I’m reluctant to write articles like how to get enough protein. Or how to drink alcohol and still be healthy, because they often get mistaken for rules you have to adhere to, instead of tools that you can use.
You may not need, or want to consume the recommended amount of protein in this or other articles you read and that is ok.
The point is to start with where you’re at and go from there. Put what you learn within the context of your life.
- Maybe that means you add 20 more grams per day for now
- Or start including a shake each day
- Maybe you just try to include a serving with most meals and forget about the numbers.
Use articles like this as targets, and with a target, it’s easier to aim and adjust.
Table of Contents
How much protein do you need per day?
Good trainers, nutritionists, and coaches know that when someone asks questions like; how much do I need? Or what is the best X? The correct answer is, “it depends.”
This is not to be annoying. It’s, to be honest, and helpful. Context always matters and how much protein you need per day will vary from person to person.
Your ideal intake may depend on things like:
- your goals
- current health
- body composition
- activity levels
- type of training
- intensity of training
- duration of training
- frequency of training
Even with all of this info what you get is an educated estimate and a place to start. Through personal preference and self-experimentation, things may need to adjust.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, this does not take into account weight training, maximum muscle growth, or muscle support.
When we dive a little more into the research we discover different amounts for different lifestyles and goals may be effective. It is suggested that an individual at a healthy weight include the following amount of protein in their diet.
- Sedentary: 1.2-1.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
- Active: 1.4-2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
- Muscle gain: grams per kilogram of bodyweight
If you are overweight with fat loss as a goal:
- 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
If you are pregnant/lactating and sedentary
- Pregnant >1.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
- lactating >1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
What happens when you start eating more protein?
You may experience the following:
- Healthier hair and skin
- Weight loss (due to increased satiation per meal and over 24 hours)
- Muscle retention
- Muscle recovery increases
- Adaptations to training increase
You may also experience:
- Stomach discomfort
These things are usually only temporary as your body adjusts to a higher intake.
How do you get enough each day (practical approaches)
It’s easy to drown yourself in the slew of information on how much protein you should eat. For most people, including a serving with most meals and making subtle adjustments to what they already do can be helpful.
Idea #1: Include a serving of protein with most meals (2-4 meals/day)
A serving for most people is around 20-30 grams per meal.
- 1 palm-sized serving of cooked animal protein
- 3 to 4 ounces, or 85 to 115 grams of cooked animal protein
- 1 scoop of most protein powders
- 225 grams of plain greek yogurt or cottage cheese
- 3 whole eggs
Idea #2: Learn what foods have more protein per serving
The easiest way to do this is by creating more nutritional awareness. Start reading labels and looking at the protein per serving for some of the foods you eat. Or begin looking up nutrition info online with sites like nutritionix or calorieking.
You’ll start to learn a ton about what and how much you’re eating. For example, chicken, almonds, and broccoli all have protein in them. But the amounts per serving differ greatly.
- Chicken (100 grams): 110 calories and 23 grams
- Almonds (100 grams): 577 calories and 21 grams
- Broccoli (100 grams): 34 calories and 3 grams
Idea #3: Use protein as snacks
Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, shakes and bars, deli meats, and beef jerky all make for easy options.
Hat tip to Mac-Nutrition Uni for the wonderful resources they provided in their nutritionist certification course.
Idea #4: Make simple swaps
After learning more about what foods are high, moderate, and low in protein you can start to make some subtle adjustments to include more in your diet.
If you’re a plant-based eater this could be as simple as swapping beans with tofu as your main source.
- Black beans (100 grams cooked): 132 calories and 9 grams of protein
- Tofu (100 grams raw): 145 calories and 16 grams of protein
If you enjoy animal protein this could be choosing leaner cuts of meat so that you can increase the serving size without adding a significant amount of calories.
- 85/15 ground beef (100g): 215 calories and 19 grams
- 93/7 ground beef (100g): 150 calories and 21 grams
- 93/7 ground beef (150g): 225 calories and 31 grams
Idea #5: Start your day with a wallop of it
This could be basic like a scoop of protein powder in water. Or a high protein meal like like greek yogurt, vanilla protein, almond butter, and berries mixed together.
- Greek yogurt (170 grams): 120 calories and 17 grams
- Vanilla protein (1 scoop): 120 calories and 20 grams
- Almond butter (30 grams): 190 calories and 5 grams
- Blueberries (200 grams): 115 calories and 2 grams
- Total protein: 44 grams
Adding a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal is another easy way to add more to your day. Or include some cottage cheese with your toast with a fried egg on top.
What food is highest in protein?
The foods highest in protein will most often be animal proteins:
- Some dairy (greek yogurt, cottage cheese, protein powders)
For plant-based eaters, the following are high protein options.
- Pea protein powder
This is where creating more nutritional awareness by reading labels and looking up nutrition info online can be helpful. You get a chance to learn about combo foods (foods with protein and carbs or protein and fat.)
