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How Much Protein Should You Eat in a Day?

By Kathryn Pfeffer RD

As a clinical dietitian, I get asked all the time “how much protein should I eat in a day?”. In this post, I will share the most recent daily recommendations for men and women. Surprised? Let’s talk about it!

Protein is everywhere these days. On everything from bottled beverages to even pasta boxes. There is a good reason for this; protein is such a crucial nutrient our bodies need

as it helps lead to satiety after a meal, muscle repair and growth, and weight maintenance. However, it doesn’t mean scarfing down an entire charcuterie board (I say this with love as a cheese fan!). Research is ongoing on how much is too little or too much.

So, how much protein do you need in a day?

Many of us that might live a more sedentary lifestyle and not powerlifting at the gym, our bodies require 0.8 grams per kilogram of our weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). For the average male it’s almost 60 grams per day and for females almost 50 grams.

If you are older (closer to 50 years or more) then you need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. As you get older, your protein needs/goals increase to prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss). For older adults (remember age is just a number!), the protein recommendation ranges from 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram body weight.

What about fitness enthusiasts? For those of us working out regularly, such as weight training and/or cardio like running or cycling our intakes can increase to even 1.2 to 1.5 grams or more per kilogram of body weight.

If you are classified as overweight by a medical professional, then the bodyweight used for protein recommendations will be adjusted. For more on that, you will want a consultation with an RD (such as myself).

Protein Food Sources

Besides thinking about how much protein you should eat in a day, let’s not forget the quality of protein choices. Some may think of a nice chunk of steak, sure in moderation!. Lean proteins will provide more nutritional benefits regularly. They aren’t loaded with saturated fats and sodium such as red meat or processed meats. If you are vegetarian, plant-based and dairy sources are also wonderful. You will get lots of heart-healthy benefits from legumes, nuts, fish, and low-fat dairy. Vegetarian protein sources to keep you satisfied after a meal!

Some examples:

  • 1 ounces of lean meat or fish (about the 1/3 of a deck of cards) gives about 7-10 grams of protein

  • 1 whole egg or 2 egg whites = 6-7 grams of protein

  • 1/2 cup of cooked legumes, beans, and whole grains (about the size of your fist) = about 10 grams

  • 1 cup of yogurt, cottage cheese (size of your fist) or 1 cup of milk gives about 7-8 grams

  • 1 slice of bread or 3/4 cup cold cereal = 3 grams of protein

  • 1/3 cup of quinoa cooked = 6 grams protein

  • One tablespoon chia seeds = 4-5 grams

  • 1 cup cooked oats = 6 grams

  • One scoop protein powder = ranges 10-20 grams

Applying protein food sources at meals

Keep in mind if you are aiming for 20 grams per meal you will want a variety of these foods included. If you prefer meat or fish, a 3-ounce serving (palm of your hand) will give you about 20 grams. Vegetarian? Include some delicious whole grains, legumes, and/or dairy (or dairy-free like soy or pea protein-based) and you can easily get this much at a meal as well!

Want more help? Contact me and I would love to guide you through it!

Below are some of my recipes including adequate protein sources:

Peach Burrata Salad

Heart Healthy Harissa Salmon Burgers

Citrus Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

Baked Orange Tofu

Breakfast Polenta Two Ways

For more information, read these guidelines by the Harvard School of Public Health.

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