Protein: How Much Does My Body Need?

by Kelly Scott, MS, RDN, LD

We’ve talked about carbohydrates, so now let’s talk about protein.

Protein is another very confusing macronutrient. Between all the trendy high-protein diets and supplements, it may seem like we need to force feed protein into our bodies 24/7 in order to consume all the protein we need. But, that’s really not true! I bet you’ll be surprised to learn how much protein is actually recommended to consume per day.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. The RDA is the daily dietary intake of a nutrient that our bodies need to maintain good health. RDAs are determined by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.

So, let’s do the math. Say you weigh 150 pounds. To figure out how much protein you need, you must first convert pounds to kilograms (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds).  To do this, you divide 150 by 2.2 and get 68.2 kilograms.  Multiply 68.2 kilograms by 0.8 grams of protein and you get 55 grams of protein, which is how much you’d need each day.  My point in showing you this is not to encourage you to calculate your recommended daily protein intake and then meticulously try to reach that number each day. It’s to demonstrate that maybe you’re getting more than enough protein than you think! If you ate 2 scrambled eggs (~12 grams protein) and two slices of wheat toast (~8 gm) with breakfast and then 4 ounces of chicken (~30 gm) with lunch…you’re already at 50 grams protein and haven’t even made it to dinner yet!

A question I frequently hear is, “But if I’m exercising don’t I need to consume a lot more protein?” Well, there actually isn’t compelling evidence to support this. The National Academy of Sciences states that healthy individuals undertaking resistance or endurance exercise do not need additional dietary protein. There is also not enough evidence to confirm that consuming more protein than required will increase your muscle mass.

So, no, you don’t need to guzzle protein shakes to get stronger.  Our bodies can only process so much protein in one day. However, those shakes can come in handy! Here are some nutrition-related tips to help you reach your strength goals:

  1. Consume protein (~15 grams) directly after a workout. Some studies show that this can enhance muscle repair. Pack some protein-rich snacks or a protein shake in your gym bag for after your workout!

  2. Pair your protein with carbohydrates to eat both before and after workouts. Protein provides amino acids and carbohydrates provide insulin for increased protein synthesis. Some great combos include: an apple with peanut butter, Greek yogurt with berries, or a smoothie with protein powder.

  3. Be consistent. Building muscle and gaining strength takes time. Create realistic nutrition and exercise goals that you can obtain!

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