How Much Protein Do You Actually Need to Eat?

How Much Protein Do You Actually Need to Eat?

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Sheela Prakash
Apr 26, 2017
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

One of the most common myths about protein is that we generally don't consume enough — both omnivores and those on stricter diets, like vegetarians and vegans, are told this by family, friends, and the media. The good news is that we actually do usually get enough, if we are eating a well-balanced diet.

But what exactly is enough? Every single person on earth has different protein needs and those needs will shift over time depending on your age, weight, current activity level, and if you're undergoing anything major, like pregnancy or illness. That makes it pretty tricky to calculate, but there are some great guidelines that can help you feel confident in the protein you are actually eating.

(Image credit: PHOTO: CHRISTINE HAN; DESIGN: SUSANNA HOPLER)

The Average Amount of Protein Most People Need

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day should be eating about 50 grams of protein a day.

2000 calories a day = 50 grams of protein

This number is a very rough average — the USDA states that women need a little less (46 grams) and men need a little more (56 grams). Your level of activity, age, weight, and a number of other factors, like pregnancy or illness, can also shift that number up or down, but 50 grams is a good rough average for most people to shoot for.

How to Determine Your Exact Protein Needs

If you're up for a little math, you can get a lot more specific in terms of your personal needs. The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA, which is determined by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, which is a part of the National Academy of Sciences, has determined that adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

To calculate this, you'd divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (to get your weight in kilograms), then multiply it by 0.8. Math!

Start with

Your body weight (in pounds)

divide by

2.2

then multiply by

0.8

equals

Ta-da! Your recommended grams of protein per day

Here's an example:

130 pounds ÷ 2.2 = 59 kilograms x 0.8 = 47 grams/protein per day

Protein Needs for Athletes

It's important to note that this RDA is for an average adult who is sedentary to mildly active, which means they're engaging in no more than 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking or jogging, a day.

If you're much more active, you probably need a bit more protein, somewhere between 1.1 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on your specific composition. That's because protein's main job is to build, maintain, and restore all of these muscles, organs, and tissues, some of which are constantly being broken down and need replenishing with serious exercise.

You're also burning more calories — aka energy — so you need more calories to replenish that energy.

There are nuances to protein, of course, but let's keep it simple — for most of us this is all you need to know.


Who I Am (and Why I'm Writing to You)

As a food editor who is also a Registered Dietitian, I know the confusion of our fractured landscape of diet information. But if you strip away the study-of-the-day and fad diets, there is solid information we can all learn about basic nutritional building blocks.

We're offering these unsexy yet useful tools to empower cooks to make decisions that suit them with solid, science-driven resources.

This especially applies to protein, the first topic in our new Nutrition 101 series. We want to give you the tools for confident eating and a more wholesome diet — something we can all get behind.

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