The question of how much protein you need for weight loss is a commonly asked question in the weight loss industry. Biochemically, all proteins are comprised of amino acids and are broken down into three types: essential, non-essential, and conditionally non-essential. Essential proteins, found primarily in animal products like meat and eggs, must be ingested to preserve life. Conditionally non-essential proteins can also be ingested, but it is not necessary for survival as long as the individual is consuming key vitamins and mineral supplements. Finally non-essential proteins can be produced by our bodies by ingesting raw materials such as carbohydrates and fat.
WHAT IS PROTEIN?
Protein is an important macronutrient that is involved in nearly all bodily functions and processes. It plays a key role in exercise recovery and is an essential dietary nutrient for healthy living. The elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen combine to form amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Protein and amino acids are primarily use to create bodily tissues, form enzymes and cellular transporters, maintain fluid balance, and more.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN PER DAY TO LOSE WEIGHT?
If you want to lose weight, aim for a daily protein intake between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (.73 and 1 grams per pound). Athletes and heavy exercisers should consume 2.2-3.4 grams of protein per kilogram (1-1.5 grams per pound) if aiming for weight loss.
My practical recommendation to people is that if you carry a BMI of over 30 or a body fat percentage above 25-30% it makes more sense to base your protein recommendations off of your goal weight.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PROTEIN IN WEIGHT LOSS?
Dietary protein can be an important part of a diet that is intended for weight loss.
While there are many benefits to dietary protein, there are four main areas that have direct effects on weight loss:
- Lean mass
- Thermic effect of food
- Storage as body fat
Let us take a deeper dive into each of these topics.
PROTEIN HELPS YOU FEEL FULL LONGER
One of the biggest things that impedes weight loss is hunger.
People are far less likely to stick with a nutrition or diet plan if they experience high levels of hunger.
Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients
Several different lines of research have all pointed to the same thing: higher protein intakes tend to provide more satiety and less hunger.
For example, in one study, high protein snacks allowed people to go longer between eating and also caused them to eat less at subsequent meals
Another study showed that including protein into a glass of water decreased hunger compared to water alone
Depending on the source of protein, there does appear to be minor differences in the exact amount of satiety that protein provides, however these differences are minor and don’t really make a meaningful impact for most people
Currently, there is no consensus on the optimal level of daily protein intake in one’s diet with regard to stay full. However, roughly 1.8 – 2.9 grams of protein per kilogram daily (or .82-1.32 grams of protein per pound) appears to provide substantial benefit on satiety
PROTEIN PRESERVES LEAN BODY MASS
In addition, protein has another benefit on weight loss: it helps preserve lean body mass during periods of caloric restriction.
One study compared the effect of low protein intake (1.0 grams per kilogram per day) to high protein intake (2.3 g/kg per day) on lean body mass over a short term caloric deficit. On average, the low protein group lost about 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) of muscle mass while the high protein group only lost 0.3 kg (0.66 pounds) of muscle mass
Another similar study compared 0.8 g/kg per day against 1.6 g/kg per day and 2.4 g/kg per day and found that the two higher intakes (1.6 and 2.4 g/kg per day) spared more lean body mass than the 0.8 g/kg per day diet. They also found that there was no real benefit to 2.4 g/kg per day over 1.6 g/kg per day
Currently, most evidence suggests that ~1.6 grams of protein per kilogram, or .73 grams of protein per pound is a recommended daily target for protein intake to spare lean body mass loss during periods of weight loss.
PROTEIN INCREASES THE THERMIC EFFECT OF FOOD
The thermic effect of food is the “cost” of digesting your food.
Essentially, it takes some energy to break food down, digest it, and turn it into energy. Protein has the highest “cost” of all the three macronutrients.
While the total effect that the thermic effect of food has on daily energy expenditure and weight loss is small, it is not meaningless and is important to note.
In one study, a high protein diet increased the thermic effect of food by roughly 6-8 kcals per hour when compared to a low protein diet, which may translate to ~50-75 calories per day
However, not all studies show this large of an effect, and the thermic effect of protein is not likely responsible for most of its benefit, but it may be the “cherry on top” of adequate dietary protein during weight loss.
