How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 11, 2014 · 0 comments

That is the threshold question and the current marketing hype to push protein-fortified foods has muddied the correct message. The Institutes of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). That translates into 68 grams of protein a day for a 150-pound person. Most Americans eat about 66 grams of protein each day. Many experts believe this isn’t enough and they feel the current recommendations should be increased for optimum health.

Here is where the information about daily protein needs gets more complicated. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation. The amount of protein you need daily is based on your weight, age, and state of health.

Newer recommendations for grams of protein needed each day, per kilogram of body weight are:

  • Adults 19 to 50 – 0.9 to 1.2
  • Adults over 50 – 1.0 to 1.5
  • Dieters – 1.0 to 1.8
  • Recreational athletes – 1.2 to 1.4
  • Endurance athletes – 1.2 o 1.7
  • Recovering from infections, fractures, fever or surgery – 2.0
  • Recovering from severe trauma and wound healing – 2.5 to 3.0

To make sense of all these numbers and determine your own daily protein need is easy.

  1. Find the daily protein need from the recommendations above that is right for you.
  2. Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms (divide your weight by 2.2).
  3. Multiply your daily protein recommendation by your weight in kilograms.

For example if you are a 45 year old adult who weighs 185 pounds (84 kilograms): 0.9 (protein recommendation) X 84 kilograms = 76 grams of protein each day. Note, that the amount suggested isn’t much higher than the average current adult intake of 66 grams. Ten ounces of lowfat milk or 1container of Greek yogurt could easily fill the gap.

There are two other facts you should know about protein use by the body. Most Americans eat little or no protein at breakfast, a small amount at lunch and an overabundance at dinner. Current research  shows eating some protein at every meal (about 30 grams) provides for optimal muscle health and the most efficient use of protein by your body. Second, your body recycles close to two-thirds of the protein it needs each day from broken down proteins in the body. This efficient recycling system is the main reason no one needs to eat very large amounts of protein each day.

For more information on protein and the protein values for over 15,000 foods take a look at one of my latest books, The Protein Counter, 3rd ed. (Pocket Books).

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