Protein is like the building blocks for your body. It’s in your hair, nails, and muscles and even helps make important things like hormones and antibodies. That’s why it’s vital to have enough protein every day.
Now, how much protein you require isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. It depends on different things like your age, health, how active you are, and if you’re expecting a baby. But let’s break it down. We’ll tell you how to figure out your protein needs, when you might be overeating, and who might need extra protein.
What’s Your Daily Protein Requirement?
Protein is essential for your body. Here are some simple ways to determine how much you need daily.
1. Percentage of Daily Calories: Current guidelines recommend that adults 19 years and older get 10% to 35% of their daily calories from protein. For a 2,000-calorie diet, this is about 200 to 700 calories from protein.
2. Calculate by Weight: Another method is to calculate based on your body weight. You need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. For example, a 150-pound female needs around 54 grams of protein, while a 180-pound male should aim for about 65 grams.
3. Examples of Protein: To give you an idea, here are some foods containing roughly 10 grams of protein:
- 2 small eggs
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa
- 3/4 cup of cooked black beans
- 1 cup of uncooked oats
- 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
4. Measuring Meat, Poultry, and Seafood: If you often rely on these as protein sources, remember that 1 ounce of meat, chicken, or fish provides around 7 grams of protein. A typical 3- to 4-ounce cooked portion (about the size of a deck of cards) can give you up to 30 grams of protein.
New research indicates that a higher protein intake might be even better. For instance, aiming for 1.3 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight daily (about 88 to 122 grams for women and 105 to 145 grams for men) could be optimal, especially in preventing age-related muscle loss and maintaining overall health.
Do You Need More Protein?
Does this mean you should have a 12-ounce steak for dinner? Not necessarily.
Protein deficiency is uncommon in the U.S., and if your diet is diverse, there’s no need to go to great lengths to increase your intake. However the way you distribute your protein intake throughout the day may be just as important as the quantity you consume.
A study in the Journal of Nutrition from 2020 discovered that young, healthy men who spread their protein intake evenly across three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) gained more muscle than those who ate very little protein for breakfast and consumed most of their protein during lunch and dinner. Both groups also did strength training exercises.
How Much Is Too Much Protein?
Eating too much protein can lead to missing out on important nutrients from carbohydrates, like fiber and healthy fats. Experts recommend getting about one-third of your daily calories from protein and not going beyond roughly 2 grams per kilogram of your body weight. For instance, this would be around 140 grams of protein for someone weighing 154 pounds or up to 160 grams per day for someone weighing 176 pounds.
In the past, there were concerns that high protein intake might increase the risk of kidney stones or weaken bones (since digesting protein releases acids that could use up calcium from your bones). However, recent research indicates that these concerns are unfounded. A study from 2019 in Nutrition Today suggests that eating protein within the higher recommended range might even be good for bone health, especially when you’re also getting enough calcium. Your protein intake is unlikely to cause harm unless you have kidney disease.
Factors That Impact Your Protein Needs
Because protein requirements vary from person to person, some individuals may require more protein and may find it challenging to meet their needs.
Vegetarians or Vegans
Getting enough protein isn’t a concern for those on a plant-based diet as long as you consume sufficient calories. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated in a 2016 position statement that the distinction between “complete” and “incomplete” proteins is misleading. Protein obtained from various plant sources provides all essential amino acids when consumed throughout the day and in line with calorie needs.
While vegetarians and vegans should be mindful of their protein sources, incorporating a diverse range of foods like legumes, soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame), pistachios, eggs, Greek yogurt, quinoa, seeds, nuts, and nut butter ensures a well-rounded protein intake.
Protein is essential for all fitness levels, not just bodybuilders or elite athletes. While the IOM’s recommendations apply to sedentary individuals, more active people can aim for up to 2 g/kg of body weight daily, especially when distributed throughout the day. To maximize results, experts recommend consuming 15-25 g of protein within an hour post-workout, in addition to the general protein intake of 10%-35% of daily calories.
Excessive protein doesn’t lead to better outcomes; research indicates that benefits level off beyond recommended intakes. Opting for leucine-rich foods, like animal products (milk, meat, poultry, eggs, seafood), is effective for muscle maintenance, repair, and growth. Whey protein supplements offer another option, containing leucine for those struggling to meet protein needs through food.
As we get older, our bodies become less effective at turning the protein we eat into new muscle. This can result in gradual muscle loss, leading to reduced strength, frailty, and limited mobility. However, you can combat these effects by staying active and ensuring an adequate protein intake.
Protein isn’t only vital for maintaining muscle mass; it also supports wound healing, boosts the immune system, and preserves skin health—essential aspects as we age.
A 2018 review in Advances in Nutrition suggests that older individuals should aim for ≥1.2 g of protein per kg daily, focusing on foods rich in leucine, a key player in promoting muscle growth. The authors argue that the IOM’s protein recommendation may not meet the protein requirements for older individuals looking to maintain skeletal muscle mass. While getting enough protein is crucial, it’s equally important to distribute your intake—around 25-30 g of protein at each meal—to maximize muscle cell growth.
Pregnant or Breastfeeding
“Pregnant women need extra protein, at least 10 grams more per day during the second and third trimesters,” says pregnancy nutrition specialist Rachel Brandeis M.S., RDN. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that pregnant women should consume a minimum of 1.1 grams of protein for every kilogram of their body weight each day, which is about 25 additional grams daily.
For breastfeeding mothers, it’s important to consume more calories and protein to produce an adequate milk supply and support your post-pregnancy recovery.