Here’s Exactly How Much Protein You Need
Despite what bright new food packaging or so-called “healthier” fast food options might lead you to believe, humans have known about the power of protein since at least the early 19th century.
That’s when a Swedish chemist named the molecules using a word from the Greek, proteios, meaning “holding first place” and therefore most important.
Today, if society resurrected that Swede and dumped him into an American supermarket, he might feel smugly validated. In the eyes of consumers and marketers, the nutrient is indeed the most important—ubiquitous, beneficial, desirable, and, now, lucrative.
So lucrative, in fact, that the global protein-supplements market is projected to reach a powerful $21.5 billion by 2025, according to industry reports. So, yes, you’d expect to find whey in your post-gym shakes and bars, but now protein is popping up everywhere.
You can wake up and have a protein-rich bowl of cereal, grab a whey-infused Protein2o water on your way out the door, pick up a Chicken Wrap Protein Box at Starbucks for lunch, and munch on ranch-flavored Quest Nutrition protein chips as a mid-afternoon desk snack.
Nielsen, a worldwide data-analytics company, found that 55 percent of U. S. households now regard protein as an important consideration when they purchase food.
What’s more, Nielsen saw an eight percent sales uptick for products claiming to be an “excellent” or “good” source of protein on the front of their packaging.
So protein products are all over the place, and people are hungry for more protein, but here’s the thing: Not everyone knows exactly what the best sources of protein are.
In fact, between 45 and 64 percent of consumers did not identify beef, pork, or chicken as being high in protein, even though all those foods are loaded with it, according to a recent survey.
There’s still a fair amount of confusion around a nutrient that’s been around, well, forever.
So you have to wonder if that’s due to crafty marketers, misunderstood dietary prescriptions, or clueless internet “experts” make misleading claims about what, exactly, makes something “high-protein” to begin with.
We’re here to clear that all up.
Protein is particularly important if you want to build muscle, but also fill up at meals and stay full between meals. But you need to consume a certain amount of it—scientists have studied this—in order for its effects to take root.
Here’s Exactly Why You Need Protein
Protein is vital to life: It’s made from amino acids that are essential for building and maintaining muscles and bones. In addition, recent studies suggest that protein quality, or the total makeup of amino acids within a protein source, may become more important as you age.
But beyond your infrastructure, protein also helps to regulate a host of cellular processes, affecting everything from your immune function to the transportation of oxygen through the bloodstream. Protein can even aid in weight loss: Researchers have found that consuming it stimulates the release of satiety signals in the small intestine, helping you feel full.
In short, protein is a super-nutrient. A do-it-all. A power player in how you use your body and what it looks like.
Protein is important. In fact, it’s vital for building the body you want. Protein helps decrease hunger, builds and maintains muscle, fortifies your bones, improves brain function, aids your immune system, and can even pick up the kids from soccer practice if you’re strapped for time.
We digested the past 25 years of nutrition knowledge, talked to the smartest experts about the latest science, and sorted through a lot of nutrition B.S.—all to provide you with the most up-to-date information about protein right now.
Here’s Why You’re Probably Not Eating Enough Protein
The irony of the protein boom is that Americans aren’t actually ingesting any more of it today than they were 30 years ago.
That might be because protein’s recommended daily allowance is a modest 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, a number formulated during World War II in order to safeguard public health during a possible shortage and ensure the nutritive value of military rations.
“That RDA means roughly 8 to 10 percent of your daily intake should be protein,” says Heather Leidy, Ph.D., a protein researcher and associate professor in Purdue University’s Department of Nutrition Science.
But that 8 to 10 percent is only the minimum required to prevent a protein deficiency, not what you need for protein synthesis, muscle gain, satiety, weight management, and glycemic control.
While the diets of most Americans may contain between 10 and 15 percent protein, Leidy notes, research suggests that anywhere from 20 to 30 percent would be a better health goal—with at least 30 grams of protein being the minimum threshold at mealtime.
Another way to look at it: That’s between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of your target body weight. So if you’re a 185-pound guy who wants to weigh 165, you should eat between 90 and 120 grams of protein per day.
The good news is that higher amounts of protein as a result of all these snacks and shakes won’t harm the liver, kidneys, or bones of healthy people, as some once claimed; however, excess protein can mean excess calories, which may lead to weight gain, Leidy says.
