How Much Protein Do I Need?
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How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is one of the essential nutrients your body needs to work properly. It forms much of the structure of your body — your muscles and organs are all made from proteins. It also helps your body run well, so it’s important that you get enough protein from your diet every day.
Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably get a different answer to the question of how much protein you really need. The answer is individual, and depends on several factors, including your age, health, and activity levels.
Basic Protein Requirements
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. That is equivalent to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. The DRI is the minimum amount you need from your diet each day, and it works out to roughly 56 grams for most sedentary men and about 46 grams for most sedentary women.
To calculate your basic protein needs:
- In kilograms: Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 to get kilograms. Then multiply that number by 0.8.
- In pounds: Take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36.
The DRI for protein is a reasonable starting recommendation for most average healthy adults. But remember the DRI is only enough to maintain basic bodily functions. It does not allow for any of the challenges that would require more protein intake such as disease or sickness, trauma or surgery, chronic stress both physical and mental, daily exercise programs, gut malfunction and any other common challenges modern man is faced with.
Many People Can Benefit from More or Higher Quality Protein
Current research on protein and aging suggests that it is important to eat more protein as you get older. Higher amounts of protein help maintain muscle mass and prevent age-related sarcopenia, which is muscle loss that happens naturally when you get older.
Some experts suggest increasing the DRI for protein for older adults to 1.0–1.3 grams per kilogram (0.45–0.6 grams per pound) of body weight. That higher amount is shown to do a better job of protecting lean body mass, which can result in better strength, less risk of falls, and more independence for older individuals.
Protein needs are also higher with health conditions such as heart failure or post-surgery when your body requires additional cellular or tissue repair. In addition, studies have shown that supplementing with extra protein, especially quality protein containing generous amounts of essential amino acids, can help prevent loss of muscle in people who are on extended bed rest due to illness.
You can also benefit from more protein if you are very athletic, especially if you engage in resistance workouts (weight training, Pilates, climbing, cross fit, boot camps, etc.) or if you have a very physically active job. That is because more protein is needed to stimulate muscle development and repair and to maintain muscle mass. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 1.4–2.0 grams per kilogram (0.64–0.91 grams per pound) of body weight for most people who are building and maintaining muscle mass through exercise.
The amount of protein you need is also higher for those experiencing periods of rapid growth. That includes young children, adolescents, and pregnant women.
If You Don’t Get Enough Protein – Protein Deficiency
When you consume sufficient protein, your body functions well and you feel strong and healthy. It’s also possible to build more muscle. In turn, you’ll burn more calories because your metabolism runs more efficiently and with higher output. If you’re low in protein consumption, or if you’re not digesting and absorbing the protein you eat, you may not feel the effects instantly, but your body will begin breaking down its own proteins to meet metabolic requirements. Some of the symptoms you could experience include:
- Muscle loss and weakness
- Headaches or dizziness
- Fluid retention
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fractured bones
- Dry hair and skin
- Cracked or weak nails
- Weakened immune system
- Prolonged or incomplete healing
While a true protein deficiency is uncommon, it’s not at all unusual to be low in protein balance due to low consumption, poor quality protein and/or compromised gut function which depresses protein absorption and utilization.
When to Eat Protein
It is important to consider when to eat protein. Many people tend to be light on protein during the early part of the day, especially at breakfast and heavy later in the day and at night. Interestingly, spreading out your protein evenly throughout the day has many advantages compared to eating large protein meals.
Your body can efficiently absorb small amounts of (whole/non-hydrolyzed) protein every few hours and use it for muscle and tissue repair. Most studies agree that about 30 grams at each meal (or every four hours or so) is a good goal if you want to maximize the amount that gets to your muscles. This is true for all proteins though animal proteins will always absorb more efficiently and with less negative effects than plant proteins. Hydrolyzed protein is the one exception to this rule as it will absorb rapidly and completely no matter what else is in the meal or how much is consumed (within reason) at a time.
Another important benefit of spreading out your protein intake is that it helps keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied throughout the day. That is especially helpful for anyone who is working to lose or control body weight. Eating a proper serving of protein with each meal helps keep your hunger in check until your next meal.
The Best Sources of Protein
You probably know that meats are good sources of protein, but you can get your protein from plenty of other foods too. All animal foods, including meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods, consist of high-quality protein that provides all the essential amino acids. Protein from any of these sources is called complete protein.
Plants are also sources of protein, although they are not generally quite as high in protein as animal foods and you will need to eat a larger quantity of plant foods to get the same amount of protein.
Protein supplement drinks, powders, or bars are also good sources of protein depending on the type of protein in the formula. Research shows that supplements made from whey protein, which comes from milk, are among the best sources. Whey protein provides all your essential amino acids, including the branch chain amino acids, which are essential for muscle synthesis. Whey protein is also a good choice if you want to feel fuller and more satisfied between meals, though research has shown that diabetic individuals will do much better with hydrolyzed protein as it is known to not cause insulin to spike.
How to Get Enough Protein
Thirty grams of protein at each meal might sound like a lot, but with a little bit of planning, it is not as hard as you might think. Here are some protein counts for various foods to help with your meal planning:
- 4 ounces cooked sirloin steak: 35 grams
- 4 ounces cooked chicken breast: 27 grams
- 4 ounces cooked salmon: 25 grams
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt: 24 grams
- ½ cup (4 ounces) tofu: 20 grams
- 3 large eggs: 18 grams
- 1 cup cooked lentils: 18 grams
- ½ cup tempeh: 16 grams
- 1 cup cooked quinoa: 8 grams
- 8 ounces of cow’s milk: 8 grams
- 1-ounce cheddar cheese: 7 grams
- 1 Power Crunch Kids/Power Crunch Original/Power Crunch Pro bar: 10–20 grams of protein
- 1 Power Crunch Proto Whey drink: 20 grams of protein
Some of these foods are easier to prepare and more portable to eat than others. Some might also be very filling if you have a smaller appetite and need to boost your protein.
If you want great protein bang for your buck, a high-quality protein bar or protein drink like Power Crunch Proto Whey is a great option. Not only is it portable so you can consume it on the run, but Power Crunch protein delivers hydrolyzed whey — one of the best sources of protein available.
Protein in a hydrolyzed form is already broken down for you, so your body has minimal digesting to do. That means all the essential amino acids are quickly absorbed and get right to work for you. It also means you get more protein from a smaller amount of food (and calories) — great for when you don’t have time for a big meal, are watching calories or don’t have a big appetite.
The Bottom Line
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how much protein you need. It depends on many factors as discussed here. However, if you want to promote healthy muscle and tissue growth, a good goal for most people is to eat about 20-30 grams of protein at each meal and spread it out evenly throughout the day.
If you need an easily digestible, highly absorbable source of protein that packs a punch in a small portion, hydrolyzed whey protein is a great choice.
- Dietary Reference Intakes: https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx
- Protein turnover and requirements in the healthy and frail elderly. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16886097
- Optimizing protein intake in adults: interpretation and application of the recommended dietary allowance compared with the acceptable macronutrient distribution range. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5347101/
- International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018950/
- Comparative effects of whey and casein proteins on satiety in overweight and obese individuals: a randomized controlled trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24801369