Protein is kind of a big deal when it comes to optimal health. But the amount of protein you need to eat per day isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario.
Here’s how to make sure you’re eating enough protein for *your* body.
How much protein should you eat per day?
Both men and women should eat a minimum of 0.8 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight every day (or 0.36 g per lb.).
Some scenarios, including pregnancy, activity levels, and older age, require more than that minimum.
Research also links higher protein intake with weight loss and muscle gain. So if you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle, your protein intake will vary even more.
Heads up: When we say grams, what we’re referring to are the grams of the macronutrient protein and *not* the foods it comes from. For example, one large egg weighs about 50 g, but only provides a little over 6 g of protein.
When it comes to the total amount of protein you need, the current international Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for both men and women is 0.8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight (that’s about 0.36 g per lb.).
This means a 150-lb. person would require about 54 g of protein while a 200-lb. individual would need 72 g.
This RDA is only the minimum to avoid a protein deficiency. Certain peeps often require more protein, including:
- Athletes: 1.2–2.0 g/kg (0.5–0.9 g/lb.)
- Pregnant women: 1.1 g/kg (0.5 g/lb.)
- Older adults: 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg (0.5–0.9 g/lb.)
Protein is the one macronutrient that never gets a bad rep when it comes to losing weight. That’s because eating enough protein is shown to help weight loss.
Foods that are high in protein have a thermic effect, meaning they can boost your metabolism and increase use of energy. So increasing the percentage of protein in your diet can wind up increasing energy expenditure.
Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient, leaving you feeling full and satisfied after a meal. A small 2014 study on healthy women found that eating a high protein snack after lunch led to less afternoon hunger. And 100 fewer calories were consumed at dinner compared to those noshing on high fat and high carb snacks.
Aiming to consume more than 1.2 g/kg per day has also been shown to boost fullness compared to the normal range (0.8 to 1.2 g/kg per day).
tl;dr on protein for weight loss
Eating about 20 to 30 percent of your total calories from protein may help with weight loss.
To calculate this amount in grams, multiply your daily calorie intake by 0.20 or 0.30. Then divide that number by 4 (the calories in each gram of protein).
If you’re looking to beef up your biceps, protein is one major contributor.
According to a 2018 article, to see muscle gains you want to get in more protein than your body breaks down (often called “net protein balance”).
Participating in resistance exercises followed by eating quality protein keeps the net protein balance positive. And continuing that pattern regularly can lead to muscle growth over time. This is why a post-workout protein shake is a staple for many weight lifters to pack on the muscle.
But the actual amount of protein needed to build muscle seems to vary. Some research states that eating about 20 to 40 g of protein after resistance exercise — and every 3 hours throughout the day — can help you see some gains. Other research states that targeting a protein intake of 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg per day is ideal.
tl;dr on protein for muscle gain
To help your muscles grow, aim to eat about 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg (0.7 to 1.0 g/lb.) per day along with resistance exercise.
Multiply your body weight in kilograms by 1.6 or 2.2 (depending if you want to be in the lower or higher range) to get a daily protein intake total.
You can also multiply your weight in pounds by 0.7 to 1 to see the same answer.
Growing a human requires a bit more protein intake. Along with your protein needs, your body has to account for your baby’s nutrients too.
The current RDA recommends pregnant people should eat about 1.1 g/kg (0.5 g/lb.)of protein for all stages of pregnancy.
But, some researchers note that this amount doesn’t take into account the changing needs during different pregnancy stages. Some will recommend 1.2 to 1.52 g/kg (0.5 to 0.7 g/lb.) each day in early pregnancy (about 16 weeks) and late pregnancy (about 36 weeks).
The same goes for those exclusively breastfeeding. Research indicates that in order to maintain your own muscle mass while providing adequate nutrition to your bébés, you should aim to eat around 1.7 to 1.9 g/kg (0.8 to 0.09 g/lb.) of protein per day.
tl;dr on protein for pregnancy
Both you and your baby require protein to ensure healthy growth and muscle mass maintenance. The RDA states a 1.1 g/kg (0.5 g/lb.) intake a day is sufficient.
But, other studies state those in early pregnancy and late pregnancy should be eating more protein at 1.2 to 1.52 g/kg (0.5 to 0.7 g/lb.) per day.
Folks exclusively breastfeeding should also up protein around 1.7 to 1.9 g/kg (0.8 to 0.09 g/lb.) per day.
If you aren’t pregnant, an avid weight lifter, or trying to lose weight (and are under the age of 65), then your protein requirements may fit in with majority of adults at 0.8 g/kg per day (or 0.36 g/lb. per day).
To calculate your personal protein intake, take your weight and multiply it by either 0.8 if you’re using kilograms or 0.36 if you’re using pounds. This will provide you the minimum grams of protein you should be eating per day.
For example, if you weigh 175 lbs. (or about 79 kg) this is what the calculation would look like: 175 x 0.36 = 63 g OR 79 x 0.8 = 63.2 g.
Now that you know how many grams of protein you should be eating each day, the next step is to eat!
The top sources of animal-based and plant-based protein include:
- Beef: 7 g of protein for every 1 oz. of ground beef
- Chicken: 8 g of protein for every 1 oz. of chicken breast
- Fish: 6 g of protein for every 1 oz. of salmon
- Eggs: 6 g of protein for every 1 egg
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can also meet your needs with veggies and grains. Some high protein plant-based sources include:
- Soy: 9 g of protein for every 3 oz. of firm tofu
- Beans: 15 g of protein for every 1 cup of black beans
- Nuts: 6 g of protein for every 1 oz. of almonds
- Grains: 8 g of protein for every 1 cup of quinoa
While it’s ideal to meet your protein requirements with whole foods, if you find yourself falling short, there are many protein powders on the market that can help get you where you need to be.
Some folks think high protein diets can harm your kidneys, but science doesn’t actually back this claim up.
It’s true that decreasing protein intake can help people with existing kidney problems, but there’s not enough evidence that high protein diets can damage healthy people’s kidneys.
Eating enough protein is crucial to ensure you’re living your best life. The recommended intake for adults is 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb.) each day. That needs to be boosted if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to gain muscle, or trying to lose weight.
Once you calculate your specific protein needs, eating plenty of meats, beans, and nuts can help you reach your health goals.