How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day
Protein is essential to good health. The very origin of the word from the Greek protos, meaning “first” reflects proteins top-shelf status in human nutrition. You need it to put meat on your bones and to make hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and more. Its common for athletes and bodybuilders to wolf down extra protein to bulk up. But the message the rest of us often get is that our daily protein intake is too high.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, its the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day.
To determine your daily protein intake, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, or use this online protein calculator. For a 50-year-old woman who weighs 140 pounds woman and who is sedentary , that translates into 53 grams of protein a day.
But use of the RDA to determine how much protein you need daily has actually caused a lot of confusion. “Theres a misunderstanding not only among the public, but also somewhat in our profession about the RDA,” says Nancy Rodriguez, a registered dietitian and professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. “People in general think we all eat too much protein.”
Why Do We Need Protein
Proteins are present all throughout the cells in our bodies and are necessary not only for growth and development, but also for our bodys daily tasks. Our body depends on protein for many tasks, like adequate flow of blood and oxygen through the body, creating enzymes that digest and help absorb our foods, and for regulating our hormone levels.
When we exercise and push our muscles to the limit, we cause tiny microtears in the muscle tissue. To repair and grow, our muscles require protein from our diet. Similarly, protein is a key requirement for healing after an injury or surgery.
Getting More Protein Into Your Day Naturally
If youre looking for ways to get more protein into your diet, here are some suggestions:
- Try a peanut butter sandwich. Remember to use natural peanut butter with no added salt, sugar or other fillers.
- Low-fat cottage or ricotta cheese is high in protein and can go in your scrambled eggs, casserole, mashed potato or pasta dish. Or spread it on your toast in the morning.
- Nuts and seeds are fantastic in salads, with vegetables and served on top of curries. Try toasting some pine nuts or flaked almonds and putting them in your green salad.
- Beans are great in soups, casseroles, and pasta sauces. Try tipping a drained can of cannellini beans into your favourite vegetable soup recipe or casserole.
- A plate of hummus and freshly cut vegetable sticks as a snack or hummus spread on your sandwich will give you easy extra protein at lunchtime.
- Greek yoghurt is a protein rich food that you can use throughout the day. Add some on your favourite breakfast cereal, put a spoonful on top of a bowl of pumpkin soup or serve it as dessert with some fresh fruit.
- Eggs are a versatile and easy option that can be enjoyed on their own or mixed in a variety of dishes.
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Which Factors Could Affect Your Calculations
You might have higher or lower protein needs for different reasons. Women typically have less lean mass than men and require less protein in general.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have higher protein needs. Also, if youre recovering from any kind of injury, your needs may be higher as your body is in a state of repair.
If youre trying to lose weight and are currently consuming too many calories, you might have to cut back on protein intake as part of an overall lower-calorie diet.
However, keeping your percentage of calories from protein the same will help preserve your lean muscle mass and potentially promote muscle growth based on exercise.
Sample Healthy Meal Plans For Men
A good way to plan healthy meals for men, optimize energy levels and lean mass, and meet daily protein intake goals is to consider the following guidelines:
- Fill one-fourth of each plate with protein foods
- Fill one-fourth of your plate with fiber-rich starches like sweet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, lentils, other legumes, or whole grains
- Fill one-half of your plate with non-starchy veggies like leafy greens, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, celery, or asparagus
- Eat three servings of dairy foods, protein-fortified plant milk, or protein powder shakes
- Consume healthy fats at each meal
Consider some of the following protein-rich meal plans to get and stay healthy, maintain an ideal weight, keep energy levels high, and optimize or increase lean mass:
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Protein For Muscle Gain
Many studies have made clear the potential muscle-building benefits achieved by consuming more protein. For example, one 2018 study found that an increased intake of protein leads to greater muscle mass gains when coupled with resistance training exercises. Other studies have also linked higher protein consumption with an improvement in muscle mass preservation.
Increasing your protein intake can be an effective way to help you gain more muscle mass – but only if you also have a muscle-building fitness routine and eat a balanced diet.
How Much Protein To Build Muscle
When it comes to building muscle, your gym routine is only part of the puzzle your diet, particularly your protein intake, is the other key factor.
In general, you need between 1.2 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily to encourage muscle growth.1
While specific factors can play a role in where you fall on that range, supplying your muscles with quality protein from your diet is the key to promoting muscle growth. Read on to learn about how to make the most of your protein intake.
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Tolerable Upper Intake Levels
The same study notes that the tolerable upper intake limit for protein is 3.5 grams per kilogram of body weight daily, or 1.6 grams of protein per pound.
