Ask HE: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

by in Ask the Experts, March 4, 2010

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.

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

Morning Snack:
Apple with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

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

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. Evan Thomas says:

    This is interesting; I'd be very excited to read a follow up post about a healthy protein level for growing children/athletes.

  2. Mike Laube says:

    An athlete could bump that up to .6 to .8(assuming the athlete is doing at least 2-3 days of intense weight training to break down the extra protein.

  3. amy says:

    I have a problem with protein. I have been a vegetarian for over ten years and recently decided enough was enough. I have been eating beef now for about a week. I do not think I will ever eat chicken or anything else but beef, as it gives me the heebie jeebies! But how do I know when enough is enough? How often should I be eating beef?

  4. Kellie says:

    So… is too much protein a bad thing?

  5. Allison says:

    If you strength train on a regular basis, you need more protein. The problem is people take carbs and run with it but don't learn about the GI and end up eating WAY to many high GI carbs that end up storing as fat because they don't use it for energy. Bottom line, every person is different and if you really want to know what amounts of your macronutrients you should be eating, see a nutritionist.

  6. eatingRD says:

    great post, I recently did one on whey protein and if it's really needed for weight training. Every person is different like you said. I don't recommend going above 1.7-2.0 g/kg for resistance ahtletes because that is what research has found. I've seen some that take in quite a bit of protein, but feel that it works for them because they are strength training and building very intensely and not focusing on cardio.

  7. Jonh says:

    Notice how quiet things get when the discussion goes bad? Protein intake is the discussion and this includes animal and vegetable sources and amounts that are appropriate. It's not a place for attacking. Someone who knows doesn't know how to communicate ideas in a way that might convince others of his or her lifestyle-too bad, opportunity missed.

    Anyway-I found the suggestions helpful.

  8. Hi all,
    Thanks so much for the comments! That said, we have been getting lots of comments reported in this thread as being disrespectful and disruptive (which, after enough users report it, the questionable comments are zapped from the thread).

    We appreciate all the feedback and thoughts but please be respectful of your fellow posters. We all have one common goal here — to eat good and nutritious food. Let's stick to that great mission! If some of us choose one route (eating meat, for example) and others don't, it's our individual choices.

  9. NO2GMOs says:

    Does anyone know how nutritous protein supplements are, such as Whey Protein? Most protein supplements come from soy. How good is that for us? Especially with soybeans being one of the leading products that are currently considered GMO.

  10. Jordan says:

    Where can you get a protein powder that doesnt have a bunch of added chemicals and sweetners? I've been having some trouble finding one.

    • Robert says:

      About Time Protein Powder. You can order it from GNC or I just order from TrueProtein but I cannot speak of the flavor yet as I just got it in the mail today! My lady and I both like About Time, however, it is expensive.

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