Nutrition is a personal component of health. Each of our bodies has certain needs that must be met in order for us to be at our personal best.
Diet culture has made a billion dollar industry out of telling us what we should fuel our bodies with, push notifications included. Fads aside, nutrition comes down to one simple thing: nourishing your body with real foods that help it thrive. While different experts may debate the importance of carbs and fats in your diet, every health enthusiast can attest to the power of protein. But how much protein should you really eat?
The answer is more complicated than you think and I’m sure you’ve been confused looking at the many different Google charts with conflicting answers. Before we get to how much you should eat, let’s brief you on why protein is essential for your body. Not only does protein help you feel full for longer amounts of time, but it increases your muscle mass and boosts your metabolism. Protein is your best friend when you’re looking at any sort of physical fitness goal. But even if you’re not hitting the gym for hours a day, protein is an important tool for feeling good in daily life!
To get the scoop from a professional, I spoke to certified nutritionist and Ironman triathlon athlete Nick Bare about how individuals can know how much protein they should eat. “Just like most things in regard to your personal health and wellness, [your protein intake] is specific to your goals and your body,” says Bare. “People who are sedentary need less dietary protein than people who are physically active.” This shouldn’t shock you — similarly to how your calorie intake increases with activity, so should your protein.
While the US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, this reflects the minimum amount required to avoid malnutrition. Bare explains the number should be significantly higher if you’re interested in building lean muscle mass.
For active athletes it is recommended to consume between 1.6 grams - 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. “I recommend higher protein diets that are in the upper range at 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight — and sometimes even higher towards 2.4 grams,” says Bare.
Here’s an example of how to find your protein intake. Luckily, Bare did the math for us:
If you are consistently active it should be between 1.6 and 2.2:
68.18 kg X 1.9 = 129.5 grams of protein to eat per day
If you are sedentary, you can lower your protein intake. The minimum is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, so we’ll round up to 1 gram:
68.18 kg X 1 = 68.18 grams of protein to eat per day
Now that you have the math down, there’s no reason to not shoot for the stars and nail your protein consumption for the day. Here are some high-protein food suggestions to get you started:
Add pumpkin seeds to your salad, snack on some Greek yogurt, and toss a piece of salmon on the grill. You can even find veggies that are higher in protein, like broccoli and Brussel sprouts! Protein is found in some unsuspecting ingredients; keep an eye out on nutrition labels.
Whether or not you’re following a calorie-specific diet, it’s also important to note the caloric density (also known as energy density) of protein. Not only does adding protein into your diet help you build lean muscle, but it is also less calories per gram than fat. “Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram and fat provides 9 calories per gram,” says Bare.
This doesn’t mean you should abandon a sense of balance and stack a plate with grilled chicken — like all good things, overeating protein could be harmful to your long-term health. The caloric density of a macronutrient is simply contextual knowledge you can use as you create the nutrition plan that works best for you.
It also has the ability to curb your hunger — this means you should start your day with a protein-packed breakfast and incorporate a key protein element into each meal and snack as you continue throughout the day. Bare also recommends you have a protein-heavy snack or meal within two hours after your workout. “Building out your own personal nutrition plan is specific to your fitness goals, diet/food preference and what you enjoy. Have fun, train hard and eat your protein!”
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About the author
Lily is a Brooklyn-based wellness enthusiast who never says no to trying a new fitness class. As a previous fitness coach and current health editor, she loves New York's health scene and can often be found in a hot yoga studio, attending a meditation seminar, or going for a long run in Central Park. Lily is originally from Oregon and moved to Brooklyn in 2017—one day when she makes it big, she'll spend her winters on the West Coast and her summers in New York's best borough.