Protein is essential for optimizing performance, recovery, muscle growth, fat loss, and overall health. It's needed to maintain proper fluid balance, build and repair tissues, transport nutrients, synthesize hormones, and many other essential functions.
In short, you must consume enough protein each day. That's why it's called an essential macronutrient, meaning you need it to survive.
But many individuals aren't sure how many grams of protein they should eat each day.
If you fall into this category, follow this guide for the optimal daily protein intake for weight loss and muscle building.
Let's start by answering the fundamental question...
How Much Protein to Eat in a Day
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight.
This amounts to:
- 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man
- 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman
Suffice it to say that this amount of protein is vastly inadequate for the active individual looking to build muscle or lose fat while retaining as much lean mass as possible.
The International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) and others recommend protein intake at levels higher than the RDA for physically active individuals, generally on the order of 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight -- that's over double the amount recommended by the DRI!
Keep in mind, though, that the DRI and RDA's protein intake values are the bare minimum intakes of protein needed to sustain life and maintain muscle for sedentary individuals. These amounts are not enough for active individuals to maintain, let alone build muscle.
Current evidence-based recommendations for active individuals' protein intake are between 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. <2,3>
For those not used to using the metric system, this approximates to 0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. <2,3>
A Position Stand on Protein issued by the ISSN specifically states that "protein intakes of 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg/day for physically active individuals is not only safe but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training."
Many individuals believe that high protein intakes may be hazardous or detrimental to kidney function and health. However, this myth (or misconception) has been proven erroneous numerous times.
In otherwise healthy individuals, consuming high protein diets poses no risk. In fact, it may bolster resistance training adaptations (muscle gain), lean mass retention while dieting, and reduce hunger.
A pair of studies by noted protein researcher Dr. Jose Antonio and colleagues found that protein intakes as high as 3.4-4.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (~2 grams of protein per pound of body weight) did not have any deleterious effects. <4,5>
Participants in the studies did increase lean mass and lose fat mass, even though consuming an energy surplus!
Basically, there is no real downside to consuming a high-protein diet for healthy individuals, where you're consuming between 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Now, let's determine how to...
Calculate How Many Grams of Protein You Need
When determining how many grams of protein you need, you can take one of two approaches.
Option #1: Take a percentage of total daily calories
Option #2: Establish a specific number of grams of protein to consume each day.
Here's a little more detail on calculating how many grams of protein you need using each method.
Option #1: Percentage of Total Calories
Many popular diets recommend using certain percentages of your total daily calories to determine your macronutrient intake.
One of the most famous examples is the Zone Diet, which recommended a 40/30/30 split.
- 40% of daily calories would come from carbohydrates
- 30% of daily calories would come from protein
- 30% of daily calories would come from fat
Now, let's say your daily calorie intake was 2000 calories.
To calculate how many grams of protein you need using this approach, you would multiply 2000 by 0.3 (30%).
2000 * 0.3 = 600 calories from dietary protein
To calculate how many grams of protein this is, you would divide the above number by 4 since there are 4 calories in every gram of protein.
600/4 = 150 grams of protein
Option #2: Establish a Set Number Based on Bodyweight
Using a percentage-based model can certainly work for making sure that you consume enough grams of protein each day. It may also result in individuals consuming far more protein than they actually need to support muscle growth and recovery.
While there's nothing wrong with consuming more protein than the 1 gram per pound recommendations, consuming above and beyond that amount doesn't necessarily mean you'll build more muscle.
This is because the body can only synthesize so much protein per given unit of time.
This is why it may be more useful to calculate how many grams of protein you should eat per day based on your bodyweight.
To keep things simple, we'll use the 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight recommendation.
So, if you weigh 180 lbs., you would consume 180 grams of protein.
If you weigh 125 lbs., you would want to consume 125 grams of protein each day from high-quality protein sources, such as beef, poultry, fish, or protein powder (like Steel Whey™).
How Many Grams of Protein Per Meal?
Once you know how many grams of protein you should eat per day, the next step is to divide that total among your meals throughout the day.
Best practices according to the research (as well as common sense) suggests that protein should be evenly distributed throughout the day, with "optimal amounts" being 0.40–0.55 g/kg per meal and spread across 3–6 meals, depending on how many times you eat per day and how many calories you need to consume to achieve your goal (muscle gain, fat loss, etc.).
So, let's say that you need to consume 150 grams of protein, and you choose to eat 4 meals per day.
Divide 150 grams of protein by 4, and you'll want each meal to contain around 37 grams of protein. Now, you don't have to consume exactly 37 grams of protein each meal; some could have 30, others could have 40, etc. But as long as they're all roughly the same, and you're hitting your total protein intake at the end of the day, you're good to go!
Consuming enough protein is essential to getting the results you desire from your training program.
A good rule of thumb is to consume around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. This provides your body with ample amino acids to support all the various biological processes throughout the day.
If you need help hitting your protein goals for the day, having a premium-quality protein powder, such as Steel Whey™, makes it that much easier and more delicious!
- Appendix 7. Nutritional goals for age-sex groups based on dietary reference intakes and dietary guidelines recommendations - 2015-2020 dietary guidelines | health.gov. (n.d.). Home of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion - health.gov. https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-7/
- Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11:20. Published 2014 May 12. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
- Iraki J, Fitschen P, Espinar S, Helms E. Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(7):154. Published 2019 Jun 26. doi:10.3390/sports7070154
- Antonio J., Peacock C.A., Ellerbroek A., Fromhoff B., Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2014;11:19. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-19.
- Antonio J., Ellerbroek A., Silver T., Orris S., Scheiner M., Gonzalez A., Peacock C.A. A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women—A follow-up investigation. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2015;12:39. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0.