Another common question that my patients ask me is, “How much protein should I eat daily?” Although the specific number depends on your goals, protein is a key to achieving success regardless of whether you’re trying to create healthy eating habits, lose weight, or build muscle.
The Importance of Protein
As a clinical psychologist, I want to share both the physical and psychological benefits of protein.
Physically, proteins build your bones, muscles, joints, and skin. It helps you repair your tissues and aids in key processes in your body like getting oxygen to your organs and digestion. In terms of healthy eating and weight management, protein is the key macronutrient for turning off your hunger hormones. Protein is also responsible for preserving lean muscle and building additional muscle, if you’re doing strength training workouts (Leidy et al., 2015).
Psychologically, protein fights cravings, which can prevent you from eating more than planned (Ohlsson et al., 2017). Foods high in protein are more likely to leave you feeling satisfied after eating, in part because they are so effective at turning on the signal in your brain that says, “I’m full!”
Anecdotally, my patients who are consistently eating the right amount of protein for their goals are not only more successful but also feel less preoccupied with food and less stressed out by the process of making healthy changes to their eating behavior.
How Much Protein Should I Eat Daily?
The answer will differ based on one of three goals:
- You’re making healthy changes to your eating habits (not necessarily focusing on weight loss).
- You’re losing weight.
- You’re building muscle.
Let’s break down what the science says for each answer, so you know exactly what to do based on your individual needs.
If you’re making healthy changes to your eating habits…
The general recommendation for eating enough protein for someone who isn’t trying to lose weight is 0.36-0.68g of protein per pound of your body weight (Pencharz et al., 2016). This means that if you’re 150 pounds, you’re trying to eat 55-102 grams of protein per day.
While this is a wide range, your goal is to figure out how to best balance protein intake with the fats and carbohydrates you’re eating to find a combination that makes your way of eating feel enjoyable and sustainable.
If you’re losing weight…
Protein makes a significant difference. There have been research studies demonstrating some shocking facts about the role of protein in weight loss. Did you know…
- Eating 30% of daily calories from protein caused incidental decreases in calorie intake, meaning that people ate less without trying (Weigle et al., 2005).
- Eating a high-protein diet between 25-30% of daily calories from protein can increase the chance that you will maintain your weight loss progress long-term (Astrup et al., 2015).
If you’re trying to lose weight, aiming to eat around 30% of your daily calories from protein has been linked to significant benefits for weight loss, preserving lean muscle as you lose weight, and keeping the weight off in the long run.
However, the grams of protein will vary based on your calculation for the daily calories you can eat for weight loss. For example, if you’re eating 1500 calories per day, you should aim to eat 125 grams of protein each day.
If you’re building muscle…
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends eating between 0.5-0.8g of protein per pound of your body weight to gain muscle. So, if you are 150 pounds, you would be looking to eat between 75-120 grams of protein per day.
Practitioners who I have collaborated with have recommended eating up to 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight (e.g., 150 grams of protein per day for a person who is 150 pounds). This guideline may be best for people who are trying to gain weight by building muscle.
How to Increase Your Daily Protein Intake
Ideally, you will increase your protein intake by incorporating sources of whole food protein into your daily eating plan, such as meats, plant-based protein (e.g., tofu), eggs, and Greek yogurt.
However, there are some high-quality protein shakes and bars you can include in your eating plan. I’ve already written about my top picks for ready-made protein shakes and the best protein powders on the market. Some of my favorites are:
- Ready-made shakes:
- Protein powders:
- Protein bars
Dr. Schulte’s Summary
Protein is a key macronutrient that has both physical and psychological benefits for healthy eating, weight loss, and building muscle. Based on your goals, the amount of protein to eat each day varies. If you’re working to make healthy changes to your eating behavior, aim for 0.36-0.68g of protein per pound of your body weight. If you’re losing weight, eat around 30% of your daily calories from protein. And, if you’re building muscle, try to eat between 0.5-0.8g of protein per day. Use these targets to figure out the most important thing– the amount of protein to eat each day that works for YOU!
How much protein do you eat each day?
Astrup, A., Raben, A., & Geiker, N. (2015). The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities. International journal of obesity (2005), 39(5), 721–726. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2014.216
Leidy, H. J., Clifton, P. M., Astrup, A., Wycherley, T. P., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., … & Mattes, R. D. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 101(6), 1320S-1329S.
Ohlsson, B., Darwiche, G., Roth, B., Bengtsson, M., & Höglund, P. (2017). High fiber fat and protein contents lead to increased satiety reduced sweet cravings and decreased gastrointestinal symptoms independently of anthropometric hormonal and metabolic factors. Journal of Diabetes & Metabolism, 8(3).
Pencharz, P. B., Elango, R., & Wolfe, R. R. (2016). Recent developments in understanding protein needs–How much and what kind should we eat?. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(5), 577-580.
Weigle, D. S., Breen, P. A., Matthys, C. C., Callahan, H. S., Meeuws, K. E., Burden, V. R., & Purnell, J. Q. (2005). A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(1), 41–48. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41
Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.