Updated: Jun 16, 2019
Protein is not just for great skin, hair, and nails; it's critical for health. Without it, you wouldn't be able to repair damage, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods. Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein's great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.
Protein is important, and this is a given.
There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein we need. I go through those calculations with you. Then I list the amount of protein in some common foods.
How much protein is enough
There isn’t a real rule that applies equally to everyone. There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.
Start with the minimum recommendation of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day.
So, for a 150 lb healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55g protein/day.
Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It's not optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It's not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these camps, you may need to increase the minimum protein intake. Aim closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day.
Athletes need more protein for their energy and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that's common in old age. And injured people need more for recovery and healing.
Recent research suggests that older adults who consume more protein are less likely to lose “functioning”: the ability to dress themselves, get out of bed, walk up a flight of stairs and more. “While eating an adequate amount of protein is not going to prevent age-associated loss of muscle altogether, not eating enough protein can be an exacerbating factor that causes older adults to lose muscle faster,” said Wayne Campbell, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University.
An international group of physicians and nutrition experts in 2013 recommended that healthy older adults consume 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily — a 25 to 50 percent increase over the RDA. (That’s 69 to 81 grams for a 150-pound woman, and 81 to 98 grams for a 180-pound man.)
(These recommendations don’t apply to seniors with kidney disease, who should not increase their protein intake unless they’re on dialysis, experts said.)
Another recommendation calls for older adults to spread protein consumption evenly throughout the day. This arises from research showing that seniors are less efficient at processing protein in their diet and may need a larger “per-meal dose.”
As far as meal replacement shakes are concerned, older adults should not routinely drink protein shakes instead of meals as it can actually result in reduced protein and calorie intake over the long term.
How much protein is too much?
As with fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can cause weight gain. Extra protein can be converted into sugar or fat in the body. The interesting thing about protein is that it isn’t as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat; this is because of its "thermic effect."
The thermic effect is the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. To digest protein, your body needs to spend energy (i.e., burn calories); more calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates.
If you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues.
FUN FACT: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.
How much protein is in food?
3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g protein
3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g protein
½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g protein.
Large egg contains 6 g protein.
¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g protein.
1 medium baked potato contains 3 g protein.
1 cup of [plain] Greek yogurt contains 18 g protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. “Enough” is about 0.8 - 1.3 g/kg (0.36 - 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you're a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you're an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level.
Too much protein can cause weight gain, so it's best to have just enough.
I’d love to know: Are you one of those people who needs more protein? Let me know in the comments.
Recipe (high-protein): Baked Chicken Breasts
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a layer of parchment paper on a baking dish.
Place the chicken breasts in the prepared dish. Brush on both sides with olive oil.
In a small bowl, mix spices until combined. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken on both sides.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to at least 165°F at the thickest part.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Serve with lots of veggies.