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How Much Protein Do You Need?

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?

whole roasted chicken with pepper and thyme

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)
1500 75 94 113
1750 88 109 131
2000 100 125 150
2250 113 141 169

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
Steak 158 26 Lentils 101 9
Roasted turkey 135 25 Black beans 114 8
Lamb 172 23 Chickpeas 134 7
Pork 122 22 Black eyed peas 100 7
Salmon 155 22 Quinoa 111 4
Tuna 99 22 Green peas 59 4
Shrimp 101 20
 .
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

Protein charts adapted from Today’s Dietitian

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.

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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.

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One thought on “How Much Protein Do You Need?

  1. This is a very thoughtful post, thank you for sharing and for making comments possible. I would add one other thing, which is that researchers have demonized carbs and both saturated and unsaturated fats. Protein has largely been spared the calumny that other macronutrients have been subjected to. So even if extra protein has no other value in your diet (and I agree with you that it does have value), just the fact of replacing some of the other “culprits” of poor health might be a good idea.

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