How much protein should we eat per day?
In truth, answering that question depends on who you ask, your age, what kind of exercise you do, and many other factors.
Immediately, some fitness fanatics may tell you that everybody needs 1g per pound of bodyweight.
Others will tell you that protein requirements are low and that eating too much will damage your kidneys.
And then there’s everything in between.
So, what is the truth?
How many grams of protein per day is healthy? And what are some good sources of protein?
Let’s take a look.
What Is Protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients, with the others being carbohydrate and fat.
Put simply; protein is a large molecular structure that contains many amino acids.
If we go into more detail, we can break these amino acids down into three groups:
- Essential amino acids – the body cannot make these acids, so we need to obtain them from protein-rich foods. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and valine.
- Nonessential amino acids – these are the acids that the body can make by itself. For example alanine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, and serine.
- Conditional amino acids – these amino acids are essential but providing our body isn’t in a stressed state, can usually be produced by the body. These are known as arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine.
In particular, protein is necessary for the growth and repair of cells. Thus it plays an essential role in building and maintaining muscle mass.
Protein is an essential macronutrient, meaning that our daily protein intake should be adequate to fuel our bodies.
When considering good sources of protein, we need to ensure that we are eating enough protein-rich foods which provide the full range of essential amino acids.
Why Is It Important to Eat Enough Protein?
As we already discussed, some amino acids are essential and cannot be manufactured by our body.
Because these amino acids are critical to a wide range of functions in our body, we need to ensure we eat enough protein to stay healthy.
Together with muscle growth and repair, protein is also necessary for creating several important hormones.
For example, insulin (which regulates blood sugar) and secretin (which governs water balance and digestion) both rely on adequate protein intake.
Another essential role of protein is to help manufacture a broad range of enzymes; these assist with bodily functions such as digestion.
Lastly, ensuring sufficient protein is essential for creating DNA and glutathione.
To emphasize the importance of this; Glutathione is known as the human body’s ‘master antioxidant.‘
If we don’t eat enough protein-rich foods, our body cannot perform these functions, and overall health suffers.
What Are the Best Protein-Rich Foods?
Protein comes in two forms; complete protein and incomplete.
Complete protein comes from animal foods such as meat, eggs, dairy, and fish.
Incomplete protein is available in plant foods such as beans, nuts, and legumes.
In my view, aiming for animal-based proteins is best because they are complete proteins.
Some good sources of protein include:
- Sausages (minimally processed without additives)
There are also some great protein-rich snacks you can use. For a complete list, see here.
How Many Grams of Protein Should I Eat Per Day?
Many people ask: how much protein do I need? How many grams of protein per day?
Assuming that every human was the same age, size and doing the same amount of physical activity each day, this would be an easy question to answer.
But they are not. In other words; it’s difficult to say!
How much protein you need on a daily basis depends on a variety of factors such as:
- Activity level
- Body Size
So, in the rest of this article, we’ll take a look at how protein needs change based on age and physical activity levels.
But as an across the board figure, a very rough starting point could be around 1.5g protein per kg body weight. Include some good sources of protein-rich foods for each meal and you won’t be far away from this figure.
50kg weight – 75g protein
60kg weight – 90g protein
80kg weight – 120g protein
From this point onwards, you can monitor, review, and adjust.
If you feel like you are not getting enough protein, or if your body feels sore after exercise, add more protein-rich foods into your diet. Easy additions include a piece of cheese, a glass of milk, or a few extra eggs.
Remember: we are all biologically unique, so what works for one person may be a little different for another.
Protein Requirements and Age
For starters, it’s critical for elder adults to emphasize more protein-rich foods.
It’s important to realize that as we age, our protein needs increase progressively.
The most compelling evidence for this is that aging results in gradual loss of skeletal muscle.
Indeed, this is quite shocking and more than a little scary.
Luckily, though, we can minimize these losses in muscle mass and retain our lean muscle by adopting a few principles:
- Regular resistance training and lifting heavy weights
- Adding more protein-rich foods into our diet
- Sleeping well
- Staying as active as possible
How Much Protein Do Elderly People Need?
To provide accurate information, let’s take a look at a few studies that have measured muscular wastage in older people.
First of all, the rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) falls rapidly in the elderly.
So, a study decided to test the amount of protein needed to help stimulate MPS in participants aged 52 – 75.
In summary, this study showed that the minimum target should be 1.8g protein per kilogram per day.
Markedly, this figure resulted in significantly higher absorption rates of protein in people aged 52 – 75 years old. Additionally, MPS was significantly enhanced (6).
Further, numerous studies have concluded that sufficient protein intake is a modifiable risk factor for aging-related muscle loss. And in studies, a higher amount of protein intake has an association with greater lean mass. (7, 8, 9, 10).
So, how much protein should people over 50 eat?
How Much Protein Should Older People Eat?
Seeing as 1.8g per day is only the minimal figure, I’d say that the aim should be 2g per kilogram of body weight.
If you choose good sources of protein, then this isn’t too hard to do.
To illustrate, if you weight 75kg this means you would need 150g protein each day.
To begin with, you want to be looking at protein-rich foods from meat and dairy.
Getting this much protein is entirely possible.
Fresh, unprocessed foods are often also protein-rich foods. Add one or two to each meal and you’ll be about right.
Let’s say you have three meals per day:
Total: 60.2g protein
- Glass of whole milk 8.5g protein (13)
- 1oz (28g) nuts 6g protein (14)
- Avocado 4g protein (15)
- 1oz (28g) cheese 6.5g protein (16)
- Leafy green salad and cherry tomatoes
Total: 25.0g protein
- 8oz Pork Loin 62g protein (17)
- Choice of vegetables
Total: 147.2g protein
In this case, I did not add the little extra bits of protein in the vegetables.
But after adding them in, the total protein would be over 150g.
Protein Requirements and Exercise
As protein repairs muscle, if you work out a lot then protein requirements will naturally be higher.
You may have noticed many articles telling you that if you exercise, then you should eat X amount of protein.
However, there is no hard and fast rule here; everyone is different, and there are far too many variables to provide an exact number.
So, if we just take the 1.5g protein per kg body weight I mentioned earlier, this could be a good starting point.
If you feel fine, then no problem – keep eating the same amount as usual!
But if you are suffering from excessive muscular soreness or fatigue, just add some extra protein-rich foods into your daily diet, monitor, and adjust.
How Much Protein is Too Much?
Lastly, it’s important to remember that—at a point—protein consumption may become excessive.
However, there are many myths about “too much protein’ that we should be aware of.
In truth, far too many people are eating too little protein, so we should focus on ensuring we get enough.
Include a big source of protein at each meal and that should be about right. With a hard physical exercise program, the body may require more protein… but listen to your body.
Are you losing weight? Are you suffering from harsh muscular soreness (DOMS) after working out?
If experiencing these things, then upping the amount of protein might be a good idea.
On the other hand, if you’re always feeling full, and gaining a little extra fat, then it might be worth cutting back slightly.
The truth is that there’s no right amount of protein for everybody, so listening to your body is key.
At the end of the day, protein is an essential macronutrient, and it’s important to get enough protein-rich foods into your diet.
But at the same time, for the majority of people, extremely large amounts of protein are far from necessary.
In short, if you just include a healthy source of protein at each meal, then for the average person that’s more than enough.
On the other hand; if you are doing physical, hard exercise then adding a little more protein to your diet would be helpful.
But don’t just follow magic numbers from a random magazine or website – instead, listen to your body, monitor and adapt as necessary.