Nutrition Articles

How Much Protein Do I Really Need?

Determining Your Protein Requirements

These days, protein is a powerful word. So powerful that more and more food companies are boasting about the protein content of their foods and manufacturing newer protein-rich products to meet our demands for the essential nutrient. Why? Ask the average person, and you'll hear that protein is important for your health and even helps with weight loss. Ask any fitness enthusiast or trainer, and he or she will likely tout protein's benefits for muscle building and recovery.
It's true that protein is good for us. But is more really better? How do you know how much you really need in order to reach your goals, whether weight loss, muscle building or otherwise? This article will answer those questions and more.
Protein Basics
Protein is a macronutrient that supplies both calories and 20 different amino acids for the human body.  Amino acids are necessary building blocks that are used to:
  • Build, repair and maintain body tissues (including muscle)
  • Make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the cells
  • Form antibodies that fight infection and disease
  • Produce hormones and enzymes that regulate body processes 
Protein can also play a role in weight loss. Research shows that eating adequate amounts of protein may help prevent muscle loss, promote satiety (fullness), and increase thermogenesis, which helps the body digest and absorb nutrients. It's worth noting, however, that excessive levels of protein aren't needed in order to achieve these benefits.
Because protein is involved in so many important bodily functions, it makes sense that people often have questions about it:
            How do I know if I’m getting enough protein?
Should I use a protein powder supplement?
Will more protein help me lose more weight or build more muscle?
As it turns out, most people in modern industrialized nations are eating enough protein to meet or exceed their body's needs—often without even trying.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need? 
You'll get different answers depending on who you ask. High-intensity exercisers and body builders may say one thing. A dietitian might say another. Your doctor could tell you something entirely different. It's no wonder 71 percent of grocery shoppers surveyed in 2014 by the consumer research firm The NPD Group reported being uncertain about how much protein they should be eating.

Reputable health and nutrition groups have created recommendations based on years of nutritional research to determine optimal protein levels for adults. Here's how their recommendations stack up against each other.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), established by The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences is based on a bodyweight: 0.8 grams protein per kilogram of body weight for a healthy adult. That is roughly 54 grams daily for a 150-pound female, or 71 grams daily for a 195-pound male. This calculation doesn't factor exercise into the equation, and it might overestimate protein needs for people who are overweight or obese (excess weight in the form of body fat does not increase a person's protein requirements).
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I suspected SparkPeople protein requirements were on the high end, there's just a recommended number for men and a number for women, no matter their weight and size, how many daily calories they consume or how much they exercise. According to the calculation in this article I'm eating the right amount of protein. - 1/30/2016 8:13:02 PM
  • Very happy to see lots of protein-rich food listed that aren't animal products - thanks! - 1/30/2016 10:26:33 AM
    Good to know but difficult to accomplish. - 11/5/2015 9:22:27 PM
  • FIREFOX_2112
    Very interesting and informative article. I did not know the whole protein story. Thank you so much for the information I was looking for. - 11/5/2015 9:24:31 AM
    As I age I find that it is harder for me to digest meat protein, yet I've read that legumes may raise blood sugar. What is a person todo? - 11/5/2015 3:06:05 AM
    As I age I find that it is harder for me to digest meat protein, yet I've read that legumes may raise blood sugar. What is a person todo? - 11/5/2015 3:06:04 AM
    yes, no wonder we're confused. There are no RDA's listed for protein like there are for the other nutrients (all of which vary by size/wt of a person, so that's not an excuse).
    - 7/21/2015 4:41:48 PM
  • Wonderful article. Nice information and easy to understand the separation from different activities. Love the protein rating at the end!! Well done Becky.
    Thank you, Konrad - 7/21/2015 9:36:47 AM
    I love this program. I have spent Thousands of Dollars on other programs that didn't' work.This site is helpful it has taught me many things about being an imperfect human. How to live one day at a time and love my self. I appreciate all that you do for us. Keep sparking for people like me. Thanks Thanks. - 1/26/2015 7:40:50 PM
  • I think this very much varies, I do better with more protein because I am very active and it makes me feel full, while carbs and fat do not. It is harder to overeat healthy protein sources (chicken, fish, lean beef, whey) while easy to over consume carbs and fat. I agree that the ads are very, very distracting. I did not come and stay on Spark to have to watch people try and sell me useless junk. - 1/3/2015 3:15:47 PM
  • I need a lot of protein because I just had a major spinal surgery. It's driving me nuts the Nutrition tracker keeps resetting my goals, which are doctor recommended. So, good article, good recommendations, but not for everyone. - 11/5/2014 10:21:04 AM
  • during the height of my weight loss, i was taking in about 90 or more grams of protein daily.
    most of that coming in the form whey protein drink mixes, taken only before or after exercise.
    and the rest in the form of beans, eggs, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt. - 11/5/2014 4:57:45 AM
  • Thank you for this information :) - 10/21/2014 7:41:15 AM
  • Great info! I thought I was getting enough protein, but recent bloodwork showed low albumin levels. - 6/6/2014 7:08:46 PM
  • Hello everyone, I'm a Dialysis patient who is constantly trying to keep my albumin levels (protein count in my blood ) at 4.0 or higher i use cooked egg whites for breakfast if i get up in time for that, if not i have a normal lunch of soup & sandwich or eat out at fast food place n try to keep it healthy, dinner is usually my big meal of steak, beef chicken or fish...But recently i have been using pure protein supplements found at Wegmans, Tops, Rite Aid & GNC. Still not sure how much is too much ..but this article has given me a slight clue - 4/16/2014 12:23:13 AM

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