How Much Protein Do You Need?


Ah, protein. You have probably heard that it’s important to health. However, some health enthusiasts suggest that you eat tons of protein (up to 2 g of protein per lb of body weight!) and some don’t emphasize protein at all, recommending a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. This gets confusing and you may not know what sources are reliable. So let’s get to the point – how much do I need.  The answer is: it depends. I will be writing out protein needs in grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example if you are 150 lbs and you need .54 g/lb of body weight per day, you can calculate that like this:

150 lb x .54 g/lb = 81 g of protein/day

Identify what category you fit in below and see your protein recommendation:

Healthy Weight Inactive Person: .36-45 g/lb

Healthy Weight Inactive Person with High Blood Pressure: .45- 54 g/lb (replace carbohydrates with protein)

Healthy Weight Athletes or Active People: .54-.82 g/lb

Health Weight Athletes or Active People Trying to Lose Weight: .68-1 g/lb

Inactive Obese People with BMI>30: .45-.68 g/lb of Ideal Body Weight – See bottom of the page to calculate Ideal Body Weight

Active Obese People with BMI>30: .54-.82 g/lb of Ideal Body Weight – See bottom of the page to calculate Ideal Body Weight

Elderly: .45-68 g/lb

Read the rest of this article to get the explanation for protein recommendations and benefits associated with eating more protein, and use this calculator to find out more precisely how much protein you should eat: Calories, Protein, and Fluid Needs Spreadsheet

The RDA

RDA stands for the Recommended Daily Allowance. The RDA for protein for adults is .8 g/kg (about .36 g/lb) of body weight. This is the minimum amount of protein that any healthy person should consume for an extended period of time. This isn’t very much and even vegetarians should not have trouble reaching this amount. The RDA is fine for normal weight, healthy adults that don’t exercise and these people can live healthy lives eating this much protein. However, this amount is not sufficient for many other populations. Many people can benefit from eating more than the RDA for protein in place of (saturated/trans) fats and carbohydrates.

Who Might Benefit from More Protein?

The short answer: most people.  I’m going to break them down into the following categories and explain the benefits that protein has for them: Healthy Weight People, Overweight People/Anyone Losing Weight, Highly Active Athletes/Weight Lifters, Elderly, People with Certain Chronic Diseases (I will not be getting in to this one)

Healthy Weight People that Aren’t Active (Including those with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol)

1. Helps with weight maintenance/body composition through improved satiety and higher thermogenic effect of food.

2. Improved bone mineral density if consumed with adequate calcium.

3. Improved blood pressure when substituted for carbohydrate in people that already have prehypertension or high blood pressure

4. Improved LDL Cholesterol and triglycerides when substituted for saturated fat (likely a greater effect in people that already have borderline-high or high Cholesterol)

How much: .36+ protein/lb of body weight, .45-.54 g/lb for the above benefits, max suggestion of .68 g/kg

Although the RDA may be all that they NEED, non-active healthy weight people not trying to change their weight may benefit in the ways above by eating more protein. People that want these benefits of more protein may want to eat closer to 1.0-1.2 g/kg (.45-54 g/lb of body weight). If one of your concerns is long term weight maintenance eating up to 1.5 g/kg (.68 g/lb) would not be ridiculous, but I wouldn’t recommend eating more than that for this population. I want to note protein isn’t the only thing that provides additional health benefits, so be sure to consider and balance this protein recommendation with healthy foods fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, healthy fats, ect. If a high protein intake interferes with getting other healthy foods, then scaling it down may be necessary.

Overweight People and ANYONE Losing Weight

1. Helps with weight loss through improved satiety and higher thermogenic effect of food.

2. Increases the retention of muscle/lean body mass while losing weight.

3. Metabolism will not decrease as much while losing weight.

4. Improved blood pressure while losing weight in obese patients and obese patients with diabetes.

5. Improved HDL:Total Cholesterol Ratio while losing weight in obese patients and obese patients with diabetes.

6. Improved bone mineral density if consumed with adequate calcium.

How much: .45-.68 protein/lb of body weight (if BMI>30 use ideal body weight in this calculation), more if you are an athelete/highly active.

Anyone trying to lose weight can benefit from a higher protein intake for all of these reasons. When we don’t eat all the energy that our body needs, it uses our fat and muscle as fuel (see The Truth about All Weight Loss Diets and The Energy Balance Equation and Using it to Your Advantage While Losing Weight). Eating more protein helps your body use less muscle and more fat as fuel. Protein intakes of 1.0-1.5 g/kg (.45-.68+ g/lb) have been shown to benefit this population. If your BMI>30, then you should calculate your protein needs based on ideal body weight rather than your actual body weight to get a more accurate amount. The higher end of this range would be better for anyone losing weight at a faster rate (arbitrarily >1.5lb per week) and/or leaner people trying to lose weight. If your BMI>30 and/or losing weight slowly, you might be ok with eating the lower end of that range (although the higher end of the range is still better). Very severe calorie deficits may require even more protein, but I would not recommend those types of diets in most cases (do a google search for protein sparing modified fast).

