How Much Protein Should You Eat for Exercising?


By: , – Stephanie Karpinske, R.D., Family Circle
  :  26 comments   :  23,156 Views

When you think of what an athlete or bodybuilder eats, what foods usually come to mind? Chicken breasts? Egg whites? Tuna? These foods are all packed with protein and many athletes and bodybuilders eat them because they need the extra protein to build and repair body tissue after intense workouts. 
Knowing this, people who exercise a few times a week assume they too should eat extra protein so they buy jugs of protein powders, cartons of egg whites, and boxes of protein bars. But do they really need all that protein? Probably not. In fact, most of us get plenty of protein from our regular diet. Consider that one cup of milk has 8 grams of protein, a chicken breast has about 30 grams, and a cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt has 18-20 grams.
The average woman needs about 46 grams of protein a day and men need about 56 grams (according to the CDC). If a woman eats a chicken breast and a cup of Greek yogurt, she has met her needs for the day in just two foods! Since many foods contain protein, you can see how easy it is to get far more protein than the body needs.
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 What is your favorite source of protein after exercising? 

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  • 26
    I am so sick of these crappy Family Circle articles. - 10/10/2012   12:43:43 PM
  • 25
    Are you kidding me? 46g? Where did they get this number? There is nothing to indicate what they are basing that on. It's stupid-low.

    As for protein powder- It's fast absorbing and quick, which is exactly what I need right after a kick-booty lifting workout. Carrying chicken breast or Greek yogurt is just not practical. - 10/10/2012   12:27:30 PM
  • 24
    Yeah, I'm going with the people who notice that the article doesn't jive with SP's recommendations. I also would like more facts about this concept, because I really do wonder about it. Do I need to eat more protein than usual when I work out (because I do this 6x a week!) - 10/10/2012   12:09:48 PM
  • 23
    Like many, I go HIGH on protein and it works for me. I'm more toned, am satisfied and am looking more and more svelte ;) - 10/10/2012   8:10:11 AM
  • MARTY32M
    This article is junk. Most of us here are not "the average woman." I'm an elderly man with dodgy coronary arteries trying to lose fat without losing weight. The headline asks how much protein do I need when I exercise, then tells me what an average woman needs, and then goes on to say I might need a "little" more if I exercise. How much for an elderly man, and how much more if I exercise for a specific goal? No information. You have to do better than that! - 10/10/2012   8:07:57 AM
  • 21
    SP is about eating healthy...I would much rather a pic of a protein food and not a processed 'protein' chocolate bar. - 10/10/2012   6:32:57 AM
    Thanks for the articles. - 10/10/2012   12:48:20 AM
  • 19
    I think the reason people are getting confused is that the article focuses on what people NEED vs what SP recommends as optimal. You don't NEED to drink 8 cups of water a day to stay healthy but SP recommends it as a way to stay hydrated, avoid hunger, etc. No you probably don't NEED all that protein but eating more than what this article states (eating what SP recommends) may leave you feeling fuller longer and eating fewer calories throughout the day. In other words, don't worry about chugging protein shakes and downing PowerBars to meet your protein needs since you're probably already meeting them with your regular diet, assuming your diet is balanced and healthy. - 10/10/2012   12:00:21 AM
  • 18
    I was told because I lift weights 4 days a week and want to build serious muscles that I need a gram of protein per pound of what I weigh. Which means I need to eat 117 grams of protein a day as I weight 117 lbs. So by doing this I have noticed that my hypoglycemia is so much better. - 10/9/2012   11:02:59 PM
  • 17
    I love protein shakes after an intense workout. I usually make mine with almond milk and PB but I change it up all the time, by adding fruit, flaxseed, etc. My trainer advised me in the beginning to eat 0.5 gram protein for every pound I weighed, and I have been able to meet that most days, and if I eat too little protein I am starved all day! - 10/9/2012   4:29:18 PM
  • 16
    Like so many of the other commenters, I too was confused by this article because it conflicts with what SP recommends. When I first started my weight loss journey, I too struggled with meeting my daily 60+gr of protein a day (as recommended by SP). But I exercised regularly and was consistently losing weight every week so I didn't worry about not always meeting my minimum recommended quotas.

    It wasn't until I reached a plateau recently that I decided to tweak my diet and exercise routine a little, which ultimately got me through my plateau and started up my weigh loss again. One of the things I tweaked was making sure I met my daily 60+gr of protein every single day. It's a little more challenging planning my menus in coming up with ways to get more protein while still staying within my calorie and fat ranges but it's worth it.

    One of the best things I've noticed is I'm definitely becoming more toned. My muscles are finally starting to show and become more defined but not in a really buff looking body builder sort of way but enough for me (and even hubby) to notice and it looks good. LOVE IT!!!

