Ask HE: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Many associate eating healthy with getting more protein and cutting back on carbohydrates. While protein is an important part of any diet, more isn’t always better. Most people eat adequate amounts of this muscle-building nutrient.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Last month, we talked about getting the right amount fiber every day. One of you followed up with another good question -- what about protein? While protein is an important part of any diet, more isn’t always better. As it turns out, most folks are already eating an adequate amounts of this muscle-building nutrient.

Q: How much protein do I really need in a day (and how do I get it)?

A: Less than you think, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

First of all, here's some background. The protein you get from foods helps to regulate your metabolism and plays a role in how your immune system functions. Unlike the carbohydrates and fat that come from foods, protein isn't an efficient source of energy, which is why you don’t want to eat anything but protein -- you’ll run out of gas! Also, unlike carbs and fat, your body isn't able to store protein. Our systems use what up what's needed from a meal and any extra protein gets shipped on out as waste.

For the average adult, protein should make up about 15 to 20% of his or her daily calories (growing children and serious athletes often need more). This comes out to 75 to 100 grams per day in a basic 2,000-calorie diet. One way to get a ballpark figure for how much you need is to calculate about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 150-pound person would need about 60 grams per day.

And don't let those high-protein Atkins-style diets or drugstore shelves packaged with supplements, protein bars and shakes fool you. I've seen some supplements with 60 grams per serving. That's more than a day's worth for some folks! You can easily get your daily need from protein-rich foods -- meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and soy. Whole grains also provide a few extra grams of protein. Since many of these foods are meat-free, vegetarians can easily meet their needs, too.

Here’s an example menu for a balanced day. You just want a small amount of protein with each meal and you’re covered -- no need for protein mega-doses from shakes and other supplements.

2 egg omelet with 2 tablespoons shredded cheese
1 slice whole grain toast
Morning Snack:
Apple with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

3 ounces grilled chicken breast on 2 slices whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and 2 tablespoons hummus

Afternoon Snack:
6 ounces non-fat yogurt
1 granola bar
Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry with 1 cup cooked brown rice

Daily Total: 1,650 calories; 87 grams protein (21% of calories)

Next Up

Ask HE: How Much Fiber Do You Really Need?

It seems like everyone is talking about fiber lately. Marketers are touting their fiber-rich food products and some manufacturers are even adding more fiber in. You probably know fiber is "good for you" -- well, here's the 101 on how much you need in your diet.

Ask HE: How Much Salt is Too Much?

Heavily-salted foods are on the chopping block all over the country. Some of the world’s largest food companies are slashing the salt content of their foods, and a new study says salt reduction can help your health. But is all salt bad?

Ask HE: How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

All kinds of news reports are popping up saying we’re a vitamin-D deficient nation. Is this true? If so, what does it mean and what can we do about it?

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

More isn't always better. Find out how much protein you really need to consume each day.

How Much Water Do You Really Need?

How much water should you drink a day -- 8-10 glasses, right? Well, as it turns out, there’s no scientific research to back up this number. Learn the best way to figure out how much water you should be drinking.

Ask HE: Your CSA Questions, Answered

Local farms across the country are gearing up for another harvest season, and we can't wait! You can get your own little piece of a local farm by signing up for a community-supported agriculture program. So, is it the right choice for you? We're breaking down some frequently-asked CSA questions to help you decide.

Ask HE: What Does “Natural” Mean?

You see it on everything from juice drinks and packages of meat, to boxes of cereal and bottles of vitamins. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the word “natural.” You might be surprised to learn what this term really means.

How Much Exercise Do You Really Need Per Day?

Getting a healthy amount of movement each day is easier than you might think.

Ask HE: Is Flaxseed Worth the Hype?

Once a foreign seed found only in remote health food stores, you now see flaxseed everywhere! Should anybody with a jonesing to be healthy make flax part of their diet?

Related Pages