How Much Protein Do I Really Need?

Protein is an essential macro-nutrient in a healthy, balanced diet. That's nothing new or surprising. Most people think of strong muscles or building muscles when they think of protein, and that is true. However, this nutrient does more than just build muscle tissue. Proteins are essential for cell function and also are integral in the structure, function, and regulation of tissues and organs in your body. They can carry messages throughout the body, and help fight infections. Where things get confusing is when it comes to how much protein you should consume. Let's break it down.

General Recommendations

The RDA, or recommended daily allowance, to meet minimum health requirements is to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, divide that by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms — about 68 kilograms. Multiply 68 by 0.8 and you'll get a recommendation of 55 grams of protein per day. However, understand that the RDA is designed to meet minimum health requirements, and is probably not enough if you are even moderately active in your daily life, let alone an avid exerciser. Think of the RDA as the minimum amount of protein you should be consuming each day.

In general, there is a belief that people consume too much protein, and don't need to add more to their diets. However, a summit was held in Washington, D.C. where 40 nutrition scientists gathered to discuss protein in depth. Their findings suggested that the RDA was only about 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. Many people consume closer to 16 percent of their total calories from protein daily, and that is just fine. Their research suggests that a range of 15 to 25 percent is actually more in line with good health and function. So, for that 150-pound person, 83 to 138 grams of protein per day is a healthy range.

Takeaway Message

Figure out what your RDA is for your body weight. Divide that by 10. Then multiply the result by 15 to get your low-end recommendation and the result by 25 to get the high end. Keep a food log for a few days with accurate measurements of your food to determine how much protein you are eating each day. Is it in that range? If so, you are probably doing okay in the protein department.

If you're concerned about your diet or are an avid exerciser or athlete, you may want to meet with a registered dietitian. An RD can look over your diet and help you eat according to your health, goals, and needs.