How Much Protein Should I Eat for Weight Loss?

How protein plays a role in weight management

There are many different eating patterns that you can try to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. But contrary to popular opinions, there's no one-size-fits-all 'diet' that works well for everyone. Some people find success using a Mediterranean diet approach, while others thrive on reducing carbs and increasing protein, and still, others choose a high-fat keto diet.

Research supports the benefits of many different eating plans, and you can choose what works best for you. The dietary pattern you select has to fit into your lifestyle and be accessible, affordable, and enjoyable while meeting your nutrition and medical needs. That's a tall order, and you may want to meet with a dietitian for personalized advice.

For some people, a high protein diet is the right fit. Let's dive into the research on high protein diets, as well as registered dietitian-approved tips and information to help you make informed choices.

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What Is Protein and How Does It Work in the Body?

Protein is one of the three main macronutrients in the diet. The other two macronutrients are carbohydrates and fat. These macronutrients provide calories or the energy that our bodies require to function.

Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids, which can combine in different patterns to make proteins. Some amino acids are considered "essential" because the body cannot make them and, therefore, must be supplied by food.

Protein is part of every cell in the human body. Getting enough protein daily is vital to help maintain optimal health, growth, development, and function at every age and stage.

Protein is a structural component of all cells and tissues. In the body, proteins work as part of muscles, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and the immune system. Messenger proteins such as hormones work by transmitting signals between cells, tissues, and organs to coordinate how the body works. Antibodies bind to foreign invaders like viruses to help protect the body.

Examples of Protein Sources

  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy foods
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Tofu and soy products
  • Nuts and seeds

Note: Whole grains and vegetables also contain some protein, in smaller amounts.

Daily Protein Needs for Weight Loss

There's no 'exact' amount of protein you need each day. Instead, your protein needs depend on your overall calorie intake and nutrition goals.

The daily recommended protein intake for healthy adults is 10% to 35% of your total calorie intake. That is quite a large range; however, some studies show that protein consumption at the high end of that range—25–30% of calories from protein— may help burn more calories than low protein diets and help you feel more full.

The minimum amount of protein needed for a sedentary person is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams of protein per pound). A 150-pound (22.6 kg) sedentary person needs 54 grams of protein per day.

If you are active, more protein is required. A range of 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended for active people, depending on how much they train.

But what about protein needs for weight loss? Studies say that getting 25-30% of calories from protein, or 1–1.2 g/kg of the ideal body weight per day, may be beneficial for weight loss.

Calculating Protein Needs for Weight Loss

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that healthy adults consume 10-35 percent of their calories from protein. For weight loss, evidence suggests that the higher end of this range, 25-30% of calories from protein, or 1–1.2 g/kg of your ideal body weight per day, may be beneficial. So what does this mean for you, and how do you calculate your own protein needs?

Example of Estimated Daily Protein Needs


Here is an example of protein need estimates for weight loss for a female who weighs 165 pounds and is 5'6". Assume her calorie needs are 1,800 per day.

If looking at the 25-30% of calories from protein:

Her protein needs will range from 450 to 540 calories from protein (0.25 x 1,800 and 0.3 x 1,800, respectively). There are 4 calories per gram of protein, so her protein needs are 112.5 to 135 grams per day.

If calculating 1-1.2 grams per kilogram of Ideal Body Weight:

To calculate Ideal Body Weight, use the following formula for women (note there is a different formula for men): Ideal Body Weight (in kilograms) = 49kg + 1.7kg for each inch over 5 feet.

The Ideal Body Weight for this woman is 49kg + 1.7 (6), or 59.2 kg. Thus, her protein need ranges from 59.2 to 71.04 grams per day.

As you can see, there is a large variance between the recommendation of 71 grams and 135 grams of protein per day. Ultimately, you will need to determine what protein range feels best for your body and fuels your needs.

Translating Protein Grams into Daily Life

So you've calculated your protein needs, but how does that translate into what you're cooking and eating every day? There's no need to meticulously track your protein intake each day (which may lead to disordered eating habits and lack of variety in your diet).

Instead, think of your plate as four quadrants. Fill two quadrants with vegetables and fruit, one with grains, and the remaining quadrant with protein-rich foods. That should provide about 20-35 grams of protein per meal. Add 5-10 grams of protein at each snack, and you've got enough protein for the day.

How might that look for three meals and two snacks? If we use the same woman described above (5'6" and 165 pounds), she needs approximately 100 grams of protein per day (range of 71g to 135g) and 1,800 calories. Here's a sample menu, based on foods she enjoys:

Sample Meal Plan for Approximately 1,800 Calories & 100g Protein

Breakfast: 1/2 cup of oatmeal made with 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup blueberries, 2 tbsp. chia seeds, 2 tbsp. walnuts (481 calories, 20g protein)

Snack: 1 banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter (200 calories, 5g protein)

Lunch: 1 slice whole-wheat toast, 2 eggs, 1 slide cheddar, 1 large apple, 1 cup salad (524 calories, 28g protein)

Snack: 1/2 cup 2% Greek Yogurt with 1 cup strawberries (114 calories, 12.8g protein)

Dinner: 6 ounces grilled salmon with 1/2 cup brown rice, 2 cups of mixed greens with 2 tablespoons of salad dressing, and 10 spears of grilled asparagus (500 calories, 38.5g protein)

While creating daily menus based on estimated protein needs is helpful, this is not always doable in daily life. For this reason, it may be helpful to know the average protein content in various foods.

