How Much Protein Do You Really Need to Eat?

It varies based on things like your age and diet goals.

cooking eggs in a pan

Updated on June 27, 2022.

Protein is the quiet workhorse of your diet. Your body uses it to build bones, muscles, blood cells, nerves, hair, nails, and even components of your immune system.

Since it's a key nutrient, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating the right amount of protein each day. That amount depends on multiple factors, such as your age, sex, health status, and physical activity level.

For example, the average man should eat about 56 grams (g) of protein per day. For women, the recommendation is about 47 g of protein. That number may vary if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

More specifically, the recommended dietary allowance for most people is 0.8 g per kilogram (kg) of body weight. To calculate your protein intake, you’ll have to convert your weight to kg—1 pound is about 0.45 kg—then multiply that number by 0.8 for your starting point.

A 130-pound woman, for example, weighs about 59 kg. That comes out to about 47 g per day of protein. For most people, consuming much more than that is not going to do much for their health.

Protein 101

Where you get your protein matters almost as much as how much you get. There are two basic types of protein sources: animal protein and vegetable protein. To understand these, it helps to look at exactly what makes a protein.

Protein molecules are built with smaller molecules called amino acids. If protein were a house, amino acids are the bricks, concrete, wood, and drywall that make up the structure. Your body can make some, but not all, amino acids on its own. Those that your body can’t manufacture are called essential amino acids. It’s necessary that you get these through your diet.

Animal proteins, including eggs and dairy, generally have all the essential amino acids, which makes them “complete proteins.” Most individual plant-based proteins lack at least one essential amino acid. (Notable veggie exceptions include quinoa and soy, which have them all.) Different veggies deliver different amino acids, so it’s important that vegetarians and vegans mix up and combine their protein sources to get all the amino acids they need.

What protein to eat

Here’s how much protein you’d get per serving from a variety of animal sources, which will give you all the amino acids you need.

  • Ground beef, 4 oz: 22 g of protein
  • Beef tenderloin, 3 oz: 20 g
  • Chicken breast, 3 oz: 26 g
  • Salmon, 5 oz: 28 g
  • Extra-large egg: 7 g
  • Pork chop, 4 oz: 22 g
  • Milk, 2%, 1 cup: 8 g
  • Plain Greek yogurt, 6 oz: 15 g

The following are some high-protein plant-based foods and the amounts of protein you’d get per serving. Just be sure to mix and combine them to get all your essential amino acids.

  • Black beans, 1 cup: 15 g
  • Chickpeas, 1 cup: 15 g
  • Lentils, 1 cup: 18 g
  • Peanut butter, 2 tbsp: 7 g
  • Almonds, 1 oz: 6 g
  • Peas, 1 cup: 8 g
  • Quinoa, 1 cup: 8 g of protein (a complete protein)
  • Edamame, 1 cup: 18 g

Beware of protein from red meat

Even though some protein sources provide the daily recommended amount in one serving or have all nine essential amino acids, it doesn’t always mean they are the best choice for a healthy diet. A diet heavy in red meat and processed meats can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also associated with increased risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Keep your steak, burgers, and bacon as an occasional indulgence and stick to leaner sources of protein instead. Options include skinless chicken, low-fat dairy, nuts, legumes, eggs, and tofu. If you can’t imagine life without red meat, try ground beef that is 90 percent lean.

Be protein smart

Chances are you’re getting enough protein from whole foods in your diet. In some cases, however—such as if you’re pregnant or an athlete or if you have a chronic condition such as COPD—you might need to enhance your intake of high-protein foods. In some cases, you may want to consult with a healthcare provider (HCP) or a registered dietitian about taking a protein supplement.

Just keep in mind that it’s possible to overdo it on protein. Eating too much protein, especially animal protein, could potentially increase your risk of kidney disease. According to the National Kidney Foundation, excess protein creates waste that accumulates in the blood, putting a strain on the kidneys to filter out the extra material.

There’s also some evidence that older people may need more than 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight, since their bodies don’t use it as efficiently as the bodies of younger people. Older people who don’t get enough protein are at greater risk for falls and fractures, and may have more trouble with day-to-day activities. A higher protein diet—with upwards of 1.2 to 2 g per kg of protein per day—may help stave off age-related muscle loss. Research also suggests that older adults will benefit more from getting their protein from plants than animal products. A 2022 study published in BMC Geriatrics found an association between higher intake of animal protein and lower quality of life in adults 60 years and older.

The bottom line: When it comes to how much protein you need each day, there may not be a simple answer. But it can help to focus on healthy sources, supplement if you need to, and keep the red meat splurges to a minimum.

For help tracking your diet, download Sharecare, available for iOS and Android. The app includes a meal tracker that allows you to input the quality of your meals to help you gauge how well you’re sticking to your eating plan over time.

Article sources open article sources

Richter M, Baerlocher K, Bauer JM, Elmadfa I, et al. Revised reference values for the intake of protein. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2019;74(3), 242-250.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. What foods are in the Protein Foods Group? Accessed June 27, 2022.
Hudson JL, Wang Y, Bergia III RE, et al. Protein intake greater than the RDA differentially influences whole-body lean mass responses to purposeful catabolic and anabolic stressors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Advances in Nutrition. 2020;11(3), 548-558.
Cleveland Clinic. HealthEssentials. Do I Need to Worry About Eating ‘Complete’ Proteins? March 12, 2019.
Ba DM, Gao X, Chinchilli VM, Liao, D, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and food insecurity are associated with hypertension; analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 2003–2016. Journal of Hypertension. 2022;40(3), 553-560.
Bergeron N, Chiu S, Williams PT, et al. Effects of red meat, white meat, and nonmeat protein sources on atherogenic lipoprotein measures in the context of low compared with high saturated fat intake: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019;110(1), 24-33.
Farvid MS, Sidahmed E, Spence ND, et al. Consumption of red meat and processed meat and cancer incidence: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European Journal of Epidemiology. 2021;36(9), 937-951.
Nathalie Bergeron, Sally Chiu, Paul T Williams, Sarah M King, Ronald M Krauss, Effects of red meat, white meat, and nonmeat protein sources on atherogenic lipoprotein measures in the context of low compared with high saturated fat intake: a randomized controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 1, July 2019, Pages 24–33.
American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy Nutrition: Healthy Eating While Pregnant. Accessed June 27, 2022.
Khan NA, Kumar N, Daga MK. Effect of Dietary Supplementation on Body Composition, Pulmonary Function and Health-Related Quality of Life in Patients with Stable COPD. Tanaffos. 2016;15(4):225-235.
Ko GJ, Rhee CM, Kalantar-Zadeh K, Joshi S. The Effects of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health and Longevity. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2020;31(8):1667-1679.
Wang Z, Bergeron N, Levison BS, et al. Impact of chronic dietary red meat, white meat, or non-meat protein on trimethylamine N-oxide metabolism and renal excretion in healthy men and women. European Heart Journal. 2019;40(7), 583-594.
Coelho-Júnior HJ, Rodrigues B, Uchida M, Marzetti E. Low Protein Intake Is Associated with Frailty in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients. 2018; 10(9):1334.
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