Still, that’s a lot of protein, you might be thinking to yourself. If you read into it, you may think you need to break out your calculator and begin tracking your intake—but we swear it’s not as complicated as you might think.
Actually, it’s pretty easy.
Calculating Protein Needs for Weight Loss
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that healthy adults consume 10-35 percent of their calories from protein.4 For weight loss, evidence suggests that the higher end of this range, 25-30% of calories from protein, or 1–1.2 g/kg of your ideal body weight per day, may be beneficial.5 So what does this mean for you, and how do you calculate your own protein needs?
Example of Estimated Daily Protein Needs
Here is an example of protein need estimates for weight loss for a female who weighs 165 pounds and is 5’6″. Assume her calorie needs are 1,800 per day.
If looking at the 25-30% of calories from protein:
Her protein needs will range from 450 to 540 calories from protein (0.25 x 1,800 and 0.3 x 1,800, respectively). There are 4 calories per gram of protein, so her protein needs are 112.5 to 135 grams per day.
If calculating 1-1.2 grams per kilogram of Ideal Body Weight:
To calculate Ideal Body Weight, use the following formula for women (note there is a different formula for men): Ideal Body Weight (in kilograms) = 49kg + 1.7kg for each inch over 5 feet.
The Ideal Body Weight for this woman is 49kg + 1.7 (6), or 59.2 kg. Thus, her protein need ranges from 59.2 to 71.04 grams per day.
As you can see, there is a large variance between the recommendation of 71 grams and 135 grams of protein per day. Ultimately, you will need to determine what protein range feels best for your body and fuels your needs.
Translating Protein Grams into Daily Life
So you’ve calculated your protein needs, but how does that translate into what you’re cooking and eating every day? There’s no need to meticulously track your protein intake each day (which may lead to disordered eating habits and lack of variety in your diet).
Instead, think of your plate as four quadrants. Fill two quadrants with vegetables and fruit, one with grains, and the remaining quadrant with protein-rich foods. That should provide about 20-35 grams of protein per meal. Add 5-10 grams of protein at each snack, and you’ve got enough protein for the day.
How might that look for three meals and two snacks? If we use the same woman described above (5’6″ and 165 pounds), she needs approximately 100 grams of protein per day (range of 71g to 135g) and 1,800 calories. Here’s a sample menu, based on foods she enjoys:
Sample Meal Plan for Approximately 1,800 Calories & 100g Protein
Breakfast: 1/2 cup of oatmeal made with 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup blueberries, 2 tbsp. chia seeds, 2 tbsp. walnuts (481 calories, 20g protein)
Snack: 1 banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter (200 calories, 5g protein)
Lunch: 1 slice whole-wheat toast, 2 eggs, 1 slide cheddar, 1 large apple, 1 cup salad (524 calories, 28g protein)
Snack: 1/2 cup 2% Greek Yogurt with 1 cup strawberries (114 calories, 12.8g protein)
Dinner: 6 ounces grilled salmon with 1/2 cup brown rice, 2 cups of mixed greens with 2 tablespoons of salad dressing, and 10 spears of grilled asparagus (500 calories, 38.5g protein)
While creating daily menus based on estimated protein needs is helpful, this is not always doable in daily life. For this reason, it may be helpful to know the average protein content in various foods.
|Protein Food||Protein (grams)|
|Steak (3 oz.)||25|
|Chicken Breast (6 oz.)||28|
|Salmon (3 oz.)||22|
|Shrimp (3 oz. or 4 to 5 large shrimp)||20|
|2 large eggs||14|
|2% milk (1 cup)||24|
|Non-fat Greek yogurt (1 cup)||17|
|Low-fat Cheddar cheese (3 oz.)||21|
|Black beans (1 cup, cooked)||15|
|Lentils (1 cup, cooked)||18|
|Quinoa (1 cup, cooked)||8|
|Almonds (1 oz. or 23 almonds)||6|
|Chia seeds (1 oz.)||5|
|Peanut Butter (2 tbsp.)||7|
|Brown rice (1 cup, cooked)||5|
|Peas (1 cup, cooked)||9|
|Tofu (3 oz.)||15|