How Much Protein Should I Eat?
The current RDA for protein is .8 g per kilogram of body weight. It’s important to note that this is the bare minimum amount of protein we should be taking in. But studies show that this amount is too low for optimal health and body composition, and it’s way too low if you’re an endurance athlete or working to build muscle.
So, if that’s only the minimum, how much protein should we be consuming each day? This is going to be different for everyone, depending on your level of activity, your age and sex, and your goals. But there are some standards we can apply to help answer this question generally. First, let’s take a look at protein itself.
What Is Protein Anyway?
Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 21 different amino acids, some of which our bodies can synthesize, and some we have to get through our diet. The 9 amino acids we have to take in through food sources are referred to as “essential” amino acids.
Muscle tissue, organs, and skin rely on protein, as do enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Protein is a nonnegotiable part of our diet.
Protein Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Meat
You can get your protein from beef, pork, or poultry; they’re all great sources of this macronutrient and there are plenty of lean cuts to choose from. But there are several reasons to supplement animal protein, even if you’re not vegetarian. Animal protein can be expensive, so if your grocery budget is tight or if you just want some variety, keep in mind other, less costly ways to incorporate protein into your diet. Also, each source of protein provides a different set of amino acids and a bonus of various micronutrients your body will thrive on, so it’s a good idea to switch up your protein sources anyway.
Good sources of lean protein include:
- Fish *Bonus: Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Chicken breast *Bonus: low fat, loaded with protein, inexpensive
- Eggs/egg whites *Bonus: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats in the yolk
- Low-fat Cottage Cheese *Bonus: calcium, phosphorus, selenium, B vitamins
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt *Bonus: Probiotics, potassium, B-12
- Quinoa *Bonus: Fiber, flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, magnesium, zinc, iron
- Whey protein supplements *Bonus: convenient, easily digested
How Much Protein Do We Really Need?
The common scientific consensus is 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.5 to 2.2 per kilogram). (Note that the RDA is based on kilograms, whereas we’re now talking about pounds, so the RDA is even lower than it seems.) If you’re at a healthy weight, don’t exercise intensely, and aren’t trying to build muscle, you can aim for the lower end of this range.
If, however, you’re trying to gain muscle or lose weight, have a physically demanding job, or are very active, shoot for the higher end. Senior citizens and those recovering from illness or injury should strive for the middle to upper end of the range.
Our optimal protein consumption is dependent on our lean body mass. If you are significantly overweight, use your goal weight (or lean body mass, if you know it) to calculate how many grams of protein to eat.
Please keep in mind that these numbers refer to the macronutrient protein, not to the protein-containing food itself. For example, an egg might weigh about 46 grams, but it contains only 6 grams of protein. A 6-oz portion of chicken breast contains about 36 grams of protein.
Why Do We Need Protein?
In addition to the basic role of protein in building tissue, protein has a broad range of beneficial applications. We want to make sure to take in adequate protein because:
It boosts our metabolic rate. (1)
It creates satiety and suppresses appetite. (2)
It can help you keep weight off after weight loss. (3)
It enhances muscle building and facilitates strength. (4)
It can help prevent harmful conditions of aging such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia. (5)