By Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
October 6, 2017
Your daily protein needs depend on many factors, like how much you weigh and how much muscle you have—not just whether you’re male or female. But you might not know that if you did a simple search on the Internet. You’d probably read that most people eat more than enough protein to meet their needs, or that the protein needs of the “average” woman is about 46g per day, and the average man needs about 56g. But keep this in mind: these guidelines that have been established by Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine are set at levels to simply meet the basic needs of most people.
Does a ‘one size fits all’ model for protein make sense? Calorie needs differ from person to person, so why not protein? After all, people come in all different sizes, and their body composition is highly variable. It stands to reason that protein needs could vary a lot, too.
How Much Protein Is Right For You?
The other guideline from the Institute of Medicine recommends that we eat 10-35% of our total daily calories from protein. This guideline helps a little—a least it attempts to tie protein needs to calorie needs. But the percent-of-calories range is pretty wide, and most people would be hard-pressed to figure it out anyway. So, how can you estimate out how much protein your own body needs?
Since protein is so important in maintaining your lean body mass (basically, everything in your body that isn’t fat), the suggested amount that you should eat every day depends, in part, on how much lean mass you have. Ideally, you’d get a body composition measurement done (some home bathroom scales even do this for you), which would tell you how much lean body mass you have. Then you could easily determine the amount of protein suggested for you. That would be 0.5-1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass (or, about 1-2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass).
Of course, not everyone has access to body composition analysis. And if you don’t, you can estimate your protein needs based on your current body weight. It’s not a perfect method. It doesn’t take into account how much muscle mass you have, but it does at least account for differences in body size.
Here’s how to calculate your protein needs:
– Pounds: Multiply your body weight by 0.7
– Kilograms: Multiply your body weight by 1.5
The number you get is a reasonable target for the amount of protein, in grams, that you should eat each day.
Amount Of Protein In Typical Foods
Now that you’ve got a rough idea of how much protein you should be eating every day, you’ll want to estimate how much you’re actually eating. I find it easiest to estimate the amount of protein in a meal in 25g units, and the amount for snacks in about 10g units.
Here’s why. Common portions of many protein foods we eat at meals conveniently have about 25g of protein, and protein snacks tend to fall in the 10g range. So, it makes it easy to keep track. If you’re a woman aiming for about 100g of protein a day, you can easily do that by taking in 25g (one unit) at each meal, and have a couple protein snacks. If you’re a male aiming for about 150g a day, you can simply double up your protein units at a couple of meals in order to hit your target.