How Much Protein Do You Actually Need?

Do you ever wonder what the deal is with protein? In recent years, the amount of protein marketing has skyrocketed. At grocery stores there are aisles dedicated to protein powders, protein bars and high-protein snacks. Protein supplement sales amounted to over $14 billion dollars last year and are expected to keep growing. 

How do you navigate through the plethora of protein and how much of it do you actually need? 

Those protein pushers are definitely on to something. Protein is essential for life. Amino acids, which are the molecules that make up protein are the building blocks of all the active living tissue in your body. They make up muscles, tendons, organs and skin as well as enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters. Our body makes these amino acids (called non-essential) and the rest we consume through our diet (essential).

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is .8g per kilogram of body weight, which would amount to about 53 grams of protein per day for a 140 lb woman. I would say that this is the minimal amount of protein a sedentary person with low muscle mass should consume. 

But since I know most of you don’t fall into this category (wink, wink), your protein intake should fall within a range of .5-1 g per pound. Studies have shown consuming this amount protein is effective in helping you gain or maintain lean muscle. How much you consume should be based on your fitness goals, body composition and activity level. 

For Weight Loss, 

1 gram per pound of Lean Body Weight OR 1 gram per pound of your goal weight.

If your main goal is to lose weight, it is important that you lose fat and not muscle. Muscle is the most metabolically efficient tissue in your body. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn at rest. This is why low calorie or juice diets don’t work, as your body becomes less efficient due to loss of muscle and in turn a decrease in metabolism. To stay on track with your weight loss goals, be sure to support the muscle you currently have by consuming 1g per pound of lean body mass (this can be determined knowing your body fat percentage), if you don’t know this number consume 1g per pound of your goal weight. 

For Lean Muscle Growth: 

1 gram per pound of body weight

When we lift weights we make little tears in our muscles. Growth occurs when our body repairs the tears. To gain muscle, your body must synthesize more muscle protein than it breaks down. Because of this constant dynamic process, adequate protein intake is crucial. 

For Endurance Training: 

.5-.65 grams per pound of body weight

Endurance athletes need to maintain muscle mass to help prevent injuries and to help prevent the body from breaking down muscle tissue for fuel. Breakdown can occur if glycogen stores or consistently depleted. If you are training for an endurance event or are an endurance athlete, consume between .5-.65 grams per pound.  

Protein Sources and Grams.

Choosing high quality proteins and combining them with a balanced diet of whole grain carbohydrates and healthy fats are key. Regardless of whether you are a meat eater or vegan, there are plenty of options to choose from. 

Below are some example of good protein choices and the number of grams in each:

  • 4 oz chicken breast: 25 grams

  • 1 egg: 6 grams

  • 1 cup of greek yogurt: 22 grams

  • ½ cup cooked quinoa: 12 grams

  • 1/2 cup shelled edamame: 8g

  • 1 cup cooked lentils: 7g

  • 4 oz tempeh 15g

  • 4 oz salmon 26g

Protein powders are an excellent and convenient way to ensure your body gets a quick delivery of protein, especially post workout. Below are my recommendations:

  • Whey protein, dairy based. Contains 20-30g per serving. Choose one that is grass fed and doesn’t contain added sugars. I recommend Simply Tera’s Whey

  • Plant Protein. Contains 15-20g per serving. Choose one that does not contain brown rice (as this can be allergenic). I recommend Sun Warrior Tribe

  • Collagen Powder. Contains 10-20g per serving. Choose one that contains Type 1-5 collagen. I recommend Ancient Nutrition or Primal Kitchen

A Final Word about Protein

You can consume too much protein! Our bodies can typically only process about 30 grams per sitting, so don’t go out and buy the mega muscle tub touting 50 grams of protein. If you consume too many calories of anything, including protein your body will store it as fat, so be aware and count your macros!

-Written by Michele Canon

Natalie Oboodiyat