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How much protein do you need?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on September 18, 2010

yummy grilled chicken

How much protein do you need every day? This is a terrific question, and there isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all answer. (Thanks, by the way, to the survey respondent who suggested this as an article topic! I received a number of great suggestions, and I’ll be working my way through them in the next several months.) The answer depends on how much muscle you have, whether you’re athletic, and whether you’re dieting for fat loss or just maintaining your weight. The answer to this question, for a woman over age 25, used to be 50 grams per day. But doesn’t it seem a bit odd that Sally, who’s 40, tall, muscular, and athletic would need the same amount as her grandmother, who weighs 30 pounds less and is 80 years old and sedentary? In fact, these days pretty much everybody agrees that active people need more than couch potatoes. Big surprise, right? The American Dietetic Association now says that people involved in “weight and body-focused sports” (hmmmm—I’m not really sure what that means, but it appears on the page titled “Eat Right for Resistance Training,” so let’s assume it means strength trainees) need 0.54 to 0.77 grams per pound. So according to this recommendation, a 130-pound woman who lifts would need 70 to 100 grams a day. Many strength coaches would say this is too low, and I agree with them. But it’s a darn sight better than 50 grams. So if you want to be conservative, follow the ADA’s lead and shoot for 70 to 100 grams a day. Funny—the ADA recommends that people who do heavy or intense endurance activity (people like marathoners, triathletes, competitive swimmers, etc.) should eat 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound, which is more than the strength trainees are supposed to need! My take-away is that heavy training of any kind signals a greater need for protein. You need it to repair the micro-damage muscles sustain from any kind of exercise—and to grow new muscle tissue. What would that much protein per day look like on your plate? You could get 71 grams in a day by consuming the following:

  • two eight-ounce glasses of skim milk = 16 grams
  • three ounces of chicken breast = 26 grams
  • two slices of whole-wheat bread = 7 grams
  • three ounces of canned tuna = 22

Actually, the other vegetables, fruits, nuts, and starches (grains, pasta, beans) you consume also include protein, but in smaller quantities. So you’d very likely get another 10 or more grams from them. A great resource for figuring out the protein, carbs, calories, and other nutrients in any food is the USDA nutrient database. I use it all the time for fruit, fresh vegetables, and meat. But what about when you’re dieting? If you’re having trouble with hunger, try increasing your protein intake. Why? Protein is the most satisfying food, which means you’re going to feel less hungry 90 minutes after eating if your meal included 25 grams of protein than if it weighed in at 10 grams. I shoot for at least 20 to 25 grams of protein per major meal (and 100 to 125 grams total per day). I eat every three hours or so, and I also make sure that every snack includes at least some protein. So I won’t eat just an apple in mid-afternoon; I’ll pair it with some reduced-fat cheddar cheese. How much protein do you tend to eat? Have you found it difficult to eat enough of it? Photo by dbkfrog

Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
I'm Mary Weaver, your weight-loss and body-transformation coach. My specialty is helping women get in the best shape of their lives with satisfying diet plans, effective fat-burning exercise, and loads of encouragement and motivation. Check me out on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

@wadlington September 19, 2010 at 8:14 am

Great topic. With so much conflicting advice on virtually every facet of our diets, it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff of the advice columns.

It would be interesting to know what is the right amount of protein for growing kids (in particular, I have an underweight 10 year old, whom we are trying to help gain weight). In his case, his food "likes" are limited. He drinks lots of milk (also apparently a controversial food?), cheese pizza, pancakes and bagels (although we had to ix-nay cream cheese due to excessive burping). Don't know if more protein would help weight gain or whether carbs would. (I found some advice that if you look at what is recommended for weight loss diets, and do the opposite, that can help).


Mary Weaver September 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

Oooh, good question. Let me see what I can find out. I don't see any problem with milk, though, unless he's allergic or has a negative digestive reaction. Not all populations are equally good at digesting milk, but if he doesn't have an issue, I'd say go for it. I'm not a dietitian, but if I were wanting to gain healthy weight, I'd be drinking lots of whole milk. It works for babies!

Thanks for commenting!


danansweetiepie September 7, 2013 at 2:08 pm

my son was small stature and wanted to play football..i gave him ensure..he loved the chocolate..


mickieb September 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I seem to have problems getting my daily quota of protein via animal protein. It's just so hard to eat it. So I am trying to team this up with lentils, beans, legumes, quinoa etc. I'm not going vegetarian, but these foods seem to be easier for me to consume. And wow, 70-100?? Now I will have to work even harder to get my protein! :O


Lisa March 15, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Last year I switched to a higher protein diet and feel a million times better. I feel healthier, stronger and more satisfied. I currently eat between 60-110 grams of protein depending on the day. If I workout, I eat more and I eat more protein. It helps my recovery as well.


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS, M.S. March 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Hi, Lisa–

Thanks for commenting–here and on!

Sounds like your nutrition plan is working very well for you. I love the way protein keeps me feeling fuller longer. Really makes a difference. OK, I’m about to go visit your blog.



anupam November 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm

awesome ..


Lisa May 31, 2013 at 4:20 am

I find it difficult to eat the right amount of proteins or other vitamins and nutrients, and I have not really been monitoring it. All i know is that it is important for my health, but I think with the decision that I have made to eat more healthily, it should cover the proper amount. I am a meat lover, so in effect I think I am probably getting the right daily dose.


Mary C. Weaver, CSCS June 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Lisa, thanks for commenting. If you like the idea of tracking your food, I recommend because of its pie-chart feature: you can see at a glance a pie chart of your daily percentages of protein, carbs, and fat. I like a protein percentage of 20 to 25 percent (minimum of 15 percent), and dailyburn helps make it easy for me to see how I’m doing.


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