How much protein do I need? This is one of the most common areas of confusion I encounter working in the fitness industry. I most often encounter an issue of people under eating protein or those who struggle to get enough or who are afraid to eat protein thanks to popular myths surrounding protein that continue to circulate. Proteins are the building blocks of life. We need protein and you likely need more than you realize. We may only need a small amount of protein to survive, but we need a lot more to thrive.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which is the minimum amount you need to be healthy to prevent deficiency, is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight per day. If you're not super active, that's likely adequate to prevent deficiency. For those of us who are active and I hope that’s all of us, then you actually need more. You’ll need to double the aforementioned number if you're very active or aiming for "optimal protein," which can help you maintain muscle as you age and support weight loss. If you’re getting at least 35 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise four or five days a week, including resistance training two or more times a week, then consider eating 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. That amount is best for rebuilding muscle tissue. **For weight loss, protein intake is especially crucial. Protein increases satiety helping you feel fuller to control appetite and protein can help you retain more of your lean muscle as you lose fat. If healthy weight loss is your goal, then you may want to amp up protein to as much as 0.8 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight per day to stave off muscle loss when restricting calories. Unfortunately, lean mass loss often accompanies weight loss efforts with caloric restriction, but with proper nutrition accompanied by resistance training, this can and should be minimized.
Extreme sports such as bodybuilding often involve intakes as much as 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is not necessary for general fitness.
I personally do better with a higher than average protein intake. I have maintained my body weight while continuing to build muscle at around 1-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. I stay more satiated and muscle soreness is minimized. Protein is crucial for repair and recovery.
Contrary to popular myth, a higher protein diet is not dangerous for healthy people who do not have kidney disease. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing though. More is not necessarily better. Choose the proper amount recommended for your activity level and goals.
To find your optimal protein intake, multiply your weight in pounds by the recommended protein intake for your activity level or goal. Example: 200 lb person with weight loss goals: 200 x 0.8 = 160 grams of protein. You don’t have to obsess over hitting the nail on the head. Give yourself a goal range to hit: This person could set a range of 140-160 grams of protein per day.
Note: Divide your total daily protein intake over the course of multiple meals, aiming for 20-25g of protein at each meal. It may be necessary to supplement with a protein shake or two to reach your goal. Be careful selecting protein supplements. I can recommend quality brands depending if you opt for whey protein or vegan sources. When choosing protein supplements: opt for pure protein sources with little to no fat or sugar.