Ask HE: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

by in Ask the Experts, March 4, 2010

Steak
Last month, we talked about getting the right amount fiber every day. One of you followed up with another good question — what about protein? While protein is an important part of any diet, more isn’t always better. As it turns out, most folks are already eating an adequate amounts of this muscle-building nutrient.

Q: How much protein do I really need in a day (and how do I get it)?

A: Less than you think, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
First of all, here’s some background. The protein you get from foods helps to regulate your metabolism and plays a role in how your immune system functions. Unlike the carbohydrates and fat that come from foods, protein isn’t an efficient source of energy, which is why you don’t want to eat anything but protein — you’ll run out of gas! Also, unlike carbs and fat, your body isn’t able to store protein. Our systems use what up what’s needed from a meal and any extra protein gets shipped on out as waste.

For the average adult, protein should make up about 15 to 20% of his or her daily calories (growing children and serious athletes often need more). This comes out to 75 to 100 grams per day in a basic 2,000-calorie diet. One way to get a ballpark figure for how much you need is to calculate about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 150-pound person would need about 60 grams per day.

And don’t let those high-protein Atkins-style diets or drugstore shelves packaged with supplements, protein bars and shakes fool you. I’ve seen some supplements with 60 grams per serving. That’s more than a day’s worth for some folks! You can easily get your daily need from protein-rich foods — meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and soy. Whole grains also provide a few extra grams of protein. Since many of these foods are meat-free, vegetarians can easily meet their needs, too.

Here’s an example menu for a balanced day. You just want a small amount of protein with each meal and you’re covered — no need for protein mega-doses from shakes and other supplements.

Breakfast:
2 egg omelet with 2 tablespoons shredded cheese
1 slice whole grain toast

Morning Snack:
Apple with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

Lunch:
3 ounces grilled chicken breast on 2 slices whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and 2 tablespoons hummus

Afternoon Snack:
6 ounces non-fat yogurt
1 granola bar

Dinner:
Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry with 1 cup cooked brown rice

Daily Total: 1,650 calories; 87 grams protein (21% of calories)

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Comments (83)

  1. Vena Dinardo says:

    Bonjour Monsieur, auriez-vous l’esprit si je vous poser quelques questions sur ces sujets s’il vous plaît?

  2. I am extremely very happy in your article for the reason that your article was very nice and I got proper information in your article.

  3. Tongkat Ali says:

    Por lo tanto, me gradué con un título de negocios y yo sólo estoy trabajando en un trabajo de oficina regular que realmente no odio (ya que paga las facturas) al mismo tiempo, me siento como que puedo salir a mejores oportunidades, o incluso una diferente carrera. ¿Alguien puede aconsejarme sobre algunas perspectivas de carrera en este campo.

  4. Yo había estado esperando para saber si usted ha considerado siempre ajustando el diseño de página de su sitio web? Está muy bien escrito, me gusta mucho lo que tiene que decir. Sin embargo, tal vez usted puede crear poco aa más en la forma de contenido escrito para que la gente se conecte con ella mejor. Youve consiguió una gran cantidad de texto de sólo tener una o dos imágenes. Tal vez usted podría espacio que fuera mejor?

  5. Reba Turzak says:

    A well research post indeed. Its really nice to read it. With its unique representation style has added to its value.

  6. Allison says:

    To Amy: beef is one of the hardest proteins to digest. I'm surprised you went straight to that from being vegetarian especially with the hormones in it. I hope that you're eating organic. Beef should really only be eaten a few times a week. The healthiest thing for you to do would be to eat fish and egg whites. There are A LOT of alternatives too. You can get ground turkey, ground ostrch, ground bison…all very lean, low cholesterol meats. I'm wierd about chicken as well so I understand your resistance.

  7. evan says:

    If you think that beef is "real food for real people" you'd better live 'real close to a real good hospital'. This is a medical fact.

  8. danawhite says:

    Hi Amy –
    Red more about beef in this article Red Meat: Good or Bad?

  9. Jessica says:

    It's interesting that you would get the heebie jeebies from beef the most. You may be able to break yourself in to other types of proteins by purchasing them pre-cut (even though this is more expensive it will likely still cost less than beef).

    My concern with you introducing merely beef into your newly meat friendly diet is two-fold. (1) As you surely know, there is more saturated fat in beef than other meats like chicken and pork, so this will have adverse health effects. (2) There are significant environmental impacts to beef consumption. The production of beef to supply the average American's diet emits the same amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as driving 1800 miles; the production of chicken emits 13x less carbon and potato production emits 57x less carbon to the atmosphere. This data is from an interesting article in the Scientific American from Feb 2009 by Nathan Fiala.

    Good luck with your quest for protein!

  10. Hallbauer says:

    You guys sound crazy. Just eat meat in moderation. A lot of the time it's not the meat that causes diseases, it's when you burn the meat in the pan or over-do-it with the charcoal on the grill; or if you under cook it or don't store it properly in your fridge. Chicken is lean and healthy, and fish delivers many omega fatty acids that are good for your heart. The optimum amount of meat you need obviously depends on your lifestyle and past health history. If you want to eat meat, then eat meat. Humans would not like or have a taste bud for meat if it did not provide some type of benefit to survival at one time in history, so a little cannot be that bad. Moderation is key for everything; and if you really like meat, would you rather live an extra year or two while depriving yourself for 70-80 years of something you love to eat? It's not like meat is crack!