Protein & Carb Foods
Protein & Fat Foods
What happens when your body is low in protein?
In 5 little-known facts about protein, Examine.com has this to say.
Your DNA holds the blueprints to more than 25,000 protein-based compounds involved in countless essential functions. If you don’t eat protein, you die. If you don’t eat enough protein (or rather, enough of all the EAAs), you might survive but suffer from lethargy, weakness, muscle wasting, impaired healing, accelerated aging, bone loss, hair loss, heart problems, hormone imbalances, mood disorders, a weakened immune system, and so on and so forth. (resource)
In a sense, what this is saying is your body doesn’t need protein. It needs enough of the essential amino acids (EAA) which protein provides. If you don’t consume enough you’ll probably survive but may suffer from the following:
- impaired immune function and wound healing
- bone loss
- hair loss
- heart problems
- accelerated aging
- hormone imbalances
- mood disorders
- lose of muscle
- and a number of other things.
Myths about protein consumption
High protein diets have come under fire for contributing to various health issues. Most notably kidney damage. But when you dive into the research does it really?
The answer is no.
Will too much damage my kidneys?
This is a myth. In healthy individuals, normal protein intake should not lead to any health risks. Even as much as 2.8g/kg of protein does not seem to lead to kidney problems or renal function.
According to Skov et all. (1999) “Moderate changes in dietary protein intake cause adaptive alterations in renal size and function without indications of adverse effects”
In another study by Poortmans & Dellalieux (2000) ”..It appears that protein intake under 2.8g.kg does not impair renal function in well-trained athletes”
And yet another from Antonio et al. (2016) “..In resistance-trained men that consumed a high protein diet (~2.51–3.32 g/kg/d) for one year, there were no harmful effects on measures of blood lipids as well as liver and kidney function”
With that said, there are populations that may need to consume a lower protein intake. If you do have concerns regarding kidney or renal health you should consult your doctor before making any dietary changes.
Can I only digest or absorb 20 to 30 grams per meal?
For the majority of people, more than 20-30 grams of protein will not be necessary. If you do require more than this, or simply enjoy a meal with more, know that ALL protein is digested and absorbed.
The difference is that when larger portions of protein are consumed protein oxidation increases.
How can I get 100 grams of protein per day?
When it comes to nutrition I’m a fan of two things:
- Keeping things simple
- Front-load the work so I never have to do it again
To do this, first, get familiar with high-protein foods. Then sit down and plan 3 to 5 simple meals that help you hit your protein goals for each meal.
For example, if 100 grams of protein per day is your goal, and you like to eat 3 meals per day. You know that is roughly 30-35 grams per meal.
If you are tracking your macronutrients you could plan a few days in Myfitnesspal, Cronometer, Lifesum, or whatever app you prefer using. If you are using hand portions you could plan a few days and list the hand servings next to each protein ingredient.
Example of 100+ grams of protein in a day:
- Breakfast: 225 grams of greek yogurt + 1 scoop of protein powder = 45 grams
- Lunch: 150 grams of chicken breast = 35 grams
- Dinner: 150 grams of beef = 35 grams
- Snack: 1 string cheese = 7 grams
- Total: 120 grams of protein
What vegetables are high in protein?
Most vegetables will have some amount of protein in them but not much. For example, broccoli has roughly 9g of Protein per 100 calories.
You would have to eat 770 grams of it to get 20g of protein (2.6 grams of protein per / 100 grams). Best of luck to you and everyone around you. 💨 💨 💨
Amount of protein in 100 grams of common vegetables:
- Lima beans: 6.8 grams
- Soybean sprouts: 13.1 gams
- Green peas: 5.4 grams
- Spinach: 3 grams
- Asparagus: 2.4 grams
- Brussel sprouts: 2.6 grams
The real issue is that most of them are not complete proteins because they lack the necessary amino acids.
What fruits have the most protein?
Most fruits will be extremely low in protein per 100 grams
- Guava: 2.5 grams
- Avocado: 2 grams
- Jackfruit: 1.5 grams
- Apricot: 1.5 gams
- Kiwi: 1.2 grams
- Apple: 0.3 grams
Again, the real issue is that most of them are not complete proteins.
How can vegetarians get protein?
You DO NOT need to eat animal protein to be healthy. If you choose to consume plant-based proteins you may be just fine. Below are a few high and moderate protein options that vegetarians and plant-based eaters can eat.
- split peas
- Pea protein powder
- Vegan protein powder
- cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- plant-based powders
- whey (dairy)
- Veggie burgers
- black bean burgers
If you need some plant-based recipe inspiration. Pick Up Limes has a great video for you.
How to use this article. A 2-minute practical approach
- Precision Nutrition
- Mac-Nutrition Uni
- Phillips & Van Loon (2011)
- Philips et al. (2016)
- Blom et al. (2006)
- Lejeune et al. (2006)
- Raben et al. (2003)
- Metler et al. (2010)