How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

By Sheri Berger, RDN

Protein needs is a hot topic these days and there is a lot of confusing and conflicting information out there.  My goal is to clear up much of the confusion by discussing the importance of protein and common claims, and how much we need.
Importance of Protein/Common Claims
You might have heard that protein can help to speed up metabolism and burn fat and calories. Technically, this is true, but it may not amount to as much magic as you would like. In studies, scientists have found you may speed up your metabolism by eating more protein, but it may take a year or two for those extra calories to add up to a pound of weight loss. Sure, every bit of weight loss counts, but it might not be as dramatic as you were expecting.
Eating more protein helps you to lose weight. This is true when you are cutting calories too. Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and it does not spike blood sugar levels – both can help you to feel satisfied for a longer period of time. You still need to be aware of total calories and make cutbacks elsewhere.
Eating more protein will help you to build muscle. This is true, but it may not take as much protein as you may think. In a recent study, researchers fed people steak then measured the rate that people synthesized muscle after the meal. Muscle synthesis increased by 50% after people ate the meal, but there was no difference in the synthesis when comparing 4 ounces versus 12 ounces of steak.
How much protein do we need?
 
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) will tell you how much your body requires. You will see that this recommendation may be far off from what you hear from other sources. To calculate the RDA, first you need to know your weight in kilograms. Simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. Then multiply that number by 0.8. For example, the RDA for a person who weighs 150 pounds:
150/2.2 = 68 kilograms
68 x 0.8 = 54 grams of protein per day
If you feel better eating more protein and/or are athletic, you can eat more protein. I would recommend not exceeding more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or approximately 1/3 of your calorie needs. A very simple way to calculate this would be to aim for 1 gram of protein for every pound you weigh. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then your maximum intake of protein can be 150 grams per day.
About the Author:
Sheri Berger is a Registered Dietitian having completed her B.S. in Food/Nutrition & Dietetics and a dietetic internship at Loyola University Chicago. Sheri has a diverse professional background that includes hospital and outpatient clinic support, preventative wellness programs, corporate wellness services, cardiovascular disease management, and working with seniors. Sheri enjoys engaging her clients in pursuit of their personal wellness goals and leading by example with her healthy lifestyle. Sheri has been certified in adult weight management since 2005. She belongs to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, California Dietetics Association, and the San Jose Peninsula District of the CDA. Sheri enjoys spending her free time with her husband and two daughters and she loves to run marathons.

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