“Proteins are the building blocks of life.” (1)
Every cell in your body contains protein. Protein is vital for growth and development. We need it to repair cells and make new ones. Proteins make up our hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons and organs. They are also used to make hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters, which are necessary for important chemical signals and reactions in our bodies. (1,2)
Eating enough protein throughout the day can improve your satiety (the feeling of fullness after eating) and help you control your weight, your blood sugar and blood pressure levels and increase your muscle mass. (3,4) Making healthy protein choices can also help prevent a variety of diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. (4)
Sign me up! How much do I need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends getting 10-35% of your calories from protein. (5)
That’s a big range! Here’s what it breaks down to for various calorie levels:
2000 calories per day: 29-100 grams of protein
1800 calories per day: 26-90 grams of protein
1500 calories per day: 21-75 grams of protein
1300 calories per day: 19-65 grams of protein
The current protein RDA for adults (19 and older) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight (which is 0.36 grams per pound) every day. That is the average daily minimum requirement for most healthy adults. (5) So if you weigh 150 pounds, that would be: 150 x 0.36 = 54 grams of protein per day for your minimum daily goal.
However, the latest research is suggesting that higher levels of protein, around 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram (.45-.55 grams per pound) may be beneficial for muscle health. (5)
Older adults can benefit from even higher protein intake, in the range of 1.0-1.5 grams per kilogram (0.45-0.65 grams per pound) to reduce age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia). (5)
If you exercise a lot, your protein needs increase. Recreational athletes should aim for 1.1-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram (0.5-0.64 grams per pound). Endurance athletes, such as marathon trainers and strength athletes, such as weight lifters, can benefit from anywhere from 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram (0.55-0.91 grams per pound).* (3,6)
But don’t think you can cram all of that protein in at dinner and reap the benefits! Most Americans tend to eat considerably more protein at dinner than they do at breakfast and lunch. Turns out, this is a bad habit. Evenly distributing your protein intake throughout the day is the best way to control your appetite, boost your metabolism and promote muscle growth and strength. (5,3) “A study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition found that muscle protein synthesis was 25% higher when protein was evenly distributed across breakfast, lunch, and dinner compared with a more typical pattern, when most protein was consumed at the evening meal, even when total protein intake was the same.” (6)
Eating protein-rich snacks is a great idea too – it has been shown to increase feelings of satiety throughout the day and help with weight loss. (3)
Okay, so where do I get all of this protein?
Before you go running to the nearest steakhouse, check out the plethora of protein sources available to you (see below), and remember to practice moderation with red meat. “Eating healthy protein sources like fish, chicken, beans, or nuts in place of red meat (including processed red meat) can lower the risk of several diseases** and premature death.” (2)
Good Sources of Protein (7,8)
- Meat, fish and poultry – contain approximately 7 grams of protein per ounce. You can get about 20-25 grams in a 3-ounce serving!
- Dairy products – you can get 8 grams of protein from a cup of milk, 7 grams from an ounce of cheese, 14 grams in a half cup of cottage cheese and 10 or more grams in a cup of yogurt. Greek yogurt gives you the most protein – with approximately 18 grams in a 6-ounce serving!
- Eggs – having an egg for breakfast will give you 6 grams of protein.
- Vegetarian/Plant Sources:
- Tofu, tempeh, soybeans and soymilk – stir-fry ¼ cup of tofu or blend it in a smoothie for 7 grams of protein, snack on a cup of edamame or drink a cup of soymilk for 8 grams.
- Beans and lentils – black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils and split peas are great plant sources of protein, with 7-11 grams per ½ cup serving.
- Nuts – these are a great way to add protein to your snacks! You will get approximately 7 grams of protein in ¼ cup of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter.
- Seeds – add these to any meal or snack for an extra boost of protein (5-9 grams per ounce).
- Whole grains – contain more protein than refined, “white” breads, pastas and rice.
Struggling to get enough protein at breakfast? Here are some great ideas for your first meal of the day (source: Today’s Dietitian):
- 1 large egg, 4 oz. of Canadian bacon and 1 slice of whole wheat toast give you 33 grams of protein
- 8 oz of nonfat Greek yogurt plus 3/4 cup of granola with dried fruit and nuts is 30 grams of protein.
- Oatmeal (3/4 cup dry and prepared with 1 1/2 c. unsweetened soy milk), 1 1/2 ounces almonds and 1 1/2 teaspoons hemp seeds yield 31 grams of protein. (9)
- 2 large eggs, scrambled with 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese and 3/4 cup of pinto beans served with 2 corn tortillas has 33.5 total grams of protein.
- Protein smoothie (click link below for recipe)
Check out the table, “Examples of High-Protein Breakfast Meals Containing About 30g” for the protein smoothie recipe and additional breakfast ideas.
* “recommendations vary significantly depending on the type of athlete, current body weight, total energy intake, whether weight loss or weight gain is the goal, exercise intensity and duration, training status, the quality of the dietary protein, and the individual’s age.” (6)
**such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer
- Protein in Diet. MedLine Plus. NIH: U.S. National Library of Medicine. April 25, 2015. Accessed Jan 15, 2017.
- Harvard T.H. The Nutrition Source: Protein. Harvard: T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Accessed Jan 15, 2017.
- Webb D. High Protein Snacking. Today’s Dietitian. 2015;17(6):22.
- Milk Proteins: Packing a Powerful Nutritional Punch. Today’s Dietitian. 2013;15(3):26.
- Rodriguez NR. Introduction to Protein Summit 2.0: continued exploration of the impact of high-quality protein on optimal health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):13175-13195.
- Webb D. Athletes and Protein Intake. Today’s Dietitian. 2014;16(6):22.
- Protein Content of Foods. (table) Learning Library: Today’s Dietitian. 2013. Accessed Jan 15, 2017.
- USDA Food Composition Databases. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed Jan 19, 2017.
- Giancoli AN. Breakfast: Protein power. Today’s Dietitian. 2016;18(9):14..