This equates to 288 grams of protein for a 180-pound man.
Tolerable upper intake levels are the maximum safe amount most adults can consume without unpleasant side effects or increased health risks.
Other Factors Integral To Muscle Gain
It’s worth reiterating that consuming the optimum amount of protein per day will only help you to build muscle when integrated with a regular strength/resistance exercise routine. It is also important to factor in adequate rest time, as this is when the maintainance, repairing and strengthening of muscles occurs through the process of MPS.
Likewise, you can follow the strictest exercise routine, but if you’re not getting at least seven hours of sleep every night, all that hard work may be going to waste. Not giving your body enough time to recover can have a big impact on muscle growth.
The time that you choose to consume protein can also positively influence muscle gain. Taking protein both before and after exercise may improve and support the MPS process.
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Calculating Your Protein Intake
As every individual is built differently, you can tailor your daily protein intake based on your weight. Better yet, knowing your body-fat percentage will allow you to calculate the protein needed per kg of lean body mass, which is a more accurate measurement.
There are many body-fat percentage calculators to help you do this. After calculating your body-fat percentage, you will need to subtract this number from your overall weight to work out your lean body mass percentage. If your aim is to build lean muscle, then it is recommended that you aim to consume around 2 g of protein per kg of lean body mass. Using a body mass index calculator is also a useful tool for checking that you are at a healthy weight in relation to your height.
This said, for the most personalised and expert advice, Patel recommends booking a consultation with a registered dietitian who specialises in sports nutrition.
How much protein do you need to build muscle?
- Plant-based meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh.
Protein supplements have also been proven to support muscle-building. However, they should be taken in addition to – and not as a substitute for – a protein-rich diet. While some studies have found that whey protein is absorbed faster than food protein, muscles can only handle around 25-35 g of protein at a time. In reality, any excess protein from an overload in protein shakes will be used by the body, but not for muscle tissue.
How Does Protein Contribute To Muscle Growth
Much of our body is made up of protein, including muscle, bones, skin, and hair. Because its function is so widespread, theres a constant turnover of proteins in our body some being broken down and some being built up .
The amount of protein we consume in our diets can influence whether were in a building or breaking down state.
Exercising causes stress on our muscles, making tiny tears or injuries in the muscle proteins that need to be repaired. Consuming more calories and protein in our diet than were breaking down provides the building blocks for our muscles to repair and gain mass over time.
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Protein Shakes Powders And Supplements
Protein shakes, powders and supplements are unnecessary for most Australians health needs. According to the most recent national nutrition survey, 99% of Australians get enough protein through the food they eat.
Any protein you eat on top of what your body needs will either be excreted from your body as waste, or stored as weight gain.
The best way for you to get the protein you need is to eat a wide variety of protein-rich foods as outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, as part of a balanced diet. But if you are still interested in using protein shakes, powders and supplements, talk to your doctor.
Protein Intakes And Health
Protein is relatively ubiquitous in the food system so a diet which is deficient in protein is also likely to be deficient in other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. In developing countries where access to a balanced dis challenging, protein-energy malnutrition can develop, which can lead to the conditions kwashiorkor or marasmus characterised by thinness. Protein deficiency in the body can occur in anyone at times of increased demand , increased losses or dysregulation in protein metabolism.
In terms of where we get protein from in the diet, the relative merits of plant versus animal derived protein are key for both nutrition science and environmental sustainability. Dietary guidelines around the world, including the UK, US and Canada promote a shift towards getting more protein from plant-based sources such as beans, peas, lentils and less from meat and meat products, particularly red and processed meats, as this tends to result in a dietary pattern that provides protein, with less saturated fat and salt and more fibre.
Table 2. Mean daily intakes of selected foods from the Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins food group
Table 3. Target intakes and possible ranges for dietary protein sources in the EAT Lancet planetary diet
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Replace Cereal With Eggs
Many breakfast foods are low in protein, including toast, bagels, and cereals.
Although oatmeal contains more protein than most cereals, it still only provides about 5 grams in a typical 1-cup serving .
On the other hand, 3 large eggs provide 19 grams of high quality protein, along with important nutrients like selenium and choline .
Whats more, several studies have shown that eating eggs for breakfast reduces appetite and keeps you full for several hours, so you end up eating fewer calories later in the day .
According to one older study, eating whole eggs can also modify the size and shape of your LDL cholesterol particles in a way that may even decrease your heart disease risk .
Replacing cereal with eggs boosts protein consumption, makes you feel more full, and helps you eat fewer calories.
