Determining How Much Protein to Eat for Exercise

The Best Kinds of Protein for Building Muscle


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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Some athletes and exercisers may think that they should increase their protein intake to help them manage weight or build more muscle. Since muscles are made of protein, it makes sense that consuming more could help you reach your strength goals.

It is true that the more you exercise, the greater your protein needs will be. However, that does not mean that even elite athletes should consume unlimited protein. At a certain point, there are likely diminishing returns.

Intake Guidelines

Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body. They are made up of amino acids and are needed for the structure and function of muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and internal organs. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in the body, and most of it is actually in the skeletal muscles.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most people get more than enough protein daily. However, the same report points out that the intake of seafood and plant-based proteins, such as nuts and seeds, are often inadequate. This is notable because these types of proteins are considered nutrient-dense foods.

If you're an exerciser or athlete, however, your protein needs may be slightly higher since resistance training and endurance workouts can rapidly break down muscle protein. For endurance and strength-trained athletes and the average exerciser:

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest athletes consume between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for the best performance.
  • Research suggests that highly trained exercisers or athletes may benefit from more protein (over 3 grams of protein per kilogram daily).
  • Research suggests an intake of up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram daily is sufficient for building muscle for the average exerciser.

It's important to keep in mind that each individual's protein needs will vary based on a variety of factors, such as type and intensity of training, fitness goals, food choices, as well as whether they are recovering from an injury.

Calculating Your Protein Needs

While general nutritional guidelines can give you a good sense of where your protein intake should fall, calculating the amount of daily protein that's right for you can help you fine-tune this even further.

Protein Needs Formula

You can use your weight as a basis for calculating your protein needs. The amount of protein you should consume can be represented with this formula: a x b = c.

In this formula:

  • a is your weight in kilograms (kg)
  • b represents the number of grams of protein per kg you need
  • c equals the optimum number of grams of protein you should eat in a day

To use this formula:

  1. Calculate your weight in kilograms (kg) by dividing your weight in pounds (lbs) by 2.2 to give you the "a" in the formula. This looks like: your weight (lbs) / 2.2 = a.
  2. You may need the help of a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to determine "b." But, in general, use the low end of the range (0.8g per kg) if you are in good health and are sedentary. Use a higher number (between 1.2g and 2.0g per kg) if you are under stress, pregnant, recovering from an illness or injury, are older, have experienced malnutrition, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.
  3. Finally, multiply your weight in kg (a) times the number of protein grams per day (b) to give you the amount of protein you should eat in a day (c). This looks like a x b = c.


A 154 pound assigned male is a regular exerciser and lifts weights, but is not training at an elite level. He decides he wants to aim for 1.7g of protein per kg of body weight, which is the "b" in the formula.

  • 154 lbs / 2.2 = 70 kg (a)
  • 70 kg (a) x 1.7 (b) = 119 grams protein needed per day (c)

Percentage of Total Calories

Another way to calculate how much protein you need is by using daily calorie intake and the percentage of calories that will come from protein. How many calories per day that should come from protein can be represented with this formula: a x b = c.

In this formula:

  • a is how many calories you need per day
  • b is what percentage of calories you want to come from protein
  • c is how many calories per day should come from protein

To use this formula:

  1. First, determine "a." Find out what your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is by using a BMR calculator (sometimes referred to as basal energy expenditure, or BEE, calculator).Calculate how many calories you burn through daily activity and add that number to your BMR. This looks like: BMR + calories burned = a.
  2. Next, decide what percentage of your diet will come from protein (b). The percentage you choose will be based on your goals, fitness level, age, body type, and metabolic rate. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that protein account for somewhere between 10% and 35% for adults.
  3. Multiply that percentage by the total number of calories your body needs for the day to determine total daily calories from protein. This looks like: a x b = c.
  4. Finally, divide "c" by 4, since there are 4 calories per gram of protein. This looks like c / 4. This gives you the number of grams of protein you should consume daily.


For a person who consumes 1800 calories per day eating a diet composed of 20% protein:

  • 1800 (a) x 0.20 (b) = 360 calories from protein (c)
  • 360 calories (c) / 4 = 90 grams of protein per day

Types of Protein

Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids needed to generate new protein are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, and just about anything else derived from animal sources.

Incomplete proteins don't have all of the essential amino acids and generally include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, this doesn't mean you can't get complete protein. In fact, both quinoa and chia seeds are considered complete plant-based proteins. In general, eating a variety of plant-based, protein-rich foods can ensure you're getting all of the necessary essential amino acids.

Research notes that the type of protein individuals consume can significantly impact overall health. Specifically, replacing red meat and processed meat with other protein options can reduce the risk of health conditions, such as stroke and heart disease, as well as early death.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest selecting proteins, including:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Seafood
  • Poultry and lean meats
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy products

6 Tips for Getting More Protein in Your Diet

No matter what your calculations are, remember that the foundation of any exercise program, whether your goal is to manage weight or gain muscle, is a combination of strength training, cardio activity, and a healthy diet that includes carbs, with a balance of protein and fat.

Caloric needs will differ from person to person and it's important to consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if you are concerned about your protein intake or if you'd like additional nutritional guidance.

7 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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  2. Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. Protein (lesson 4).

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for americans, 2020-2025.

  4. Nutrition and athletic performanceMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2016;48(3):543-568. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852

  5. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exerciseJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

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  7. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Protein.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."