How much protein do I need?
Here are a few ideas for figuring out how much protein you should aim for on a daily basis. Hint: It depends on how much weight you want to gain or lose.
Wed, Aug 03, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Steak and eggs for breakfast. Ham and cheese for lunch. Chicken teriyaki for dinner. Too much protein in one day? Or just right? If lately you’ve asked, “How much protein do I need daily,” here are some guidelines.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients that we require on a daily basis, and should be consuming at every meal, along with carbohydrates (ideally, only in the form of whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and natural fat.
There are nine essential amino acids, which constitute the building blocks of protein. Eating high-quality sources of protein (for example: lean grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild salmon, minimally processed cheese, etc.) that contain the full spectrum of amino acids, have the following health benefits:
- They repair body cells
- They build and repair muscles, bones, skin, nails and hair
- They support immune function
- They develop and maintain organ function
- They control many of the important processes in the body related to metabolism
Leading health websites, offer general guidelines for protein intake.
According to WebMD, protein requirements differ based on age:
- Infants require about 10 grams a day.
- Teenage boys need up to 52 grams a day.
- Teenage girls need 46 grams a day.
- Adult men need about 56 grams a day.
- Adult women need about 46 grams a day.
For pregnant or lactating women, WebMD recommends increasing intake to 71 grams of protein a day.
Percentage of total calories is another measure of protein intake. The Institute of Medicine suggests that adults get between 10 percent and 35 percent of their total daily caloric intake from protein.
Why general protein suggestions may be insufficient
The Institute of Medicine suggestion is a huge gap, and one that fails to account for unique biological differences. The WebMD and governmental agency guidelines might be a good starting point, but fail to account for activity levels.
For example, take the aforementioned pregnant or lactating woman, advised by WebMD to consume 71 grams of protein per day. But what if the woman is still very active, lifts weights and is very tall and muscular? Perhaps 71 grams of protein per day wouldn’t suffice.
Maximum protein intake for inactive adults
Before figuring out what’s the best daily protein intake for you, many people first want to know what the maximum daily protein intake should be. As another general rule, if you’re not a competitive athlete or bodybuilder, take 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. A 170-pound adult male, then, should not exceed more than 153 grams of protein per day.
And if I pump iron regularly, how much protein should I eat per day?
Many bodybuilders, perhaps the most protein-conscious segment of society, use the following formula to determine adequate (for encouraging muscle growth and cell repair) protein intake per day. Keep in mind that this formula is for serious weightlifters only, those who spend 5-6 days in the gym, performing 1-2 hours of resistance training:
- Take your body weight (example: 200 pounds)
- Find out your body fat percentage using a trusted method like skinfold caliper test at a gym (example: 15 percent)
- Multiply your body fat percentage times your overall weight (200 x .15 = 170)
- Take your lean body weight (170) and multiply times 1.14 = 194 grams of protein
Holy cow, that’s a lot of ... um, cow. Again, eating 200 grams of protein per day should only be done by experienced and accomplished weightlifters.
I’m not a lifter. I’m trying to lose weight. How much protein do I need?
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2005 that found that increasing protein from 15 percent to 30 percent of total calories — and reducing fat from 35 percent to 20 percent of calories — resulted in sustained weight loss. So make sure you’re getting enough protein, because if you don’t, chances are you won’t feel full. This will lead to eating more belly-fattening refined carbohydrates.
There are some individuals who would do well on a lower protein diet, especially those with kidney or liver diseases. For most people, the WebMD and government recommendations are adequate guidelines. If you’re an avid exerciser, consume more protein than the recommendations. Always speak to a medical professional before deciding to eat five steaks a day to get massive muscles.
Know more about how much protein you need on a daily basis? Leave us a note in the comments below.
Judd Handler is a health reporter in Encinitas, California.