    I think it's the exercise and protein and as long as I happy with my results, I'll continue to do what I'm doing. - 10/9/2012   2:03:51 PM
    15 looks like I am one of the few people who has absolutely no problems getting in protein. The less protein I eat the hungrier I get and the worse I feel (think stomach growling and headaches). I NEVER start the day with high carbs as all that does for me is sending me on a binge all day.

    This is one of those things that is highly individual and probably influenced by your genetic makeup. But, if you are having hunger pains and binges, I would highly recommend getting in that protein!! - 10/9/2012   1:42:54 PM
  • 14
    Growing up on a farm, I always drank milk and ate eggs, so now it is no problem for me to get plenty of protein. - 10/9/2012   1:28:52 PM
  • 13
    I always have a hard time meeting my quota. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat meat often. I have incorporated beans into a lot of meals. I also try to eat a lot of soy proteins, but I've heard those can be bad for you. - 10/9/2012   1:19:57 PM
  • 12
    I love a post-exercise protein smoothie. I use an unsweetened, unflavored whey protein isolate powder, mix it into juice (apple or white grape), add frozen fruit (strawberries or a mix, but unsweeteneed), add a banana, and blend. Delicious, several fruit servings AND protein.

    CDC on their site also says "In general, it's recommended that 1035% of your daily calories come from protein." For my daily calories, that is a range from 56g to 196g. The number on their table is LESS than their own recommendation based on percentage.

    Someone who is not active at all would have a lower daily calorie need, and thus a lower protein need. So, YES, if we are actively working out, we probably need more protein. We don't need body-builder levels of 1g per pound of body weight. But we do need at LEAST 10% of our calorie intake MINIMUM. The more we work out, the more calories we need, the more protein we need.

    Cals + 10% + Grams
    1200 = 120 = 30g protein
    1600 = 160 = 40g protein
    2000 = 200 = 50g protein

    SPs tracker (according to their info) is recommending 15% which would up those to 45g, 60g and 75g respectively. - 10/9/2012   1:18:04 PM
  • 11
    I'm in the camp with the people that say that SP says I should get 60-156g of protein a day. I eat flexitarian and can go back on the nutritional maps and tell you exactly what days I had just one serving of meat on by my protein levels. I struggle even though I make a point to eat eggs, greek yogurt, edamame, you name it... If I even make it to the low end of SP's suggestion, it is barely. I usually eat between 50-65g of protein a day. Is SP right or is SP's article right? I am at a loss and have been considering protein (and possible calcium) supplements. - 10/9/2012   11:59:00 AM
  • 10
    I NEVER reach my protein goals. I usually get close, though. I've been a vegan for a long time, and am very healthy. I supplement my protein with tofu, beans, green veggies, and sometimes even a protein powder, and still don't get there.
    According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, "There do not appear to be health advantages to consuming a high protein diet. Diets that are high in protein may even increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease." (see vrg dot org) - 10/9/2012   11:51:01 AM
  • 9
    This is perfect timing for me as I started to wonder if I should increase protien since I started strength training. Good to know I can depend on my food rather than a powder or some other unatural source! - 10/9/2012   11:22:43 AM
  • LYNNA7499
    Thanks for this article. I was never sure if I was getting enough protein throughout the day & sometimes felt like I was eating too much. - 10/9/2012   11:07:14 AM
  • 7
    I tracked my protein intake while eating no meat, only plants and was way over the recommended amount Spark People suggests. Too much emphasis is placed on meat as source and often recommendation is too high - 10/9/2012   10:58:26 AM
  • 6
    Protein is a little more difficult for us vegetarians. I have a hard time meeting my "quota" for it each day, but I work out 5 days a week & have been surviving this long! :) - 10/9/2012   9:26:17 AM
  • 5
    My Husband was put on a low carb / low fat / High protein diet by a Dr. and ended up with very high levels of protein in his urine and was taken off the diet. Everything needs to be in moderation. he did loose weight at first but has since gain it plus back, we are all working on SP together. - 10/9/2012   9:02:42 AM
  • 4
    My nutrionist wants me to have between 65-80 g of protein a day ... so this was confusing. - 10/9/2012   9:00:20 AM
  • 3
    If the average woman needs only 46 grams a day, how does SparkPeople decide what we need individually? My low end of protein is 60 grams. I struggle sometimes to get that because I rarely eat red meat (like to have chicken, though) and I stay on the low end of dairy do to health issues. I have increased legumes and peanut butter, but sometimes, I just don't make it. - 10/9/2012   7:23:56 AM
  • 2
    I tend to stick to the higher end of my protein daily allotment whilst sticking to the lower end of my fat allotment. I stay fuller longer and don't have food cravings through out the day. - 10/9/2012   6:28:46 AM

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