 Protein Food  Protein (grams)
Steak (3 oz.) 25
Chicken Breast (6 oz.) 28
Salmon (3 oz.) 22
Shrimp (3 oz. or 4 to 5 large shrimp) 20
2 large eggs 14
2% milk (1 cup) 24
Non-fat Greek yogurt (1 cup) 17
Low-fat Cheddar cheese (3 oz.) 21
Black beans (1 cup, cooked) 15
Lentils (1 cup, cooked) 18
Quinoa (1 cup, cooked) 8
Almonds (1 oz. or 23 almonds) 6
Chia seeds (1 oz.) 5
Peanut Butter (2 tbsp.) 7
Brown rice (1 cup, cooked) 5
Peas (1 cup, cooked) 9
Tofu (3 oz.) 15

Protein For Weight Loss

Over the years, you may have heard about high protein diets such as Atkins, Dukan, or the Zone. They all reduce carbohydrate intake and increase protein to promote weight loss. But do they work? Sometimes, and for some people.

High protein diets are popular because they improve satiety (feeling full), reduce calorie intake, and preserve lean body mass. Some studies show that diets with higher protein intake can help prevent weight regain, but there is no definitive evidence to support this claim. 

Studies show that weight loss can be achieved by following many different diets, including high protein, low carb, or low-fat diets. Most diets result in modest weight loss over six months, regardless of macronutrient levels; however, the effects on weight reduction largely disappear by 12 months.

These studies show that the most important factor for weight loss may not be how much protein, fat, or carb is in a specific diet plan. What's more important is whether you can stick to the plan in the long term to lose weight and keep it off. Your best option is a plan that is accessible, affordable, and enjoyable for you.

A note of caution: high protein diets aren't right for everyone. Some studies have indicated that very high intakes of protein and fat can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and may harm the kidneys.

How to Meet Your Protein Needs

Protein is found in many foods from both plant and animal origin. Whether you choose to eat a mix of plant and animal foods, or prefer a primarily plant-based diet, there are many nutritious—and delicious—protein options.

Animal-based protein

Protein choices from animals include meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy. Some studies show that protein from red meat, such as beef, may increase the risk of chronic kidney disease and colorectal cancer, so it's good to include various options in your diet Protein from dairy, fish, and seafood does not have this negative effect. 

How to Prepare Proteins

You can roast, bake, pan-fry or grill protein options, including meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Deep-frying is a high-fat option to save for occasional enjoyment. If you grill or barbeque your protein options, try to reduce charring, which is associated with increased cancer risk. To reduce char, remove visible fat that can cause flare-ups, flip frequently, use an acidic marinade, and cut off any charred portions before eating.

Plant-Based Protein Sources

Plant-based protein sources include beans, peas, lentils, soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh), nuts, and seeds. You can buy beans and legumes that are dried, canned, or frozen—all are equally nutritious. Some canned beans are high in sodium, so select a low-sodium option and rinse well before serving.

Protein Supplements

In addition to food, you can also get protein from supplements in the form of powders, drinks, bars, gels, and more. The protein source may be animal-based (often whey or egg) or plant-based (from foods such as pea, soy, or hemp). Protein supplements are tasty and convenient but are an added expense. They are not mandatory on a high-protein diet, since you can get protein from food too.

Note that the FDA doesn't regulate protein powders, so look for third-party organizations (such as USP, NSF, and Consumer Labs) that have verified that the protein supplements are safe and free from toxins or illegal substances.

A Word From Verywell

Protein is an important nutrient in a well-balanced eating plan, and it's vital for many body processes. A high-protein diet with about 25-30% of calories from protein may be helpful in your weight-maintenance plan if you can stick with it for the long term. Remember, carbs and fat are important nutrients too. Consider working with a dietitian to determine what eating plan may work best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I calculate how much protein I need?

    Aim for 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day if you are active, or 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day if you are sedentary. Note: to calculate your weight in pounds in kilograms, divide your weight by 2.2.

    For example, an active person who weighs 160 pounds requires 87.24 grams to 145.4 grams of protein per day. (160 pounds/2.2 kilograms per pound =72.7 kilograms).

  • Is a high protein diet good for weight loss?

    High protein diets, like any lower-calorie diet, can help with weight loss in the short term. The trouble is keeping the weight off in the long term, which can only work if the diet is sustainable and does not provide any nutrient deficiencies.

  • How much protein is too much for a woman?

    Unless you are an elite athlete or have a medically prescribed diet, there's no reason to consume more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. Consuming too much protein can cause health problems in the long term, including bone disorders, kidney or liver problems, and increased cancer risk.


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