Protein: How much is enough?
You probably already know that protein is great for skin, hair, and nails; but it’s also critical for health. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to repair damage to your cells, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, and even think and have good moods. Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein’s great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.
Protein is important, and this is a given.
There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein you need. I go through those calculations with you. Then I list the amount of protein in some common foods.
How much protein is enough
There isn’t a real rule that applies equally to everyone. There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.
The minimum recommendation is 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day and that’s a great place to start.
So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55 g protein/day.
Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It’s not optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It’s not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these camps, you may need to increase the minimum protein intake. Aim for closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day.
Athletes need more protein for their energy and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that’s common in old age. And injured people need more for recovery and healing.
How much protein is too much?
As with any of the other macronutrients, fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can lead to weight gain. The calories from too much protein can be converted into sugar or fat in the body. The interesting thing about protein is that it costs more to use than the other macronutrients. This is because it has a high “thermic effect.” Meaning it requires a lot of energy to digest, absorb, transport and store. To digest protein, your body needs to spend more calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates.
If you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues.
FUN FACT: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.
How much protein is in food?
- A 3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g
- A 3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g
- ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g
- A large egg contains 6 g
- ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g
- 1 medium baked potato contains 3 g
Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. “Enough” is about 0.8 – 1.3 g/kg (0.36 – 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you’re a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you’re an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level.
Too much of any of the macronutrients can lead to weight gain so make sure what you eat of each fits into your daily calorie goals.