie needs. (If you don’t know how many calories you should be eating, this tool is helpful for estimating.) Following this recommendation, adults should consume 10-35% of their daily calories from protein. For someone requiring 2,000 calories per day, this translates to as few as 50 grams or up to a whopping 175 grams per day — a fairly wide range to say the least!
So how much is enough without going overboard?
Studies show that if you’re lightly-to-moderately active and trying to maintain or lose weight, sustain or gain muscle, or even just feel more satiated between meals, consuming 20-30% of calories from protein may help. For the majority of us needing between 1,500-2,250 calories per day, here’s what that range would look like in grams of protein/day.
|Total Calories||20% calories from protein (g/day)||25% calories from protein (g/day)||30% calories from protein (g/day)|
To determine protein goals outside of this range, calculate the following: (Total Calories x % calories from protein / 100) / 4 calories/gram of protein.
Getting Protein from Food
When it comes to hitting your protein goal, it’s completely reasonable to get most, if not all, of your protein from real foods. Rather than relying heavily on bars or supplements, incorporate whole foods that are naturally high in protein and other nutrients. Conveniently, these types of protein foods tend to be lower in sugar and free of additives.
|ANIMAL SOURCES||PLANT SOURCES|
|Food (3-ounce serving)||Calories||Protein (g)||Food (½ cup serving)||Calories||Protein (g)|
|Skinless chicken||141||28||Pinto beans||197||11|
|Roasted turkey||135||25||Black beans||114||8|
|Pork||122||22||Black eyed peas||100||7|
|EGGS & DAIRY||NUTS & SEEDS|
|Food (serving)||Calories||Protein (g)||Food (1-ounce serving)||Calories||Protein (g)|
|Greek yogurt (6 oz)||100||18||Peanuts||166||7|
|Cottage cheese, 1% fat (4 oz)||81||14||Peanut butter||188||7|
|Regular yogurt, nonfat (1 cup)||100||11||Almonds||163||6|
|Skim milk (1 cup)||86||8||Flax seeds||140||6|
|Mozzarella (1 oz)||72||7||Chia seeds||138||5|
|String cheese, non-fat (1 piece)||50||6||Walnuts||185||4|
|Large egg (1)||71||6|
Of course, when we consume protein might be just as important as how much. You see, our bodies don’t store protein like they do fat and carbohydrate, so spacing protein consumption throughout the day is key — not only to help keep hunger at bay between meals but also to provide the body with a steady flow of protein building blocks to support metabolism and aid in the growth and repair of muscles and other lean tissues. In addition to getting enough protein, aim to have at least 20 grams with every meal and 10-15 grams with snacks throughout the day.
Looking for protein-rich meal ideas? Check out Zipongo’s High-Protein recipes category for inspiration that matches your dietary preferences.
This article was originally published on December 19, 2016. It was last updated on January 30, 2018.