Protein. These days it feels like the word that begins and ends all things. (What are you eating? Protein. What’s your secret for losing weight? Protein. How was your weekend? Protein.)
“Protein is an essential nutrient that builds and repairs tissues including skin and muscle, and also and makes hormones and enzymes,” says Barbie Boules, R.D.N., a registered dietitian in Illinois. So yeah. There’s a reason why we should be eating it.
But in a land of Whole30 challenges and keto diets, how much protein should you actually be eating? Boules says it’s a question she gets all the time.
Unfortunately, it’s an answer that requires some math (I know, I’m sorry!). That’s because it’s not a fixed number. Claire Martin, R.D., co-founder of Being Healthfull, says the RDA (recommended daily value for protein intake) is about 0.36 grams per body weight pound.
Meaning…if you weigh 140 pounds, then you should be eating 50 grams of protein daily.
However, that protein number is a variable that depends on your health and fitness needs, Martin says. For example, if you are exercising and trying to lose weight, then Martin says she would increase protein intake to about 0.5 grams per current pound of body weight. So for 140 pounds, that protein RDA goes up to 70 grams per day.
On the other hand, people hoping to lose weight and see muscle gain can increase protein intake to between 0.8 grams and 1 gram of protein for every 1 gram of bodyweight, Martin says. Otherwise, you won’t see muscle gains.
This is where supplemental protein (powders, bars, etc.) might come into play, Boules says. If you are very physically active (e.g. a marathon runner or extreme sports participant) or aren’t getting an ample amount or protein from foods, then you might want to try a powdered supplement made from pure protein with no additives or sugar that can be added to a daily beverage.
In general though, Boules advises sticking to whole food sources of protein, like lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and grains. She likes a balance of 50 percent carbs (1/2 from starches and 1/2 from fruits and veggies), 25 percent healthy fats, and 25 percent lean protein for most meals. “This is not perfect for everyone, but merely a general guideline,” Boules says.
18 High-Protein, Low-Carb Snacks That Will Prevent You From Turning Into A Hangry Monster
And don’t forget: If you’re increasing your protein intake to meet a fitness or weight-loss goal, then you’ll have to consume fewer calories from carbs or fat to make up for the extra protein calories you’re consuming, Martin says. She recommends using an app like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer to keep track of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats).
The bottom line: Get your daily protein intake (at least 0.36 times your body weight) from whole food sources where possible, and adjust amounts accordingly if you’re looking to lose weight or build muscle.