You probably know that getting enough protein in your diet is crucial to good health. But, with protein being the hot topic it is these days, it can be confusing to sift through all the information out there to answer that burning question, how much protein do I need? This will vary by person and their lifestyle and goals. Keep reading to learn more, and to get a better sense of the optimal amount of daily protein for you.
What is protein?
Protein is a group of large, complex molecules made up of hundreds upon thousands of smaller amino acids of several types that are connected in chains. Each protein has a distinct 3D composition and function, determined by its amino acid sequence.
Why is protein important?
Protein supports and performs many key roles in our bodies, like:
- Chemical reaction facilitation from digestive enzymes
- Immune function support from antibodies
- DNA and RNA support and regulation
- Contraction and movement of muscles
- Movement of the body's key molecules
- Hormone support for coordinating bodily function
Protein is required for our organ and tissue structure, function, growth, and regulation, and it does most of what's needed in our cells. To maintain this, we need a constant supply of amino acids, and our bodies can't handle it entirely on their own.
This is why getting the right amount of protein from our diets to meet this demand is extremely important, especially during peak times. Examples of such times include rapid growth periods like childhood and adolescence, or during pregnancy.
How do I calculate how much protein I need?
Everyone's specific protein needs will be different, but there are general guidelines to follow. For example, the 2002 Institute of Medicine recommendations state that adults 19 and older consume 10-35% protein from their daily calories, or about 200-700 calories based on a 2,000-calorie per-day diet.
To get a more specific number for yourself, multiply 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight, or anywhere from 1 to 1.6 g if you're physically active. For example, a 63.5 (140 lb) adult needs about 51 g of protein per day. This may be more for males and less for females, as the table below illustrates.
How much protein do I need by age and weight?
Check out the table below for a guideline of how much protein you need. This is broken out by both age/gender and weight, so be sure to consider both estimates. Keep in mind that these calculations are based on the standard 0.8 grams per kilogram so, if you lead an active lifestyle, you'll need to increase this accordingly (keep reading for more information on this).
How much protein do I need to build muscle?
If you'd like to build muscle mass, it's important to understand how protein works to achieve this. When the synthesis of muscle protein exceeds the breakdown of muscle protein, our muscles get larger. This will most frequently happen after working out, and the amount of protein you'll need to gain that muscle mass will depend on your age and the intensity of exercise you endure.
Generally, if you regularly lift weights, run, or cycle and want to build muscle, you'll typically need about 1.6 g or more of protein per kilogram of body weight, instead of the standard 0.8 g. Having the right amount of protein at the right time is key, as well: Consuming about 15 g to 25 g within an hour after a workout is ideal. Also important is choosing foods high in the amino acid leucine, as this is often most effective for muscle growth, maintenance, and repair. Foods rich in leucine include soybeans, eggs, salmon, chicken, beef, milk, and nuts.
How much protein do I need to lose weight?
Protein can affect your ability to lose weight because it:
- Is highly satiating, helping you feel fuller, longer. This means you're less likely to overeat and more likely to stick with a diet or eating plan.
- Helps to maintain lean muscle mass during caloric restriction.
- Is tougher to store as body fat than carbohydrates or fats.
- Boosts food's thermic effect (the energy needed for breaking down and digesting food before turning it into energy), which causes you to burn more calories.
For weight loss, consuming about 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight can help. This will be more if you're extremely active.
How much is too much protein?
Like with any other good thing in life, it's possible to get too much protein. Your body is only able to process about 20-25 g of it at a time. Bottom line: If your protein intake is higher than the one-third of your diet that it should be, you can expose yourself to harmful risks.
A common one is weight gain. Excess protein is stored as fat which, especially combined with extra calorie intake and limited carbohydrate consumption, can eventually cause us to gain weight. Another potential risk of consuming too much protein is kidney damage – though this mostly applies to those with kidney disease, not otherwise healthy individuals. This is because unhealthy kidneys must work harder to get rid of the extra nitrogen in protein's amino acids and the waste that protein metabolism creates.
Healthy sources of protein
There are plenty of healthy protein sources you can enjoy every day, like the ones listed below. With the wide variety of tasty options, versatile for many recipes and dishes, you won't get bored.
- Peanut or other nut butter
- Beans and legumes, like black beans, pinto beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- Greek yogurt or skyr
- High-protein snacks
How to get more protein in your diet
Despite the many delicious, filling protein options available to you, there will be times when you're hungry and on the go, unable to cook a meal. Or, you might just need a small snack to tide you over until dinnertime. Whatever the case may be, supplementing with healthy protein bars and other sources, like Bobo's protein bars, is a great way to meet your body's protein needs.