How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

by | Feb 22, 2021

Protein can be found throughout the human body. In fact, it is a part of every cell and plays a significant role in the body’s ability to carry out major physiological processes, such as transporting oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body. Protein is made from building blocks known as amino acids. The body can synthesize 11 of the 20 amino acids, which are called the non-essential amino acids. The other 9 must be obtained from food sources and are called essential amino acids. 

For optimal health, it is important to consume adequate protein each day to provide the body with the building blocks it requires to create protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowance, RDA, for protein for adults is generally 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This recommendation is the amount a majority of individuals would need to maintain health. 

How Much Protein Does the Body Need?

Protein needs may increase per individual based on activity level, health conditions, age, etc. For example women who are pregnant or lactating require 1.1-1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight.  Unless you are an athlete, it is not recommended to consume over 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. Consuming excess protein can have negative side effects including: nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, GI discomfort, and dehydration. Research has linked overconsumption of protein with kidney and liver dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, cancer and bone disease. 

How Much Should You Consume if You Are Active? 

In the article Athletes and Protein Intake from Today’s Dietitian, Christopher Mohr, PHD, RD, stated that endurance athletes should aim for 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for individuals who lift weights for strength or power. Further, workout type, length and intensity of activity all play a role in determining overall needs. 

For active individuals, it is recommended that protein is ingested post exercise to promote muscle synthesis and growth. The Journal of Nutrition released a study finding that protein intake consumed consistently throughout the day across each meal, as opposed to a majority of protein intake consumed at dinner, increases protein synthesis by 25%. 

Protein-Rich Foods

  • Dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, etc.) 
  • Legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas, etc.) 
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters 
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Fish and seafood 
  • Lean poultry
  • Lean meats 
  • Protein Powders

Get a Personalized Nutrition Plan

Consuming adequate protein in the diet is important for maintaining optimal health. If you are an athlete or active individual, getting the right amount daily is vital for maintaining muscle mass. Unsure if you are reaching your protein needs? Contact our office to consult with a registered dietitian who can assist you and customize a plan tailored to your unique needs. 

You can read more nutrition tips by visiting the AZ Dietitians blog, where you will find articles on how to build a balanced plate, how to read a nutrition food label, and more! 

Written by: Lexi Nazzaro, Dietetic Intern 

Sources: Material adapted from Today’s Dietitian

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