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How Much Protein Do You Need Per Day? Here’s How to Calculate Your Intake Needs

Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training January 23, 2024

The word “protein” is derived from the Greek word “protos,” meaning “first in rank or position” – and for good reason. Protein serves so many important functions in the body that it’s vitally important to meet daily needs, which can vary quite a bit from person to person.

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’ve 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 46 grams per day and the “average” man needs about 56 grams. But keep this in mind: these guidelines from the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine are set at levels to simply meet the basic needs of most people.

How Much Protein Is Right for You? Is One Guideline Correct?

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.

One guideline from the Institute of Medicine recommends that we eat 10 to 35 percent of our total daily calories from protein. This guideline helps a little and at least 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 how much protein your body needs? Here are two ways.

Method 1: Calculate using your lean body mass

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 to 1 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. If using the metric system, that’s about 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass.

Method 2: Calculate using your body weight

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:

  1. In pounds: multiply your body weight by 0.7
  2. In 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.

So a woman who weighs 140 pounds (64 kilograms) should aim for about 100 grams of protein a day. A 220-pound man (110 kilograms) should shoot for at least 150 grams of protein.

With either method, the recommended amount of protein is more tailored to your needs than general recommendations based on gender alone.

How to Calculate the 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 25-gram units and the amount for snacks in about 10-gram units.

Here’s why. Common portions of many protein foods we eat at meals conveniently have about 25 grams of protein, and protein snacks tend to fall in the 10-gram range. So it makes it easy to keep track. For example, 3 ounces of cooked fish or poultry has about 25 grams of protein, and a snack of a single-serve carton of yogurt, a protein bar or a handful of roasted soy nuts would have about 10 grams of protein.

If you’re a woman aiming for about 100 grams of protein a day, you can easily do that by taking in 25 grams (one unit) at each meal and having a couple of protein snacks. If you’re a male aiming for about 150 grams a day, you can simply double up your protein units at a couple of meals in order to hit your target.

Practical Tips to Help Measure Your Protein Intake

Here are tips and recommendations to help you track your protein intake:

  1. Make sure to read nutrition labels so you can more accurately keep track.
  2. For more accuracy, weigh your cooked proteins a few times so you get familiar with the amount of protein in your usual portions.
  3. Use an app to encourage daily tracking.
  4. If you need to consume more protein, try meal replacement or protein shakes, which you can tailor to your personal needs with additional protein powder or other protein add-ons like yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu or nut butter.
  5. Don’t just focus on protein – your overall dietary balance matters, too. So be sure your daily diet includes plenty of healthy carbs (from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans) as well as some good fats from nuts, avocado and vegetable oils.