By Dr. Josh Axe
For people looking to improve their body composition and potentially manage a healthy weight, one of the most common questions they have is, “How much protein do I need each day?” Of course, that varies from person to person, and you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.
Protein is one of three essential macronutrients. Foods provide us with amino acids, the building blocks of protein, that is essential for dozens of bodily functions.
How much protein you need per day depends on factors like your body size and level of activity. Below we’ll look at protein needs based on goals including weight management, muscle building and maintenance of general health into older age.
Why Is Protein Important?
You might associate protein mostly with building lean muscle tissue, but it has many other essential roles, too. For example, a lot of your organs, cells and tissues require protein for proper functioning.
We require it for muscle synthesis and burning fat, supporting our metabolisms, and even for bolstering the health of certain organs and glands, like the thyroid and adrenal glands. In other words, we need protein to be generally active and healthy.
This macronutrient also helps in the overall health of the body, so if you're very active or work out a lot, you typically need more protein intake during those times.
Related: How to Count Macros to Reach Your Goals
Your Daily Protein Needs
To determine how many grams of protein per day you need, let’s break things down into three categories:
- How much protein do you need on a regular basis to generally support overall health?
- How much protein do you need to help potentially manage a healthy weight and/or burn fat?
- How much protein do you need to build muscle per day?
General Protein Intake
If your goal is to maintain general health, mobility and well-being as you age, then, for most people, consuming about 50 percent of your body weight in grams of protein per day is about what you want.
Let’s say you weigh 160 pounds and you’re looking to be generally healthy, then shoot for about 80 grams of protein per day from your diet.
Therefore, if you’re eating three meals a day, you’re going to be getting about 25 grams of protein per meal.
Second, let’s say you’re working towards maintaining a healthy weight, and you’re looking for the right fat-burning foods. In this case, it can be a good idea to focus on having a substantial amount of protein, as protein has been shown to be satiating and to help with appetite control.
Having about 0.75 grams of protein a day per pound of body weight can help to replace some of the extra carbohydrates and sugar in your diet, by contributing to you feeling fuller overall.
In this case, if you weigh 160 pounds, then multiply that figures by 0.75. You’ll want to then consume close to 100 or 120 grams of protein a day if you’re trying to help manage a healthy weight and/or lose body fat. This means that if you eat four meals a day, you’ll want to get in 25 to 30 grams of protein each time.
Protein Requirements by Age
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein, based on age, are as follows:
- Age 9–13 — 34 grams/day
- Age 14–18 (girls) — 46 grams/day
- Age 14–18 (boys) — 52 grams/day
- Age 19–70+ (women) — 46 grams/day
- Age 19—70+ (men) — 56 grams/day
For Muscle Building
What about if you’re very active — how much protein do you need per day to help build muscle?
If you’re trying to gain muscle and strength, take your weight and eat roughly that many grams of protein per day.
So if you weigh 160 pounds and want to pack on some muscle, then you should try to consume about 160 grams of protein a day. Over four meals, that’d be 40 grams of protein per meal. (It's why protein shakes make one of the best snacks for muscle building.)
Again, since everyone is different, you should always consult your healthcare professional about what amount of protein intake may be right for you.
How to Calculate
Wondering, “How do I calculate how much protein I need?”
- First determine your weight by weighing yourself on an empty stomach with no clothes on (such as first thing in the morning).
- Divide your weight in half for a generally healthy protein intake. Eat that amount in grams of protein per day.
- Multiply your weight by 0.75 if you’re working on managing a healthy weight. Eat that amount in grams of protein per day.
- For gaining weight and muscle, eat your current weight in grams of protein per day.
- Overall, aim to get between 10 and 30 percent of your daily calories from protein; you’ll likely need more for weight management and muscle building, and less if you're not too active.
You might also see recommendations based on body weight in kilograms. For example, a general protein recommendation is to have at least 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
To convert your body weight from pounds to kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2; so, 140 pounds is 64 kg. For general health, at least 51 grams of protein would be recommended for someone of this size.
Best Protein Supplements
One of the most convenient ways to increase your protein intake is to supplement with protein powder. There are now many types available, tailored to those who prefer animal-derived or plant-derived sources.
What are the best protein powders? Some popular types include:
- Bone broth
- Mixed plant proteins (usually grains/seeds)
While all of these can support goals such as building muscle mass and supporting a healthy weight, the best type for you depends on your preferences and how well you tolerate different ingredients.
Bone Broth Protein powders are ideal for people looking to increase their intake of protein, collagen and beneficial cofactors that support healthy joints, a healthy gut (and vicariously an overall healthy immune system, since 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is found in the gut) and healthy skin.
Boasting 20 grams of protein per serving, it also features 19 amino acids.
Mixed plant proteins, which are those made with a blend of superfoods such as Ancient Nutrition’s Plant Protein+, can be a useful way to increase protein intake for those who may have difficulty meeting their needs — such as vegans, vegetarians or older adults. Made with seeds such as hemp, pumpkin and flax, this supplement is formulated to promote a healthy body composition and to support fat metabolism.
Plant Protein+ features 15 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbs and 9 grams of sugar per serving. It promotes healthy body composition and fat metabolism, helps reduce stress-induced food cravings and even helps increase muscle recovery.
Multi Collagen Protein powder is also a great choice for people interested in supporting the health of their joints, gut and skin. It’s generally a well-tolerated choice since it’s naturally made without dairy or nuts and is gluten-free, plus it comes in a variety of flavors, including one that unflavored and easy to use in numerous ways.
It contains 9 grams of protein per serving, and features five types of collagen from four food sources.
Best Protein Foods
Some of the best sources of protein include these healthy foods:
- Grass-fed beef
- Free-range chicken and turkey
- Free-range eggs
- Wild-caught fish, such as salmon and tuna
- High-quality grass-fed protein powder (like a benefit-rich whey protein)
- Collagen protein powder
- Yogurt, kefir and cottage cheese
- Organic (ideally raw) whole milk
- For plant-based eaters, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains (such as chickpeas, almonds, hemp seeds, flax and chia seeds, black beans, quinoa, oats and organic tempeh)
While getting enough protein is important, remember that variety and overall balance is key. Try to ideally have a protein source with each meal along with some vegetables, fiber-rich foods and healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, etc.
How Much Protein A Day Is Too Much?
What happens if you eat too much protein? People looking to manage weight or gain muscle may be prone to eating too much protein if they go a bit overboard and neglect other healthy foods.
Eating too much protein can potentially contribute to side effects such as indigestion, constipation, bad breath, and sometimes kidney-related issues such as kidney stones.
Experts don’t entirely agree how much protein is too much; however, it’s generally best not to eat more grams than your current weight in pounds. Some advise sticking to no more than 2 grams per kg of body weight, or about 145 grams/day for a 160-pound person.
- How much protein a day should adults eat? This really depends on your current body size, calorie needs and goals.
- For general health, half your body weight in grams of protein. If your goal is supporting a healthy weight, 0.7 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight is optimal; if your goal is to build muscle, eat your weight in grams of protein per day.
- Assuming your diet is overall healthy, eating more protein may help you manage your weight or gain muscle since it’s filling; however, it’s important to strike a balance and also consume enough carbs/fiber and healthy fats based on your needs.
- Some of the best protein sources include: meat, poultry, fish, yogurt, eggs, beans, nuts, and high-quality protein powders like Plant Protein+, Multi Collagen Protein and Bone Broth Protein.
- How much protein a day is too much? Some experts advise sticking to no more than 2 grams per kg of body weight, or about 145 grams/day for a 160-pound person.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and the newly released Ancient Remedies.