Highly Active Athletes and Weight Lifters

1. Helps with weight loss through improved satiety and higher thermogenic effect of food.

2. Increases the retention of muscle/lean body mass while losing weight.

3. Increases rate of muscle gain during weight maintenance/gain.

4. Improved bone mineral density if consumed with adequate calcium.

How much: .54-.82 protein/lb of body weight, .68-1 g/lb if losing weight

Athletes can benefit from a higher protein intake for all the above reasons. High physical activity levels are a stress on the body and the body needs more protein to repair itself. When losing weight, you will need even more protein. Athletes that want these benefits should eat .54-.82 g/lb. For athletes trying to lose weight, I recommend .68-1g/lb of body weight. Eat on the higher end of these ranges if you are really active and on the lower end if you are less active (think three 40 minute lifting sessions per week, no aerobics). When losing weight, the high end of this recommendation MAY benefit you if you are really lean (<12% bodyfat), very active, and/or losing weight at a fast rate (arbitrarily I will call this >1.5lbs/week).

This topic is debated because the majority of data seems to suggest that .82 g/lb of body weight may be the maximum amount for benefit. If you are gaining or maintaining weight, consuming more than .82 g/lb likely won’t give you any additional benefit. Eric Helms published this study suggesting that athletes losing weight may benefit from greater intakes and other studies have suggested that intakes up to 1.4 g/lb are likely safe and may provide additional benefits not detected in previous studies. However, increasing protein may require and athlete to eat fewer carbohydrates which may negatively affect resistance training/weight lifting performance. If an athlete doesn’t perform as well in the weight room, it may translate in to less muscle retention while losing weight. For this reason, I suggest 1 g/lb of body weight as the maximum for athletes losing weight.

Elderly

1. Higher protein intakes in the elderly can help to offset some of the muscle wasting associated with aging.

2. Improved bone health if consumed with adequate calcium.

3. Improved blood pressure when substituted for carbohydrate in people that already have prehypertension or high blood pressure.

4. Improved LDL Cholesterol and triglycerides when substituted for saturated fat (likely a greater effect in people that already have borderline-high or high Cholesterol).

How much: .45-.68 g protein/lb of body weight (use ideal body weight if BMI>30)

The elderly may benefit from higher protein intake for the above reasons. Bone and muscle health are especially important in the elderly. High blood pressure and cholesterol are also common problems in this population. Elderly people should try to eat .45-.68 g protein./lb

Equation for Ideal Body Weight

Men: 106 + (inches taller than 5′ x 6)= IBW

Women: 100 + (inches taller than 5′ x 5) = IBW

Is It Safe to Eat More Protein?

The short answer is that yes, it is very likely safe and healthy. If you have concerns with safety, please read Does a High Protein Diet Really Ruin Your Kidneys?

protein

Courtesy of TERBOIMAGING

What Matters in this Blog Post

1. RDA (.36 g/lb) is the minimum amount protein that people should eat. More is beneficial for many people.

2. Healthy Weight People: eat .45-.54 g protein/lb body weight  for benefits.

3. People Losing Weight: eat .45-.68g protein/lb body weight for benefits.  The higher end of this is amount is better for most. Use Ideal Body weight if BMI>30.

4. Athletes: eat .54-.82 g protein/lb body weight for benefits. Eat .68-1 g protein/lb if trying to lose weight.

5. Elderly: eat .45-.68 g protein/lb body weight for benefits.

6. Eating more protein as a part of a balanced diet very likely safe. There is no reason to assume otherwise.

7. Use my calculator: Calories, Protein, and Fluid Needs Spreadsheet

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4 thoughts on “How Much Protein Do You Need?

    • Yes most vegetables have protein, but you need to eat a lot of them to get a significant amount. Are you a vegetarian for “health reasons” or for a different reason? Good sources of protein for vegetarians include dairy products, eggs, lentils, beans, and nuts. You could try counting how many grams of protein you eat in a day by reading food labels and compare it to my recommendation here. You wouldn’t need to count every day but it is really hard to get an idea of how much you eat if you don’t try counting at least once. If you can remember everything you ate today and give me portion sizes, I could give you a ballpark estimate.

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