How Much Protein Do You Need a Day?

Protein is an important nutrient for overall health. If you are trying to lose weight, get toned, build muscle mass, or prevent loss of muscle that occurs with aging, it’s especially important that you consume an adequate amount of protein each day. Most of us easily meet our protein needs through a varied diet. However, there are some groups of people that may not. This includes those on weight loss diets, especially women and older adults. Read on to learn what your protein needs are as well as the protein content of common foods. This is part 2 of a 3 part blog series on Protein. Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post on How to Time Your Protein Intake & Meal Planning.

Functions of protein in the body
When you hear the word protein you probably think about muscles. While protein does play an important role in building and preserving muscles, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Protein is vital to your health and is a part of all your body’s physiological functions. It is used for building and repairing tissues, making hormones, enzymes and other body chemicals. It provides energy, boosts immunity, aids in brain health, and builds stronger bones.  In addition,  protein plays an important role in weight loss.  Check out my previous blog post, 6 Ways Protein Helps You Lose Weight.

How much protein do you need a day?
Our protein needs are based on factors including body weight, gender, age,  level of activity, how much lean mass we have and goals related to weight loss or muscle development. There is controversy among medical experts regarding the optimal amount of protein needed for health as well as the type and timing of protein. Below are some formulas you can use to calculate your protein requirements. Most of them will need you to convert your weight into kilograms – divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kilograms (kg) and then multiply by an activity factor below.

 

The Recommended Daily Allowances  (RDA) are based on age and weight and how much protein is needed to keep the body in positive nitrogen balance (this means you are not breaking down your muscles to use for energy)  
– Sedentary adults needs approximately  0.8 g/kg of body weight/day.  For example, a 150 pound woman would need 54 gm protein a day.

– Athletes need between 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg/ day. Higher intakes may be indicated for short periods during intensified training or when reducing energy intake. In the past, protein needs were based on whether an individual was an “endurance” or “strength/power” athlete.   For example, a 170 lb athlete  would need  84-154 grams of protein a day

– Moderately active adult could aim for 1-1.3 gm protein/kg a day (my recommendation!)

 

Many health experts feel the RDA may be too low for some people, including older adults or those on a weight loss diet.

 

Older adults need ~ 1.2-1.6 gm/kg a day. Research has demonstrated that aging is associated with an impairment of skeletal muscle to responding to low doses of protein, which may lead to sarcopenia. For example, a 130 pound senior would need 70-94 grams of protein.

-Dieters have elevated protein needs for the reasons stated  in my previous blog post. Many experts, including Donald Layman, PhD, recommend ~ 1.4-1.5 grams of protein/kg/body weight. Other experts recommend  25-35% of calories coming from protein.  So for example, if the 150 pound woman was on a 1500 calorie weight loss diet and was moderately active, she could aim for 25-30% of her calories from protein. This would come out to 93 gm protein a day. To get this calculation: 1500 x .25 divided by 4 (protein has 4 calories per gram) = 93 gm protein.   This would be easy to figure out  if you are using an app to track what you eat. Most of them calculate what percentage of your diet comes from fat, carbs and protein.  I often recommend a diet that is between 25-30% protein for weight loss for my clients. But jt may be even more important to how you “time” your protein intake. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on this!

 

Protein content of common foods

FOOD PORTION CALORIES PROTEIN gm FAT gm  SATURATED FAT gm
Animal protein          
Meat/poultry/fish          
Lean beef. eye of round, all fat trimmed 3 oz cooked 165 24 7.7 3
Pork, lean cut, tenderloin 3 oz cooked 147 24 5.1 2.2
Turkey breast, skinless 3 oz cooked 115 25 0.6 <1
Chicken breast, skinless 3 oz cooked 140 26 3.1 1.2
Tuna, light, canned in water 3 oz 100 22 0.7 <1
Shrimp, moist heat 3 oz cooked 85 17 0.9 <1
Salmon, Atlantic 3 oz cooked 175 19 10.5
2

