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How Much Protein Do You Need? And How To Get It

The general rule is 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight — but that may not be right for you, and it’s important to determine what’s right for you

Person contemplating healthy food choices with protein

When you think about protein, do you immediately picture a bodybuilder slamming a post-workout shake? Or maybe an elite athlete filling their plate with hard-boiled eggs, chicken and a few handfuls of nuts?

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There’s a reason for that.

Protein helps build and repair muscle. So, it’s certainly a fan-favorite of the workout crowd.

But protein is just as important for you — and your grandparents — as it is for weightlifters.

That’s because protein — along with other macronutrients, namely carbs and fats — helps keep you strong.

“We need protein because it helps build and maintain our muscle, which in turn helps to fuel our metabolism. It’s essential for everyone,” says registered dietitian Kayla Kopp, RD, LD.

But how do you know if you’re getting the right amount of protein in your diet? And how much protein do you need? Kopp explains.

Daily protein requirements

How much protein you need isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. It can vary. A lot.

As a starting point, the most common recommendation is to eat between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight each day.

Let’s break down the math:

  • If you know your weight in pounds, divide that by 2.205 to get your weight in kilograms.
  • Multiply that number by 0.8.
  • That’s how many grams of protein is recommended.

For example, if you weigh 170 pounds, that’s about 77 kilograms. Multiplied by 0.8 is 61.6. In theory, then, a 170-pound person should eat 61.6 grams of protein a day at minimum.

A more personalized way to understand how much protein you should have is based on a percentage of your calorie needs. Most people can benefit from getting about 25% of their daily calories from protein.

Kopp suggests using an online Total Daily Energy Expenditure calculator (TDEE) to determine your calorie needs. That will vary based on things like your age, assigned sex, height, weight and activity level.

When you know your TDEE, divide it by 4. That tells you how many of those calories should come from protein. Divide that number by 4 to get the number of grams of protein you should have in a day.

But even with these calculation options, your protein needs may be different.

“These are very general rules,” Kopp clarifies. “They don’t take into account everything that matters when considering a personalized approach to getting adequate protein intake.”

Your protein needs may vary

When you get down to the nitty-gritty details, there are several considerations that will change how much protein is right for you.

Let’s look at a few things that can change your recommended protein intake.

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Age

Kopp advises that older adults can benefit from more protein to help counteract the effects of muscle loss, a natural part of aging.

As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass. It’s just a fact of life.

Muscle mass starts to decline bit by bit as early as your 30s and 40s. Around age 65 or so, your muscle mass can really start to fade. It’s called sarcopenia. And while it can happen to everyone as we get older, some researchers suggest that you may be particularly prone to muscle loss after menopause.

Keeping up your strength is important as you age. Not just to hit the gym beyond retirement, but also to keep up with the demands of life. Things like carrying a load of laundry, opening a pickle jar, carrying a pot filled with water or standing up from a chair can become insurmountable hurdles if you develop severe muscle weakness.

Getting more than the average recommendation for protein intake can help to keep your muscle tone in your later years.

Weight loss goals

A diet with a higher-than-average protein intake may help you shed some unwanted weight.

“Often, older adults say they find that their metabolism is slowing down and that it’s harder to lose weight,” Kopp reports. “And that’s usually related to losing muscle and being less active. And muscle really helps to fuel your metabolism.”

That’s because your body burns more calories trying to maintain your muscle mass, even when you’re at rest or not being particularly active. A low muscle mass means your body burns fewer calories throughout the day. So, you become more prone to weight gain.

That’s where protein comes into play.

More protein can help you maintain and increase your muscle mass. That means more strength and a faster metabolism that can promote weight loss.

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Muscle mass

Some people advise that men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) need more protein in their diet. That’s based on the idea that males tend to have more muscle than women and and people assigned female at birth (AFAB).

But tying your protein needs to your sex assigned at birth is a big assumption. Because plenty of people’s bodies don’t fit neatly in that box. There’s more to consider than sex and gender alone.

What does matter is your muscle mass. People who have more muscle can benefit from a higher intake of protein.

Activity level

Exercise enthusiasts may need more protein than recommended. That’s because they’re expending more energy throughout their day and putting more demand on their muscles. Protein can help your muscles recover from strenuous workouts.

What’s more, protein can help fill your belly in a healthy way. Avid exercisers can deplete their energy when they’re running long distances or putting in time in the weight room. Extra protein in your diet can help refuel your system and keep the hunger pangs at bay.

Kidney disease

If you’re living with kidney disease, your provider may recommend keeping your protein intake on the lower end.

Here’s why.

Your kidneys work to filter through your blood, removing things you don’t need. When you eat too much protein, it’s up to your kidneys to clear it out. And if your kidneys aren’t working at full speed, that’s tough work. That puts more pressure on them. So, too much protein can mean extra wear and tear on already-compromised kidneys.

How to eat the right amount of protein

Now that you have a clearer idea of how much protein you should be eating, the next logical consideration is how much you’re actually eating. That can help you understand if you’re in the right ballpark.

Check out how much protein you get from these sources:

Food
Grilled chicken breast
Serving size
3 ounces
Protein content
29.5 grams
Ground turkey
Serving size
3 ounces
Protein content
23.3 grams
Salmon
Serving size
3 ounces
Protein content
21.6 grams
Plain nonfat Greek yogurt
Serving size
7 ounces (one container)
Protein content
19.9 grams
Tempeh
Serving size
100 grams
Protein content
19.9 grams
Edamame
Serving size
1 cup
Protein content
18.4 grams
Firm tofu
Serving size
3 ounces
Protein content
9.16 grams
Hard-boiled egg
Serving size
1 large egg
Protein content
6.3 grams

Protein quality

Considering how much protein you need is a question of both quantity and quality.

Here’s why.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are nine amino acids that are essential to your health.

All the foods listed above are considered complete proteins. That means they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. Animal protein sources are typically complete proteins.

Proteins that don’t have all the essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins. Many plant-based sources of protein are incomplete proteins.

There’s nothing wrong with incomplete proteins. But be aware that if you rely on plant foods for your protein, you’ll want to eat a variety of plant-based proteins to ensure you’re getting all the amino acids your body needs.

And even though animal products are complete proteins, some are healthier choices than others.

Processed meats, like hot dogs and bacon, are sources of protein. But they’re full of sodium and saturated fat content. Grain-fed red meat is a less healthy protein choice, too. It’s high in saturated fat. And a diet high in red meat has been linked to several cancers.

Kopp recommends talking with a healthcare provider, like a registered dietitian, to best understand your goals and health conditions so they can help you understand how much protein each day is best for you. Because, again, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best fit.

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Health Library
Amino Acids

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