How Much Protein Should You Eat per Day?

Protein food

Few nutrients are as important as protein. Not getting enough of it will affect your health and body composition.

However, opinions regarding how much protein you need vary.

Most official nutritional organizations recommend a fairly modest protein intake.

The Dietary Reference Intake is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight.

This amounts to:

  • 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man
  • 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman

This may be enough to prevent deficiency, but the amount you need depends on many factors, including your activity level, age, muscle mass, physique goals, and overall health.

What is protein and why is it important?

Proteins are the main building blocks of your body. They’re used to make muscles, tendons, organs, and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and various molecules that serve many important functions.

Proteins consist of smaller molecules called amino acids, which link together like beads on a string. 

These linked amino acids form long protein chains, which then fold into complex shapes.

Your body produces some of these amino acids, but you must obtain others known as essential amino acids via your diet.

Protein is not only about quantity but also quality.

How Much Protein Should You Eat per Day?

Generally, animal protein provides all essential amino acids in the right ratio for you to make full use of them. This makes sense, as animal tissues are similar to your own tissues.

If you’re eating animal products like meat, fish, eggs, or dairy every day, you’re likely getting enough protein.

However, if you don’t eat animal foods, getting all the protein and essential amino acids your body needs can be more challenging.

Few people need to supplement with protein, but doing so can be useful for athletes and bodybuilders.

Can aid weight loss and prevent weight gain

Protein is important when it comes to losing weight.

As you may know, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight.

Eating protein can increase the number of calories you burn by boosting your metabolic rate and reducing your appetite.

Consuming 25–30% of your total daily calories from protein will boost metabolism by up to 80–100 calories per day, compared with lower protein diets.

How Much Protein Should You Eat per Day?

Yet, protein’s most important contribution to weight loss is likely its ability to reduce appetite, leading to a reduction in calorie intake. Protein is better than fat or carbs at keeping you feeling full.

Plus, protein does more than aid weight loss — it can likewise prevent weight gain.

A high protein intake also helps you build and preserve muscle mass, which burns a small number of calories around the clock.

Eating more protein makes it much easier to stick to any weight loss diet — be it high carb, low carb, or something in between.

Can help you gain muscle and strength

Muscles are largely made of protein.

As with most body tissues, muscles are dynamic and constantly being broken down and rebuilt.

To gain muscle, your body must synthesize more muscle protein than it breaks down.

In other words, there needs to be a net positive protein balance in your body — often called nitrogen balance, as protein is high in nitrogen.

How Much Protein Should You Eat per Day?

As such, people who want to build muscle often eat more protein, as well as exercise. A higher protein intake can help build muscle and strength.

Meanwhile, those who want to maintain the muscle they’ve built may need to increase their protein intake when losing body fat, as a high protein intake can help prevent the muscle loss that usually occurs when dieting.

A common recommendation for gaining muscle is 1 gram of protein per pound (2.2 grams per kg) of body weight.

Protein in pregnancy

During pregnancy, the body needs more protein for tissue development and growth.

 Protein benefits both the mother and baby.

Experts recommend consuming an extra 0.55 grams per pound (1.1 grams per kg) of protein per day during pregnancy.

How Much Protein Should You Eat per Day?

The recommended daily allowance for protein during breastfeeding is 1.3 grams per kg, per day, plus 25 additional grams.

Dietary sources are the ideal way to obtain any nutrient. Good sources include:

  • beans, peas, and lentils
  • eggs
  • lean meat
  • dairy products
  • nuts and seeds
  • tofu

Fish and seafood are also good sources. During pregnancy and lactation, choose fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies.

Ideally, you should get all your protein from food sources. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend supplements. However, there are no guidelines for supplementing with protein during pregnancy.

Other circumstances that can increase protein needs

Regardless of muscle mass and physique goals, those who are physically active need more protein than those who are sedentary.

If your job is physically demanding or you walk a lot, run, swim, or do any sort of exercise, you need to eat more protein.

Endurance athletes also need significant amounts of protein — about 0.5–0.65 grams per pound (1.2–1.4 grams per kg) of body weight.

Older adults have significantly increased protein needs as well about 0.45–0.6 grams per pound (1–1.3 grams per kg) of body weight.

This can help prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia, both of which are significant problems among older adults.

People recovering from injuries may likewise need more protein.

Does protein have any negative health effects?

Protein has been unfairly blamed for a number of health problems.

Some people believe that a high protein diet can cause kidney damage and osteoporosis, but science does not support these claims.

Though protein restriction is helpful for people with preexisting kidney problems, there’s no evidence that protein can cause kidney damage in healthy people.

In fact, a higher protein intake may lower blood pressure and help fight diabetes, which is two of the main risk factors for kidney disease.

Some people have claimed that too much protein can lead to osteoporosis, but research shows that it can prevent this condition.

Overall, there’s no evidence that a reasonably high protein intake has any adverse effects on healthy people trying to optimize their health.

How to get enough protein in your diet

The best sources of protein are meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as they have all the essential amino acids that your body needs.

Some plants are fairly high in protein as well, such as quinoa, legumes, and nuts.

However, most people generally don’t need to track their protein intake.

If you’re healthy and trying to stay that way, simply eating quality protein sources with most of your meals, along with nutritious plant foods, should bring your intake to an optimal range.

If you’re at a healthy weight, don’t lift weights, and don’t exercise much, aiming for 0.36–0.6 grams per pound (0.8–1.3 gram per kg) is a reasonable estimate.

This amounts to:

  • 56–91 grams per day for the average male
  • 46–75 grams per day for the average female

Still, there’s no evidence of harm and significant evidence of benefit, it’s likely better for most people to consume more protein rather than less.

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Surajit Jana.

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