Asking about daily recommended protein is kind of like asking about religion or politics — you think you’re asking a simple question but you’re really igniting a heated argument.
Arguing about macronutrients has to be one of the favorite hobbies of the health-conscious. How much fat? How many carbs? How much protein? Let’s discuss this for hours and then hate each other forever afterward because we can’t agree.
Yeah, not my cup of tea. I’m that boring gal who likes to sit in the middle with a couple dudes called moderation and balance. They may not be glamorous but they’re actually pretty good friends to have around.
It’s true, plenty of people like to pretend there’s a “magic” macronutrient equation that’s right for everyone, but in my experience oversimplifying the issue just leads to frustration, ignoring your body’s needs, and possibly more metabolic damage down the road.
But I get it. Everyone likes to have a rough guide to follow. We like to see things in numbers. That way we can aim for something, and get a feel if we’re heading in the right direction.
Talk to ten different people and you’ll probably hear ten different daily recommended protein levels. I’ve heard everything from less than twenty grams a day (say what??) all the way up to two grams per pound of body weight (whoa! that’s a whole lotta of chicken).
I personally feel most people are going to fall between those numbers. But where in between? First, let’s take a look at why protein is important.
Why Do We Need Protein?
In The Mood Cure, Julia Ross explains that protein contains the building blocks (amino acids) that make up our entire bodies–our muscles, our bones, our organs and even the brain chemicals that make us feel happy, emotionally stable, and energetic.
According to Julia, adequate protein intake is essential to our emotional and physical health.
Dr. Diana Schwarzbein puts similar emphasis on protein in her books. Reading those books has helped to shape my personal views on protein intake and its importance in the modern diet, and definitely made an impact on my general recommendations for protein in my book The Nourished Metabolism.
What Science Says About the Benefits of Protein
Research backs up why it’s so important to get your daily recommended protein. Here is some interesting science about protein:
- Protein helps you feel full and regulates your appetite by reducing the level of your “hunger hormone” ghrelin. (source) If you have trouble binge eating or just consistently overeating, lack of protein might be the root of the problem.
- People who get plenty of protein also tend to have stronger bones as they get older. (source)
- Protein helps build lean mass and helps you maintain (or even increase) your strength. (source)
- Protein actually boosts your metabolism more than the other macronutrients! (source)
- Want to lose weight naturally without strict dieting? Increase your protein intake. Multiple studies have shown that increased protein intake tends to result in natural (i.e. effortless) weight loss even without actually dieting. (source and source)
By the way, sources listed above are just some of the studies done on protein’s benefits. There is actually tons of research out there to support eating plenty of protein. If you want to geek out, there’s plenty of awesome studies out there to dive into.
So how much protein do I need?
I’d like to say there was a blanket answer for daily recommended protein amounts, but there’s not. People do well on varying amounts of protein, just like fat and carbs.
But since it helps to have a guide for how many grams of protein you need per day, here are a few ways to look at it:
- Julie Ross gives a daily recommended protein level of 20-30 grams, three times a day. I think this is a reasonable figure for most people and will provide enough protein without too much fuss over it. However, it doesn’t really account for body size or activity level, so these numbers might still fall short for a lot of folks.
- Another standard method for figuring out how much protein you need is simply eating 1 gram of protein per kilogram of weight. Notice this is kilograms, not pounds. To get your weight in kilograms, divide your weight by 2.2. (So if you weigh 150 that would be about 68 kilograms, which means your daily recommended protein would be about 68 grams.) This is slightly more tailored, since at least it takes into account your size. But I find it comes up a little low, especially for active people. I view this as more of a minimum amount of daily recommended protein.
- One more recommendation I really like is 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. This takes into account activity level (since, generally speaking, active people will have more lean body mass) and is a little more specific than just saying 60-90 grams per day for everyone. This especially takes into account the person who focuses on building lean mass through exercise, because they likely need a lot more protein than the average person.
Note: in my book The Nourished Metabolism, I bypass anything complicated and just recommend .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight as a minimum, with more if you are active.
So, if you weigh 150 lbs, that would come out to 75 grams of daily recommended protein, or more like 100-150 grams per day if you’re active or very active.
Granted, this isn’t scientific, but it’s a really good general starting place that doesn’t make things too complicated. But if you’re into calculations, feel free to read on.
How to Calculate Your Lean Body Mass
Figuring out your lean body mass and body fat percentage is something that should be simple, but rarely is.
There are a few ways to do this, but many of them are unreliable. I’ve had online body fat calculators tell me I have anywhere from 14% to 34% body fat. I know I’m really somewhere in between, so you really have to take some of these numbers with a grain of salt.
This is the free body fat percentage calculator I use. It’s been the most accurate one I’ve found online. It takes into account waist and neck measurement (plus hip measurement for women), in addition to height and weight. It also does the lean body mass calculation for you, which is convenient.
Hopefully, you’ll find this accurate, too, but people with different body types may have varying results. If you use this calculator, let me know how it works for you.
So-called “smart” scales like this one boast a very high accuracy in measuring body fat. Many users report these scales are accurate within 1-2%, which is pretty impressive. However, you (understandably) may not be interested in plunking $50-100 down for a scale.
You can also use calipers to gauge your body fat, have a water displacement test done, or head to your local gym which may have a variety of body fat calculating tools available for you. However, you don’t always get what you pay for, so don’t assume methods like water displacement are more accurate just because they’re more expensive. In fact, some have reported wildly inaccurate results even with this method, even though it’s considered the gold standard of body fat measurement.
Once you know (or at least have some rough idea of) your body fat percentage, all you have to do is a simple calculation to figure out lean body mass:
[100 – Body Fat Percentage] x 0.01 x body weight = lean body mass
So, for me, this would be:
[100 – 24 = 76] x 0.01 x 135 = 102.6 lbs of lean body mass
So using this method, my daily recommended protein intake is roughly 100 grams of protein per day. My actual intake right now tends to hover around that amount, which feels about right and isn’t too much of a stretch.
I’m moderately active (my FitBit keeps me accountable!), so this amount feels right on all levels for me. If I started being more active, I would need to bump up my protein intake.
Daily Recommended Protein? Don’t Take It Too Seriously
While protein is important and we all need some, don’t take these numbers so seriously that they rule your life.
Seriously, I’ve seen people freak out (like FREAK OUT) because they realized they were undereating protein… by, like, 10 grams a day. Please don’t be that person.
Protein is a vital nutrient, but stress is the enemy of your health. So you need protein, but you don’t need to stress about protein, okay? Just get a general idea of what you need, listen to your body, and give yourself some flexibility.
And use my secret coffee smoothie recipe — since it packs a serious protein punch first thing in the morning.
How much protein do you eat per day? Do you get your daily recommended protein, or do you feel like you fall short? Comment below and share your story!