How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

With all of the research out there, protein intake is still a divisive issue. There are those of us tend to undervalue the importance of dietary protein, while people on paleo-type diets may overemphasize it.

Where’s the happy medium? How much protein should we really be eating? There are a number of factors to take into account, so let’s dig in.

The Basics of Activity Level and Protein Needs

Current dietary guidelines dictate that adults should get 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein. The common formula for determining the minimum number of grams you require is to multiply your body weight in kilograms by 0.8. In that case, a 150 pound person (68 kg) should aim for at least 55 grams of protein per day.

That’s bare minimum. Other experts suggest that we should aim a little higher to avoid falling short of our needs—by multiplying your bodyweight in kilograms by anywhere between 1.3 and 1.8. If you have a highly active lifestyle, it’s best to aim for a higher number.

Protein is crucial for muscle recovery and rebuilding, so an active and athletic 150 pound person would want to aim for a max protein intake of around 120 grams daily. A moderate exerciser could get away with a little less. It all depends on your lifestyle.

Regardless of activity, protein is really, really important for all of us. Our bodies use it to build and repair all of its tissues—like bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It’s also crucial for the production of important enzymes and hormones. We fully rely on protein of one form or another to survive.

Of course, someone who sits for eight hours a day is going to need a lot less protein than someone biking 50 miles a day, because there is a lot less tissue in need of restoration and repair.

various of legumes in sack bag

Do you really need more protein than you’re currently eating? Probably not.

Protein deficiency in the US is extremely rare. That said, if you’re working out really hard, and you start feeling weak and exhausted when you should be getting stronger, you may need to reassess your protein intake, along with your micronutrient needs. Listen to your body.

Vegans and Vegetarians

Worried about getting enough protein on a plant-heavy diet? Don’t sweat it.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics assures that, even though plant proteins are “incomplete”, if you’re eating a diverse plant diet, you’re getting all the proteins and amino acids you need from different sources. According to their 2016 statement, “Protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during the course of a day, supplies enough of all indispensable (essential) amino acids when caloric requirements are met.”

So keep those diets colorful and diverse, and you’ll be just fine.

Animal Protein

It’s important to be aware that the effects of eating too much animal protein are unclear. While grass-fed animal protein sources can be hugely beneficial in moderation, there are numerous studies that link excessive consumption of animal protein to cancer.

However, the link between high protein intake and cancer risk completely disappears when the proteins are primarily coming from plant-based sources. So, regardless of whether you’re a meat eater or not, we should all be emphasizing more plant protein sources in our diets. (It’s way more sustainable, too!)

The Best Time to Eat Protein

There is an easy way to ensure you utilize your protein most efficiently. The American diet tends to be carb-intensive in the morning and protein-heavy at dinner. Proteins aren’t super easy to break down, and this eating style doesn’t allow your body to break down proteins efficiently and utilize them throughout the day.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, participants who ate 30 grams of protein at each of their three meals during the day experienced 25 percent more muscle growth than those who ate the bulk of their 90 grams of protein at dinner.

Make sure you’re prioritizing small servings of protein throughout the day instead of gorging on it all at once.

Finding your ideal balanced diet can be complicated, but if you listen to your body’s needs and put in an iota of effort, it’s nothing you have to stress about. Listen to your cravings, and eat lots of plants. You’ll be fine.

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87 comments

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D3 days ago

Interesting article - TYFS. Really like the idea of splitting the protein intake between 3 meals. I started doing that a few weeks ago and I am doing fine. At the time I had no idea I was doing something good - just wanted a change.

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Gino C
Gino C6 days ago

thank you for sharing

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Richard V
Richard V6 days ago

I apologize for the double entry; the site did that with just one click.

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Richard V
Richard V6 days ago

I keep seeing the same issues around protein: authors aren't even addressing the biggest factor, and that's digestion. Age-related hypochlorhydria abounds (and the problem starts earlier than you'd think) , as well as dilution of HCl by drinking with meals, high-sugar meals potentially derailing that necessary first step, and general wear and tear from too much stress (not to mention acid blockers). So can you know? There are multiple tests from the oral and anal ends of the digestive system, or sometimes it helps to use common sense based on your age and any symptoms; take a "prophylactic" dose of HCl (pepsin, etc.) with protein meals, developing your own rule of thumb based on your own symptoms (and your doctor's recommendations if you've got one who knows that, for example, gerd is often a symptom of deficiency). There are lots of articles addressing HCl and protein; just search for the good ones. But IMO, indescriminately ingesting high levels of protein - or even believing you're getting enough - might not result in what you'd think.

https://www.clinicaleducation.org/resources/reviews/the-role-of-hcl-in-gastric-function-and-health/

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Richard V
Richard V6 days ago

I keep seeing the same issues around protein: authors aren't even addressing the biggest factor, and that's digestion. Age-related hypochlorhydria abounds (and the problem starts earlier than you'd think) , as well as dilution of HCl by drinking with meals, high-sugar meals potentially derailing that necessary first step, and general wear and tear from too much stress (not to mention acid blockers). So can you know? There are multiple tests from the oral and anal ends of the digestive system, or sometimes it helps to use common sense based on your age and any symptoms; take a "prophylactic" dose of HCl (pepsin, etc.) with protein meals, developing your own rule of thumb based on your own symptoms (and your doctor's recommendations if you've got one who knows that, for example, gerd is often a symptom of deficiency). There are lots of articles addressing HCl and protein; just search for the good ones. But IMO, indescriminately ingesting high levels of protein - or even believing you're getting enough - might not result in what you'd think.

https://www.clinicaleducation.org/resources/reviews/the-role-of-hcl-in-gastric-function-and-health/

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Mike R
Mike R8 days ago

Thanks

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Carla G
Carla G8 days ago

Thanks.

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan H11 days ago

thanks

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Richard B
Richard B11 days ago

thank you for sharing

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Edgar Z
Edgar Zuim11 days ago

Thanks

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