How Much Protein Per Day To Lose Weight
If you want to lose weight, aim for a daily protein intake between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight . Athletes and heavy exercisers should consume 2.2-3.4 grams of protein per kilogram if aiming for weight loss.
My practical recommendation to people is that if you carry a BMI of over 30 or a body fat percentage above 25-30% it makes more sense to base your protein recommendations off of your goal weight.
For the correct amount of protein to gain muscle, check this resource out.
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You’re Trying To Lose Weight
Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, helping you feel full, and also pushes your body to secrete the gut hormone peptide YY, which reduces hunger. “When you bring protein to about 30% of your daily calories, you’ll naturally eat less,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, founder of Foodtrainers, a nutrition practice in New York City, and author of The Little Book of Thin. “Protein decreases appetite and also, in my experience, helps you manage cravings.”
While studies are mixed about whether consuming more protein leads to weight loss, research is pretty clear that protein can help you retain more of your lean muscle as you lose fat. One 2011 study suggests amping up protein to as much as 1.8 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day to stave off muscle loss when restricting calories. Cut back on refined carbs to balance out the extra calories from adding protein.
The Amino Acid Profile Varies Between Plant And Animal Proteins
When eaten, protein is broken down into amino acids.
Proteins and amino acids are used for almost every metabolic process in the body.
However, different proteins can vary greatly in the types of amino acids they contain.
While animal proteins tend to contain a good balance of all the amino acids that we need, some plant proteins are low in certain amino acids.
For example, some key plant proteins are often low in methionine, tryptophan, lycine and isoleucine.
All proteins are made up of amino acids, although the amount and type of each amino acid varies based on the protein source.
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Protein Helps You Feel Full Longer
One of the biggest things that impedes weight loss is hunger.
People are far less likely to stick with a nutrition or diet plan if they experience high levels of hunger.
Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients .
Several different lines of research have all pointed to the same thing: higher protein intakes tend to provide more satiety and less hunger.
For example, in one study, high protein snacks allowed people to go longer between eating and also caused them to eat less at subsequent meals .
Another study showed that including protein into a glass of water decreased hunger compared to water alone .
Depending on the source of protein, there does appear to be minor differences in the exact amount of satiety that protein provides, however these differences are minor and dont really make a meaningful impact for most people .
Currently, there is no consensus on the optimal level of daily protein intake in ones diet with regard to stay full. However, roughly 1.8 – 2.9 grams of protein per kilogram daily appears to provide substantial benefit on satiety .
Optimal Daily Protein Intake For Athletes
If youre physically active regularly, you need more protein daily than if you were sedentary. The American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Dietitians of Canada recommend 1.22.0 g/kg to optimize recovery from training and to promote the growth and maintenance of lean mass when caloric intake is sufficient. This recommendation is similar to that of the International Society of Sports Nutrition : 1.42.0 g/kg.
Importantly, it may be better to aim for the higher end of the above ranges. According to the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date on the effects of protein supplementation on muscle mass and strength, the average amount of protein required to maximize lean mass is about 1.6 g/kg, and some people need upwards of 2.2 g/kg. Those of you interested in a comprehensive breakdown of this study will find one in NERD #34 .
However, only 4 of the 49 included studies were conducted in people with resistance training experience . IAAO studies in athletes found different numbers: on training days, female athletes required 1.41.7 g/kg the day following a regular training session, male endurance athletes required 2.12.7 g/kg two days after their last resistance-training session, amateur male bodybuilders required 1.72.2 g/kg.
Since higher protein intakes seem to have no negative effects in healthy people, one may want to err toward the higher amounts. For most athletes , the ISSN range will work well:
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What Should You Do
Research on how much protein is the optimal amount to eat for good health is ongoing, and is far from settled. The value of high-protein diets for weight loss or cardiovascular health, for example, remains controversial.
Before you start ramping up your daily protein intake, there are a few important things to consider. For one, dont read “get more protein” as “eat more meat.” Beef, poultry, and pork can certainly provide high-quality protein, but so can many plant foods including whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and vegetables. The table below provides some healthier sources of protein.
Its also important to consider the protein “package” the fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that invariably come along with protein. Aim for protein sources low in saturated fat and processed carbohydrates and rich in many nutrients.
One more thing: If you increase protein, dietary arithmetic demands that you eat less of other things to keep your daily calorie intake steady. The switches you make can affect your nutrition, for better or for worse. For example, eating more protein instead of low-quality refined carbohydrates, like white bread and sweets, is a healthy choice though how healthy the choice is also depends on the total protein package.
Good sources of protein