High protein diets have gained immense popularity in the recent years. Lean meats, protein bars, and protein shakes are flying off the shelves of the supermarkets like never before. People often wonder and ask the question – how much protein do I need? This question is topmost in the minds of dieters and bodybuilders alike. However, there is no fixed answer to this question. The daily protein intake actually depends on an individual’s age, current health, activity level, and physical goal.
Read on to know more about how much protein you should eat in a day.
What are proteins?
Proteins are complex molecules that play many essential roles in the body. They are needed for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. Proteins consist of thousands of amino acids that are attached to each other in long chains.
Twenty types of amino acids combine to form a protein. Each protein’s unique three-dimensional structure and its function is determined by the sequence of these amino acids (1).
Gerhardus Johannes Mulder, a Dutch chemist, first described proteins and coined their name in 1838. The Greek words protos means ‘first,’ and ‘proteios’ means the first quality.
Why are proteins important?
Proteins play a vital role in most biological processes. Our body uses proteins to build and repair tissues. They are also used as a building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
Our body also needs proteins of biochemical reactions. Enzymes are proteins that help in the thousands of biochemical processes that take place in the body (2).
Some proteins are hormones, and they help in the communication between cells, tissues, and organs. Hormones like insulin and glucagon are made up of protein and polypeptides.
Proteins also regulate body processes to maintain fluid balance on the body.
Protein is considered a macronutrient as our body needs relatively large amounts of it. Unlike fats and carbohydrates, our body cannot store proteins.
This, however, does not mean that we should consume excessive amounts of proteins. We do not need as much protein as most people think.
How much protein do I need?
According to the Food and Nutrition Board, healthy adults should get 10 to 35 percent of their calories from protein. This, however, cannot be a fixed number as the amount of protein a person needs depends on their age, sex, and level of physical activity.
The RDA (Recommended dietary allowance) is just .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA refers to the minimum amount of protein that you need to perform the primary functions of your body, without getting sick.
The requirement may be different if you want to lose weight or gain muscle mass.
To calculate how many grams of protein you need to eat in a day, multiply your weight in pounds by .36. You can also use this online calculator available on the United States Department of Agriculture website.
So, if you weigh around 140 pounds, you should aim for approximately 50 grams of protein daily.
The intake of amount of protein needed may change depending on your health goal. If you are trying to lose weight and slim down, you can increase your daily protein intake to .5 grams for every pound of your weight.
If you are trying to gain muscle mass, you can improve your daily protein intake further to .8 grams per pound of your weight.
How much protein for weight loss?
Those of us who are trying dieting to lose weight often wonder how much protein we should eat. Though protein is vital for weight loss, you must not assume that more protein you eat is better for you. Excess protein in your diet can wind up stored as fat.
Incorporate protein into your diet over the course of the day, starting with breakfast. According to a study by Institute of Food Technologists, people who eat protein-rich breakfasts, eat 200 fewer calories at night.
We are all well aware that to lose weight we must burn more calories. According to scientific research, eating protein can increase satiety and boost metabolic rate (3).
Studies have shown that consuming 30 percent of the calories in the form of the protein can boost energy expenditure by 80 to 100 calories per day (4).
During a 2005 study, when women increased their protein consumption from 15 percent to 30 percent of the total calories, they ate 441 fewer calories per day and lost around 11 pounds in 12 weeks (5).
Not only does a protein-rich diet help in weight loss, but it also prevents weight gain. According to research, an increase in protein consumption from 15 percent to 18 percent, resulted in 50 percent lower body weight regain (6).
All these studies suggest that the ideal intake of protein for weight loss should be around 30 percent of the total calories consumed.
However, you must remember that if you consume too many calories, no matter which kind of calories they are, you will gain weight.
How much protein do I need to gain muscle and strength?
A high-protein diet is a must for muscle growth and repair. Proteins are made up of amino acids that are vital for muscle repair and cellular function. Amino acids need to be available to provide energy (metabolism) and muscle growth (anabolism).
When you eat a sufficient amount of protein, there is a favorable amino acid balance in the body, which is necessary to build muscle. A decline in this balance means the breakdown of muscle tissue.
This is the reason why people who want to build muscle eat a higher amount of protein. According to studies, an increase in dietary protein favorably affects muscle and strength during resistance training (7).
Protein is also useful in preventing loss of muscle while dieting. According to a 2012 study, participants who consumed a protein-rich diet, lost more fat and less lean mass during weight loss diets (8).
When it comes to muscle growth, experts do not look at the percentage of calories consumed to suggest the amount of protein needed. Many experts believe that you must eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Some others suggest .7 grams of protein per pound of body weight (9).
Another study recommends elevated protein consumption of 1.8 grams to 2 grams per kg may be advantageous for muscle growth (10).
While the exact figure may vary, one can safely estimate .7 to 1 grams of protein per pound (1.6 to 2.2 grams per kg) is the ideal amount of protein for muscles and strength.
Other circumstances that increase protein need
Dieters and bodybuilders are not the only people who need extra protein in their diet. People who do more physically demanding jobs and endurance athletes also need more protein in their diets as compared to people who follow a more sedentary lifestyle (11).
According to the International Journal of Sports Medicine, endurance athletes need about 1.2 grams to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight per day.
Higher protein intake is also essential for the elderly to prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia (reduction in muscle mass).
According to recent reports, increasing dietary protein above the current RDA may help maintain bone and muscle mass in older individuals.
According to the currently available data, increasing protein intake of 1 to 1.2 grams per kg helps maintain calcium metabolism and nitrogen balance without affecting renal function (12).
Experts also recommend a protein intake of more than 2 grams per kg for people suffering from traumatic injuries (13).
What are the best sources of protein?
We must eat the right kind of protein to enjoy its health benefits. Here are ten best sources of lean protein –
- White-meat poultry
- Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Pork tenderloin
- Lean beef
What about protein shakes and bars?
If you don’t have the time to cook or eat a protein-rich meal, you can opt for a protein bar or a protein shake. However, you must check the label to ensure that products are low in fat and sugar and contains at least 6 grams of protein.
You must consume protein shakes, and bars along with a healthy diet.
Can you consume too much protein?
If you have a liver or kidney disease, overeating protein can further damage these organs. Our kidney and liver do the critical job of processing protein and eliminating the waste produced by it.
When these organs do not function well, proteins are not correctly metabolized; then the toxins can build up in the system.
What does ‘grams of protein’ mean?
When an article mentions that you should consume 1 gram of protein per kg it refers to grams of the macronutrient protein, not the protein-containing food.
For example, one egg weights 46 grams but it contains just 6 grams of protein. You can check the protein content of your favorite protein foods online.
Final thoughts on daily protein intake
Proteins are essential macronutrients that are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. Experts recommend that adults should get 10 to 35 percent of their calories from protein.
This, however, cannot be a fixed number as the amount of protein a person needs depends on their age, sex, and level of physical activity. The RDA (Recommended dietary allowance) is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
If you are trying to lose weight and gain muscle mass, you must consume more protein. The elderly and people who are recovering from traumatic injuries should also eat more protein.