  11. ACD says:

    In Canada, beef does not have extra hormones added to the diets of the animals.
    Also, beef is an excellent source of iron. And, many cuts of beef are low in fat.

  12. tommyorlando says:

    Sure Allison, I would prefer to eat all the pesticide residue off the plants you vegans eat. Beef made America – it's GOOD for you as part of a balanced diet – and it doesn't have to be OVER-HYPED and OVER-PRICED Organic. You can be sure it's not the organic prices that's allowing us to live longer than ever.

  13. DARLENE says:

    MY GOODNESS, TAKE A CHILL PILL. EATERS OF THE DEAD? MOST EVERYTHING ON THIS EARTH WAS MEANT TO BE EATEN, INCLUDING "MEAT". HOW CAN YOU THINK MEAT IS EXCLUDED. EVEN THO I SAY THIS, I BELIEVE ALL ANIAMALS HAVE PERSONALITIES – WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS. SOME ANIAMALS ARE CLOSER TO A HUMANS GENETIC MAKE UP THAN OTHERS. I WOULD NOT EAT A CHIMP, CAT, DOG, OR HORSE, ETC. BUT AN ANIMAL DEVOID OR NOT EVEN REMOTELY CONNECTED TO HUMAN DNA IS FAIR GAME. WE CANNOT TAME EVERY WILD SPECIES ON THE PLANET. IF WE COULD, WELL I'D HAVE TO RELENT. BUT MOST ANIMALS SOLE PURPOSE IS TO EATEN FOR NOURISHMENT TO ONE SPECIES OR ANOTHER. MOSTLY HUMANS. SO EAT YOUR VEGGIES, AND GET OFF YOUR DIAS! OKAY

  14. jrv says:

    i'm not one to usually comment….but i do believe that everything we eat is in some fashion "dead". ie: plants are not longer living when harvested. just a thought.

  15. Dawn says:

    excellent post, Allison. When training for a specific event, depending upon how much lean muscle is needed, higher amounts of protein are absolutely necessary. As you noted, a nutritionist will interview and assess your specific body and lifestyle and then create a menu plan for your individual goals. This will include cutting carbs if necessary as well as increasing protein.

  16. DARLENE says:

    JRV – you said it much better than I did. "Someone who knows' is (too) sentitive a soul. anyway, I do and will eat meat. but honestly……i hate shopping for meat. it grosses me out. so I normaly eat tons of veggies anyway. who knows….to each his own.

  17. DARLENE says:

    JRV & Jonh – one more comment, before i leave, you are very cool people. i appreciate your comments very much. i will not be one to stray from subject, or attack again. I think
    swk's is an avid young person. I feel bad about attacking him.

  18. Richard G. says:

    "Disrespectful" and "disruptive" are relative terms. I think censorship has a great deal to do with it. An intelligent, compassionate person would naturally assume that most of you are completely ignorant, self-absorbed people who can only defend your taste for murder by "zapping" other's views from "the thread". I think that the term "individual choices" is proof of that. What makes you an individual and not the animal you murder, burn it's flesh, chew it up and then send it on a very long journey through your digestive tract only to flush it down the toilet in the end? Did it have an individual choice?
    I assume that this will be "zapped from the thread". Or shall we call it what it is? – CENSORSHIP

  19. I personally am not deleting any messages. To clarify, our system for commenting is set up so that when a comment is reported by another user at least 3 times, the blog removes it. This is moderation done by you all, the users.

  20. danawhite says:

    Hi NO2GMOs-
    Protein-rich foods should be the primary choice, but a plain whey protein powder is a good choice if you need a supplement. Whey protein is made from milk, not soy so people who have trouble digesting milk products may have to get an organic soy (GMO free) or rice protein supplement instead.

  21. Pam says:

    There is no civilized way to fight this kind of ignorance. The world would be a much better place without people (and I use the term loosely) like tommyorlando. What could possibly be the evidence that "beef made America"? And what could that possibly mean? That's the first time I've heard that one. He or she must be paid by the NCBA or is living in denial. Most of the world, especially the US, realizes that consumption of animal meat is one of the main causes of disease in humans, not to mention the devastating effects this type of farming has on our planet and it's atmosphere. The antiquated belief that animal flesh is "good for you as part of a balanced diet" was found to be untrue and dangerous quite a long time ago. Please note that most people who figured it out and got hip to the facts are tired of hearing the meat-eating-badasses cry when they find out that they have a disease brought on by their bad choices in life. Maybe tommyorlando should consider breaking his or her addiction to dead flesh and become a healthier person mentally and physically. There is lots of help out there.

  22. Maya says:

    Unfortunately, many suppliers like GNC can be overpriced for this, but do have the most variety. Otherwise you should try looking at a local health food store or drug store such as Walgreens (which has "Beneprotein" for $10.39):

    Ingredients
    Whey Protein Isolate , Soy Lecithin

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving Size : 1 scoop
    Serving per Container : 32
    Calories : 25

    Amount Per Serving % Daily value*
    Total Fat 0.0g
    Sodium 35.0mg
    Total Carbohydrate 0.0g
    Dietary Fiber 0.0g
    Sugars 0.0g
    Protein 6.0g

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