One of the most common nutrition-related questions I’m asked is, “How much protein do I need to be eating on a daily basis?” While this might seem like an overly simple question, it really is an important one. In our society, processed and refined foods are found in excess. And as a result, the majority of Americans over-consume carbs and sugar, while easily under-eating protein. So, this brings us back to the question: how much protein do you really need?
What is Protein?
First thing first: what is protein? Protein is one of three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat- all of which are essential. Protein serves as the building blocks for most of our body, including tissues, organs, nerves, muscles, etc. Not to mention, it is necessary to create energy, antibodies, enzymes, and hormones. Simply put, we need protein to survive and thrive.
Protein is made up of 15 different amino acids, 9 of which are “essential” and cannot be made by the body. We must consume these essential amino acids through our diet. Luckily, most high quality sources of protein naturally contain all 15 amino acids, making them a complete protein. For example, fish, seafood, chicken, eggs, beef, pork, and dairy products are all sources of complete proteins.
Health Benefits of Protein
It’s evident that we need to eat adequate amounts of protein to function optimally. However, there are specific health benefits associated with adequate protein intake, including:
- Improved brain function and better memory
- Increased muscle mass and strength
- Improved endurance
- Better sleep
- Quicker muscle recovery
- Improved immune function
- Better ability to maintain weight and lose fat
- Clearer skin
- Reduced risk of chronic disease (ie. diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmunity, etc.)
When you regularly consume enough quality sources of protein, your body has the energy and nutrients to function at its best. So, how much daily protein do you need?
Optimal Daily Protein Intake for Adults
Whether your health goal is to gain muscle, loose fat, or increase performance, protein is an essential part of your progress. And, as previously mentioned, most Americans don’t consume nearly enough protein.
In general, a good rule of thumb is to consume 1g of protein for every pound of body weight. However, the amount of protein you need to eat is largely dependent on your goals and activity. If you’re relatively sedentary and workout minimally, your protein intake needs will be less. For instance, sedentary individuals can typically consume closer to 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight.
On the other hand, for those who are active daily- participating in a weight lifting program and/or an avid runner, eating enough protein every day is of more importance. It’s necessary to consume at least 1g of protein per pound of body weight, if not more- around 1.2g.
How to Eat Enough Protein
Eating enough protein can be a struggle. That said, when you’re intentional about eating enough protein, it’s certainly possible. It’s helpful to use a macronutrient tracker, like My Fitness Pal, at first to make sure you’re eating enough protein. For most individuals, consuming between 20-30g of protein 5-6 times a day will provide your daily protein needs. Here’s an example:
- Breakfast: 3 eggs + 2 egg whites (25g)
- Snack: 1 cup greek yogurt (15g)
- Lunch: 5 ounces salmon (25g)
- Snack: 4 ounces sliced turkey + 1 ounce cheese (25g)
- Dinner: 5 ounces chicken breast (35g)
- Snack: protein bar (15g)
In my opinion, when you’re already eating a diet full of whole foods, the best (and most convenient) way to increase your protein intake is to introduce protein powder. Look for a protein powder that contains minimal ingredients and is well-sourced (ie. grass-fed). Try adding in a daily protein shake, mixing protein powder into your yogurt or oatmeal, or adding it to your baked goods!
If you eat a plant-based diet, consuming enough protein can be challenging, but not impossible. Plant-based foods that are high in protein include: tofu, edamame, lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, oats, nuts, and hemp seeds. More so, it’s important to ensure that you’re consuming sources of complete protein- or in other words, protein that contains all 15 amino acids. Plant-based eaters can combine sources of plant-based protein to create complete sources of protein, such as: rice and beans, hummus and pita bread, or toast with nut butter. Also, look for plant-based protein powders for a protein boost!
Protein is an essential macronutrient and it’s important that we consume enough, no matter our health and fitness goals. In fact, our health depends on it!