How Much Protein Do You Need?

group of proteins: tofu, chicken, salmon

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Eating enough protein daily is essential to cover your body's needs. Protein helps your body maintain a proper fluid balance, builds and repairs tissues, transports nutrients, and provides other vital functions.

Understanding how much protein you need depends on several factors and changes over time and with certain lifestyle factors. Everyone needs a different amount but determining what's right for you is easier when you know more about the factors involved. Read on to learn more.

Determining Protein Needs

When determining your protein needs, you can either identify a percentage of total daily calories or target a specific number of grams of protein to consume per day. You can also use your weight, activity level, and lean body mass.

Percent of Daily Calories

Current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines suggest that adults should consume between 10% and 35% of their total calories from protein. To get your number and track your intake, you'll need to know how many calories you consume daily.

Once you know how many calories you consume, multiply that number by 10% and 35% to get your range. For example, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day would need to consume 200 to 700 calories daily from protein.

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6 Tips for Getting More Protein in Your Diet

Protein Grams Per Day

You can target a specific number of protein grams per day as an alternative to the percentage approach. A straightforward way to get a range of protein grams per day is to translate the percent range into a specific protein gram range. The math is easy.

Each gram of protein contains four calories. Divide the two calorie range numbers by four. Someone who eats 2,000 calories per day should consume 200 to 700 calories from protein, or 50 to 175 grams of protein.

Based on Weight and Activity

Other ways to get a more specific protein goal may consider lean muscle mass and/or physical activity level.

The average adult needs a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kg, would need about 60 grams of protein per day.

However, your protein needs may increase if you are very active. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the Dietitians of Canada suggest that athletes need more protein.

These organizations suggest that athletes consume between 1.2 grams and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, with endurance athletes at the lower end of this range and strength and power athletes at the higher end.

How Much Protein to Build Muscle?

If you are aiming to build muscle, you will need to consume more calories than you burn and enough protein to support new tissue growth. Research suggests about 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day to build muscle, but numbers vary. Speak to a sports nutritionist if you need more guidance.

Health Benefits of Eating Protein

Protein helps to maintain body tissues, including muscles, organs, the nervous system, blood, skin, and hair. It also serves as a transport mechanism for oxygen, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

In addition, eating protein can help you manage your weight because it takes longer to digest a protein-rich meal. After consuming a meal with protein, you're likely to feel full and satisfied longer.

The amount of protein needed to lose weight is actually higher than it is to maintain your weight. This is because when you are in a calorie deficit, you lose muscle mass easier. To preserve muscle, increasing the amount of protein you eat can help. How much depends on your current weight, body composition, calorie needs, and more.

Some protein foods have additional health benefits. Legumes are high in protein and fiber and contain phytochemicals that may have health benefits. Fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, and trout, are high in protein and also omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for health.

Protein Deficiency

Unlike fat and glucose, our body has little capacity to store protein. If you were to stop eating protein, your body would start to break down muscle. Protein deficiency is rare in developed countries. However, it can happen if you're not eating enough food every day.

It's sometimes challenging for certain people to eat enough protein, including those with very low-calorie diets, vegans, or elderly individuals. Supplementing with protein powder or shakes may help these people obtain enough protein. Speak to your doctor if you want to learn more.

Protein Overconsumption

On the flip side, it is possible to overeat protein. Some people believe that excess protein is excreted in the urine. However, only part of the protein is excreted. Another part of the protein is converted to glucose for energy or stored as fat.

So if you eat too much protein—and too many calories as a result—you risk gaining weight from excess calories. If you eat more protein than you need but still have your calories balanced, then you will not gain weight, even with the additional protein.

If your calorie goal stays on track, but you get more protein than you need, you are may not be getting enough carbohydrates or fat for your body to function correctly. In addition, excessive protein intake can be strenuous on the kidneys. People with certain types of kidney diseases need to manage how much protein they eat.

The key to proper nutrition is achieving the appropriate balance of macronutrients. Eating large amounts of protein can lead to dehydration, even in elite athletes. So if you follow a high protein diet, it’s important to drink extra water.

Protein Sources

Protein comes from plant and animal sources, and you can meet your protein needs with either type of protein. Plant sources are typically not considered complete proteins since they lack all of the essential amino acids. For this reason, eating a wide variety of plant-based proteins that cover all of the amino acids you need is important.

Meat and Seafood

Lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy products are excellent protein sources. Each provides all of the essential amino acids along with many other nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and zinc, which are primarily found in animal foods.

Coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, and herring make good protein choices because they're also rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are almost exclusively found in seafood and essential for health.

A chicken drumstick with leg, thigh, and back, (258g) contains 62g of protein. A 6-ounce serving of salmon contains 34g of protein. Eggs contain about 6g of protein each, which varies with the size of the egg.

Plant-Based Protein  

Some vegetables like spinach and kale contain a minuscule amount of protein. Whole grains, such as quinoa, are also a source of protein (1 cup has about 8 grams of protein).

Keep your plant proteins healthy by choosing recipes and cooking methods that preserve their nutritional benefits. For example, use tofu (22g of protein in a half-cup serving) instead of meat in a stir-fry, add nuts or seeds to a dinner salad or use dry beans like kidney, navy, or black beans as your primary protein source for a few meals.

The amount of protein in various beans differs slightly, but kidney beans contain about 8g of protein in a half-cup serving.

How to Get More Protein

Here are a few tips to get more protein in your healthy diet.

  • Serve scrambled eggs and spinach for breakfast.
  • Choose turkey bacon or sausages that are lower in fat. Better yet, look for brands with reduced sodium.
  • Add seeds or chopped nuts on top of a veggie side dish.
  • Snack on a handful of almonds.
  • Buy lean cuts of meat and serve them with lots of dark green and colorful veggies.
  • Eat more fish. Choose baked or poached fish.
  • Serve baked or roasted chicken instead of fried chicken.
  • Make a stir-fry with chicken or tofu and fresh veggies.

One serving of protein usually comprises 3 to 5 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish; one egg; 1.5 ounces of cheese; or about 12 walnuts.

You can also use other methods to consume the right portion size. A serving of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand. A serving of cheese is the same size as two dice. Keep in mind that these servings vary based on hunger, weight, age, activity level, and other factors.

Guidelines for Specific Populations

Many sources that suggest protein guidelines provide numbers for adult men and women. But specific populations may need more or less protein to manage a medical condition or facilitate growth.

  • Pregnant and lactating people need more protein than people who are not pregnant (0.88 grams to 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).
  • Older adults (people over 65 years old) may need more protein than middle-aged adults (1.0 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).
  • People with liver or kidney disease need to decrease protein intake (0.6 grams to 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).

Consult a health care professional or dietitian to determine your ideal daily protein goal.

16 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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