If you ask most people to name the most important macronutrient, you will almost certainly get the response, protein. But an all too common question is, exactly how much protein do I need to consume?
Although all three macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats— are important for your health, protein certainly plays quite a few vital roles in the body that neither carbohydrates nor fats can adequately replicate.
Carbohydrates and fats both chiefly provide energy, though there are also a few unique functions of each nutrient.
For this reason, at least a little bit of both is generally considered to be a requirement for health, but the ratio of these macronutrients in your diet can vary widely because one can substitute for decently well for the other in terms of providing energy.
On the other hand, protein is essential for many physiological functions besides energy generation, so you have to eat enough protein to maintain the health and function of your body systems.
But, how many grams of protein per pound of body weight should you eat in a day? How much protein do athletes need to consume per day?
In this guide, we will discuss how to calculate how much protein you need to eat daily, helping you ensure you’re eating enough protein to support your workouts and overall health.
We will cover:
- Why Is It Important to Eat Protein?
- How Much Protein Do I Need?
- How To Calculate How Many Grams Of Protein Per Day
- How to Meet Your Protein Needs
Let’s jump in!
Why Is It Important to Eat Protein?
Protein is one of the three primary macronutrients, alongside fats and carbohydrates. Proteins are composed of amino acids connected together in various sequences and geometric arrangements.
Although there are thousands of different proteins in the body, only 20 unique amino acids may be involved in this huge litany of proteins.
Of these, nine are considered essential amino acids, meaning you must consume them through your diet because your body cannot manufacture them.
Each gram of protein provides a net of about four kcals.
Some of the caloric content is lost through the digestion process, as breaking down protein into its constituent amino acids requires an investment of energy.
Therefore, you get about 4 calories of energy per gram of protein you eat.
Among the numerous functions of protein in the body, some of the most notable ones include the following:
- Providing energy to the cells and tissues of the body, especially during intense exercise or during periods of fasting of low energy availability.
- Forming muscle tissue in the skeletal muscles, smooth muscles, and cardiac (heart) muscle.
- Supporting tissue growth and repair, whether during or after an illness, workout or simply maintaining health.
- Forming structural components of tissues, such as collagen, elastin, and keratin. Collagen is a structural protein found in bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin. Elastin is stretchy and flexible and is found in tissues like blood vessels and lungs. Keratin is a hard structural protein that forms your nails and hair.
- Forming hormones, which are chemical messages for the body. Examples of peptide hormones include insulin and human growth hormones.
- Forming enzymes that catalyze the biochemical reactions in the body, such as those needed for digesting food, generating energy, and contracting muscles during exercise.
- Transporting nutrients around the body or into and out of cells. For example, hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen in the blood, and GLUT4 is a protein that transports glucose into and out of cells.
- Storing nutrients. For example, ferritin is a protein that stores iron.
- Forming immunoglobulins (antibodies), which are immune system molecules that help fight infections.
- Maintaining proper fluid balance in the body.
- Regulating the acid-base (pH) balance in your body.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
So, protein is clearly important, but how much protein do you need to eat per day?
The daily value (DV) for protein for adults is 50 grams per day. This equates to 200 calories of protein.
The daily value represents the average intake that works for most people.
The recommended daily intake of protein is set at 46-63 grams for most adults and up to 65 grams per day for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The RDI represents the nutrient requirements for 97-98% of healthy individuals.
How to Calculate How Many grams of Protein Per Day
Although the daily value and RDI for protein are recommendations intended to meet the needs of most adults, your own protein requirements depend on your body size, activity levels, and body composition goals.
Let’s look at the protein recommendations based on body size and activity level.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that for general health, the average adult should strive for a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram or 0.35 grams per pound of body weight.
The National Academy of Medicine also recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, which works out to just over 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.
Using these recommendations,
- A 100-pound person would need about 35 grams of protein each day.
- A 180-pound person would need about 63 grams of protein each day.
The protein requirements for athletes are much higher because protein helps rebuild and repair muscle, along with other cells and tissues, and is used to synthesize new muscle tissue as well.
Protein is also vital for recovery after workouts.
For example, a review of 11 studies investigating the recovery benefits of ingesting protein along with carbohydrates after a bout of cycling versus ingesting carbohydrates alone found that adding protein to the post-exercise recovery fuel increased performance (defined as both time to exhaustion and time trial performance) in the subsequent endurance ride by an average of 9% over consuming just carbohydrate alone.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume at least 1.2–2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
For example, athletes weighing 154 pounds (70 kg) should consume at least 84-140 grams of protein daily to meet their physiological needs.
Since there are four calories per gram of protein, this range equates to 336-560 calories.
Keep in mind that your protein needs may be higher depending on your exercise routine, but most sports dietitians recommend a protein intake of 20-35% of your daily caloric intake.
The following table shows how much protein you should eat per day based on the above recommendations.
The first volume is your weight in pounds, and the second is your weight in kilograms.
The third column shows the protein recommendations for the average adult (from the National Academy of Medicine and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
The fourth column shows the lower end of the ACSM’s protein recommendations for athletes, and the last column is the upper bounds.
|Weight (pounds)||Weight (kg)||0.8 g/kg per day||1.2 g/kg per day||2 g/kg per day|
How to Meet Your Protein Needs
Almost all foods contain at least trace amounts of protein, but the following foods are particularly high in protein.
Remember that plant-based protein sources usually do not contain all nine essential amino acids.
However, strategically pairing complementary plant-based foods together, such as beans with rice, can provide the full list of essential amino acids.
- Lean Meat: Lean beef, pork, venison, bison, alligator, etc.
- Fish: Halibut, salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, bass, tilapia, cod, etc.
- Seafood: Scallops, crab, shrimp, lobster, mussels, squid, clams, etc.
- Poultry: Turkey, chicken, duck, quail, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Soy: Tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc.
- Low-Fat Dairy: Low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, buttermilk, etc.
The following nutritious foods also contain some protein, though they also are high in other macronutrients:
- Whole Grains: Whole wheat, quinoa, oats, teff, buckwheat, millet, etc.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, kale, etc.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, etc.
- Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
Even though people tend to think you need a significant amount of protein right after your workout and less the rest of the day, studies have demonstrated that protein is absorbed and used most effectively when it’s spaced out throughout the day every three hours in 20g doses rather than less frequently in 40g doses.
In most cases, people tend to overestimate their protein needs, and eating too much protein is associated with stress on the kidneys.
Therefore, if you have reason to believe your protein needs may be much higher than the recommendations, it can be a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider or a nutritionist.
Now that you know how much protein you should consume daily, why not start your day with a high-protein breakfast? We can help you with some ideas in our very own guide.