The basics of feeling great are simple: get some sun, sleep enough, nourish your body with whole foods and, seriously though, drink enough water already. It sounds gloriously simple, so why aren’t more people doing it? We could go into junk food and emotional eating, but if you’re here it means you already know about nutrition and you’re trying to end the cycle of overeating. One overlooked problem is that we’re simply never told what the day-to-day of this looks like. How much water should I drink a day? How much protein do I need? That’s where we come in.
What makes this simple advice so confusing is the fact that there’s no one-size-fits all answer. If you’re asking how much protein should I eat, the answer comes down to not only your body but also your goals. We broke down the suggestions by goal below to help you live your best life.
How much protein do I need if I just want to feel healthy and strong?
You’re not looking to put on muscle or power clean 220 pounds. You just want to have sustained energy throughout the day and feel strong as you check off your daily to-dos. The good news is you probably need less than you think.
The average person asking how much protein do I need is getting mixed messages. You’re seeing shelves with protein-packed everything, from cakes to chips. You don’t actually need these. The general recommendation for your protein intake if you’re sedentary (aka working a desk job) is 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 gram per pound. That means a 150 pound woman only needs about 54 grams of protein per day.
It might sound easy to hit, but it’s worth keeping an eye on with a food tracker such as MyFitnessPal. Protein plays a key role in many parts of your body, from healthy hair growth to muscle development, not to mention helping you feel full throughout the day. Your energy levels will likely be most level if you divide this daily protein allotment evenly between all of your meals. That’s about 18 grams of protein per meal if you eat 3 meals per day, about 10 if you eat 3 meals and 2 snacks.
How much protein should I eat if I want to lose weight or put on muscle?
This is where you’re going to need to up your protein. Let’s make one thing clear from the start: More metabolically active muscle tissue means a bigger calorie burn every day. So even if your goal is to lose weight, we’re also going to talk about muscle growth. Many times our goal isn’t actually to lose weight, but rather to look smaller and tighter, and that’s a function of having less fat and more muscle mass.
Protein’s role in dieting is well-known. It keeps you full so you’re less likely to dive into the snack drawer. It also keeps your blood sugar levels stable so no crash leads you to a quick pick-me-up like, well, the snack drawer. Depending on your size, that 0.36 gram per pound suggestion just isn’t going to cut it for your goals.
Earlier this year, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) called that 0.36 gram per pound number too low. But, like those eating to feel energetic, you’re going to need to dive your protein intake throughout the day. “The big thing that’s changed [in sports nutrition research] is the amount of evidence that the body needs a certain amount of protein all day long to support physical adaptations,” Dr. Lem Taylor, Associate Professor of Exercise Science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, who co-authored the ISSN’s new guidelines on protein intake, told BodyBuilding.com.
The ISSN is suggesting as much as 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for active people. That’s between 0.63 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. For a 150 pound woman, that would be somewhere between 94 and 135 grams of protein. Dr. Taylor also told BodyBuilding that, again, it best serves you when you’re eating this throughout the day. So that number is divided evenly across all of your meals.
How much protein should I eat? It’s a little more complicated
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as adopting these numbers and altering your meal plan. Nor should it be. These numbers are just suggestions and ignore the individuality of your body. Not everyone’s body will react well to higher levels of protein. Some people will feel good eating even higher protein than these new ISSN suggestions. (Studies have found that some men can eat 3 or even 4.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight in a hypercaloric diet without gaining fat tissue.)
How much protein do I need, really, you’re probably wondering. You need as much as makes your body feel good and energized throughout the day. The way to find that number is to start at the lower end of the ISSN suggestions, especially if you’re active. Eat that way for a couple of weeks. Then, bump the number up a little bit, maybe from 94 grams of protein per day to 100. Keep it there again for a couple of weeks.
What you’re looking for is your body’s response to this higher protein intake. High protein diets can make some people feel uncomfortably bloated, something you obviously want to avoid. Your body will always react to changes in diet, but if you hold a new level of protein stable for a couple weeks, it should allow those brief symptoms to disappear. If they don’t, the intake may be too high for you. That’s not a problem or wrong. It’s just your body.
How much protein do I need is a question that’s more easily answered if you’re tracking how much you’re eating and your response. MyFitnessPal will add up the macros, including protein, for you to save you the mental math. You can also add notes to your meals, which can be helpful in tracking side effects like bloating. Find your number and them ignore those protein suggestions at the gym. You are a special flower, and you can find the exact protein intake perfect for you, your body and your goals.