Dairy
         
Greek yogurt, plain, Fage 2% 7 oz 150 20 4 3
Yogurt, Greek flavor (pineapple)Chobani, 2% 5.3 oz 140 11 3 2
Yogurt, low fat, fruit blend, Stonyfield 5.3 oz 170 8 3 1.5
Egg, large whole 1 78 6 5.3 1.6
Egg, large, white 1 17 3.6 <1 0
Milk, whole, low fat 8 oz 150 8 8 5
Milk, 1% 8 oz 105 8.5 2.4 1.5
Cheese (most types including swiss,
cheddar,etc.)
1 oz 105-114 7-8 8-9 5-6
Cottage cheese, 1% 1/2 cup 82 13-16 1.2 <1
Vegetable protein          

Soy   
*see below
         
Tempeh 4 oz, 1/2 cup 160 15 9 1.4
Tofu, firm 4 oz, 1/2 cup 88 10 5 1
Edamame, in pod 1 cup 150 12 4.6 0
Soy yogurt, vanilla, Stonyfield Farm 6 oz 150 7 3 0
Textured vegetable protein (TVP), cooked 1/4 cup dry 80 12 0 0
Seitan *wheat gluten, NOT soy 4 oz, 1/2 cup 160 26 2 0

Beans/legumes
         
Lentils 1 cup 230 18 1 0
Black beans 1 cup 280 18 0 0
Split peas, cooked 1 cup 231 16 1 < 1
Veggie burger (varies & may/may not contain soy) 1 burger 90-150 4-13 1-4 ~1

Milk/Yogurt alternatives
         
Soy milk, plain, Silk brand 8 oz 90 6 3.5 <1
Almond milk, Blue Diamond, original 8 oz 60 1 2.5 0
Coconut milk, plain 8 oz 70 <1 4.5 4
Coconut milk yogurt, plain 8 oz 110 <1 7 7

Nuts/seeds
         
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 201 8 18 2
Cashews 1/3 cup 247 7 21 4
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 208 8 16 2
Almonds 1 oz, 24 nuts 164 6 14 1
Flaxseeds, ground 2 Tbsp 60 3 4.5 <1
Chia seeds 2 Tbsp 120 6 6 0

Grains/vegetables
         
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 212 4.5 1.6 <1
Barley, cooked 1 cup 270 7 2 <1
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 222 8 3.6 0
Cereal, high protein (i.e. Kashi Go Lean, Special K High Protein) 1 cup ~ 150 13 1 0
Oatmeal, steel cut 1/4 cup dry 170 7 6 <1
Most vegetables 1 cup cooked 40 5 0 0

Protein powders
         
Pea protein 1 scoop 105 25 0 0
Whey protein choc or van, various brands 1 scoop 100-130 18-23 2 1
Hemp protein 1 scoop (4 Tbsp) 100 12 3 0

Protein bars
         
Quest bar 1 bar 210 20 10 1.5
Simply Whey protein bar 1 bar 140 15 3 1.5


*Many high protein foods (i.e. cereals and energy bars) have added in soy protein to bump up the protein intake
*Fat and fruit contains negligible amounts of protein, while vegetables contain approximately 4 grams per cup cooked, 2-3 grams per cup raw.
*Note that above numbers are only averages. Different websites reports different numbers.

 

Recommendations for the healthy protein choices:
1. Choose lean or low-fat meat.
2. Remove the skin from poultry.
3. Include fish in the diet 2-3 times a week.
4. Limit/avoid fatty luncheon meats like salami, bologna, and hot dogs.
5. Don’t become overly obsessed with protein and neglect other components of a healthy diet including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, calcium rich foods and fats.
6. Include a mix of complete and incomplete proteins (this usually means protein from animal and plant based origins … unless you are a vegan! )  
7. Vegan sources of protein include: tofu, edamame, tempeh, seitan, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils.
8. You can also get small amounts of protein from vegetables

 

While it’s important to meet your protein needs, it’s just as important to eat it at the right times. Stay tuned for my  upcoming blog post on Protein Timing and Meal Planning 


References

http://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/nutritionathleticperf.ashx

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060114p22.shtml

 http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php

http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php

www.calorieking.com

http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list

http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete

 

 

 

 

 

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