How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is an important macronutrient that our bodies need to function properly, but our bodies don’t need quite as much protein as people tend to think. Protein is different from the other two macronutrients, carbohydrates and fat, in that the body is unable to store it for later, making it an essential part of one’s daily diet. Protein plays an important role in every cell of the body and is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.
It’s recommended that 10-35% of your daily calories come from protein, which equals about 46 grams of protein for the “average” woman and 56 grams of protein for the “average” man. However, most people don’t fit exactly into the average category, so let’s get even more specific. The average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight per day, this equates to approximately 1g of protein per 3 pounds of body weight. Athletes need more protein to repair and strengthen muscle that is broken down during exercise. Endurance athletes need about 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram a day (0.55-0.64 g/lb of body weight), while strength training athletes need 1.2 to 1.7 grams/kilogram a day (0.55-0.77 g/lb of body weight).
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends the daily amount of protein in one ounce equivalents. Generally, one ounce equivalent amounts to 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or fish, 1/4 cup beans, 1 egg, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds. USDA recommends 2 ounce equivalents daily for children 2-3 years old and 4 ounce equivalents daily for children 4-8 years of age. Older children, women and men sufficiently meet their protein needs with 5-6.5 ounces of protein equivalents each day. These amounts are most appropriate for people who exercise less than 30 minutes per day. More active individuals will have higher protein equivalent needs.
What are Good Sources of Protein?
- Hamburger patty, 4 oz – 28 grams protein
- Chicken breast, 3.5 oz – 30 grams protein
- Fish fillets or steaks, 1 oz – 6 grams protein
- Tuna, 6 oz can – 40 grams of protein
- Pork chop, average – 22 grams protein
- Egg, large – 6 grams protein
- Milk, 1 cup – 8 grams
- Cottage cheese, ½ cup – 15 grams
- Yogurt, 1 cup – usually 8-12 grams, check label
- Cheese, 1 oz – 6 to 10 grams
- Tofu, 1/2 cup – 20 grams protein
- Most beans (black, pinto, lentils, etc), 1/2 cup cooked – 7-10 grams
- Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons – 8 grams protein
- Almonds, 1/4 cup – 8 grams
- Peanuts, 1/4 cup – 9 grams
- Sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup – 6 grams
- Flax seeds, 1/4 cup – 8 grams
Are Protein Powders and Supplements Needed?
It is very easy to meet your daily protein needs by diet alone. The use of supplements and protein powders is not necessary, even for elite athletes. Protein supplements are often used for their convenience even though whole foods high in protein are the superior option. Sometimes it is more realistic to grab a protein shake after a workout instead of grilling up a chicken breast. Only use protein powders, bars and supplements for what they are intended – convenience. Focus primarily on eating nutritious whole foods.
How Much Protein is too Much?
Though high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are often effective for weight management, at least in the short-term, too much protein can cause negative side effects. Keep in mind that there is no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for protein. High protein eating plans usually help dieters fill fuller longer and delay hunger so that they can easily eat less throughout the day. If more protein and calories is consumed than your body needs, then the body finds a way to store excess protein as body fat. If excess protein is consumed from high-fat sources, then LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels may rise, increasing one’s risk for cardiovascular diseases. People with diabetes and kidney problems need to limit their protein intake to the daily recommended amounts or less since high amounts of protein places more strain on the kidneys.
To have your individual protein needs assessed, speak to a registered dietitian in your area: http://www.eatright.org/programs/rdnfinder/
Jordyn Forsyth is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in weight management, chronic disease prevention and health promotion. Jordyn strives to educate, empower and encourage others to make sustainable lifestyle changes. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Baylor University and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University.