It’s common knowledge that protein is one of the more essential nutrients you need.
It’s used by the body to create and/or repair almost all kinds of tissue. It’s especially valuable for people who are attempting to build muscle.
But how much do you really need?
RECOMMENDED DAILY INTAKE
Let’s say you’re not an unusually active person.
Maybe you exercise periodically; maybe you don’t. How much protein does the average adult need? Well, as a general guideline, the USDA and CDC recommend the average adult woman consumes 46 grams of protein per day, and the average adult male consumes 56 grams of protein each day.
However, this is just a conservative guideline. More specifically, they recommend about 0.4 grams of protein for every pound of body weight–so, if you weigh 175 pounds, you’ll need about 70 grams of protein.
Luckily, consuming your daily allotment of protein is pretty easy, if you eat the right foods once or twice a day.
PROTEIN CONTENT IN COMMON FOODS
Here’s how much protein you can get from some common high-protein food items. Note that all values are an approximate range, and can vary depending on portion size and preparation method.
- Beans (Pinto, Navy, Kidney): 15 grams
- Beans (Soy): 15 – 20 grams
- Beans (White): 20 grams
- Beef Patty (Hamburger): 22 – 28 grams
- Beef Steak (Sirloin): 25 – 40 grams
- Chicken (breast): 25 – 30 grams
- Chicken (other): 12 – 20 grams
- Fish (fillet): 15 – 30 grams
- Mushrooms: 3 grams
- Nuts (Pistachio): 6 grams
- Nuts (Cashews): 4 – 5 grams
- Nuts (Peanuts): 8 – 10 grams
- Protein Supplement (Whey): 20 – 25 grams
- Pork (loin): 25 – 30 grams
- Pork (ham): 19 – 25 grams
As you can see, getting all the protein you need each day can require only 2 servings of food, if you choose correctly. You don’t even need to eat lots of meat!
Even vegetarians and vegans can get large amounts of protein from eating the right kinds of beans and nuts!
DO YOU NEED MORE?
Now, let’s say that you ARE an active person. Maybe you run a lot. Maybe you lift weights constantly. Should you be consuming more protein than the USDA recommends? Yes, you should, but how much depends on your lifestyle and situation.
Generally speaking, conventional wisdom from athletes and bodybuilders is that you should eat about 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight–so, if you weigh 175 pounds, eat 175 grams of protein each day.
You’ll probably need to eat more meals (maybe 4 to 6 a day) to hit this goal, or use supplements in between meals. However, this generally assumes that you train with high intensity, and that you’re specifically looking to build lots of muscle.
For the most part, the average physically-active person won’t see much benefit (if any) from eating more than 30 grams of protein per meal, or more than about 100 – 150 grams per day.
Any more than this is probably wasteful (not to mention potentially expensive), but isn’t likely to harm you.
Supplements (like powders, shakes, and bars) are a good way to help meet your protein requirements, as they tend to be more protein-dense than other food sources, meaning that you don’t need to consume as much of them to get large amounts of protein.
Also, they tend to be convenient–a bar or a shake is much easier to prepare or transport than many “regular” types of food. However, not all supplements are well-rounded sources of nutrition, so be wary if you’re looking for something to use as a meal-replacement product–replacing the occasional meal with a bar or shake is OK, but you can’t live off supplements alone without consequences.
If you want to know what’s better, a protein bar or a protein shake, then read our comparison article here.
And, again, if you aren’t physically active, you don’t need to eat as much protein! Stick with the USDA’s recommendations.
WHAT IF YOU EAT TOO MUCH?
Opinions on “too much protein” are highly varied.
Not everyone can agree on whether you CAN eat too much protein or not, let alone agree on how much “too much” actually IS. Generally speaking, lots of protein alone won’t harm you, even if your body doesn’t really need it.
Still, high-protein diets can sometimes result in side effects–not from the protein itself, but from ignoring other dietary or lifestyle factors that can lead to ill health.
- Lots of high-protein sources are also high in calories and fat. Eating too much without working it off can result in weight gain. (Too much protein by itself will usually just pass through your digestive system, though, and won’t result in extra weight gain).
- People who eat nothing but protein sometimes neglect other vital nutrients, like fiber. Don’t ignore the other food groups!
- Too much protein is speculated to lead to kidney issues or loss of bone density, due to the fact that the body spends calcium when protein is broken down and absorbed. There’s a lot of conflict of opinion on this, though. Consider increasing your calcium intake a bit to counteract this.
- If you aren’t especially active, consume around 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.
- If you’re highly active, consume up to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily.
- Don’t neglect a well-balanced diet just to increase your protein intake!