How Much Protein You REALLY Need (& How to Get It)

With popular health fads like the Paleo diet that revolve around protein, it can be confusing to determine how much of the nutrient we really need.  However, it’s important to remember that we do need protein, as it builds and maintains our body tissues; produces antibodies, enzymes and hormones all the while being the primary component of muscles, skin, nails, hair and internal organs; according to nutritionist, chef and author Patty James. So if you’re worried about the amount of protein you’re currently consuming or you’re not sure how to get it, we’ve got you covered!

The importance of protein in your diet


Protein builds and maintains different parts of our bodies—we’re actually made of it!

“Protein is found in every cell of the human body,” says Jennifer Calo, clinical registered dietitian and nutritionist at Compass Nutrition. The nutrient itself is comprised of building blocks called amino acids, and these are what are available in different food combinations.

“Having a decent supply of amino acids on hand is important so that your body can do whatever it needs to,” says nutritionist and dietician Susan Holmberg. Furthermore, if you don’t consume protein, your body will start pulling it out of your muscles and bones to keep your organs working. Overtime, without protein, the result can be fatal.

Controlling your protein intake


While everyone’s protein intake differs, the average American eats more protein than he or she needs, as studies by the American Heart Association show. While this may seem harmless, the American Heart Association also says that overindulging in protein-rich foods raises health risks for conditions like coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer. The reason for this is most often, the foods packed with protein are also packed with fat, the real cause of these health problems. However, overindulging on protein alone puts stress on the kidneys, potentially causing kidney malfunction, Calo says. Other risks include dehydration, due to the immense amount of water needed to break down protein, along with an increased risk of osteoporosis due to the calcium loss that occurs when protein metabolizes, Calo says.

How much is just right?


So how much do you really need? Registered dietitian Adrienne Raimo says too much protein for one person can be the perfect amount for another. While this complicates things, there are plenty of ways to determine how much is right for you!

Generally speaking, “your intake of protein should be approximately 25 percent of your daily caloric intake,” James says. Breaking that down, the average woman needs 50 to 60 grams of protein a day. With this being a very general number, you can use a protein calculator to estimate how much you need based on your individual body weight and your activity level.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the only 100 percent accurate way to know how much protein your body needs is to ask your doctor, as there are plenty of other factors that determine how much protein you need, including age, activity level, health conditions and more.

Good sources of protein


According to Calo, there are a variety of options to get your protein for every time of the day. Broken down by meal, she offers several different yummy options to ensure you are getting enough protein. Additionally, each food has the approximated amount of protein listed, along with the total for the whole meal.

Non-vegetarian and non-vegan foods

Breakfast:

  • Two-egg omelet (12 grams) with ground turkey breast (23 grams) and sautéed veggies (7 grams) = approximately 42 grams of protein
  • One cup plain yogurt (12 grams) mixed with one cup berries (2 grams) and 1/2 cup Fiber One cereal (2 grams) = approximately 16 grams of protein
  • One whole-wheat tortilla (4 grams) with two scrambled eggs (12 grams) and black beans, tomatoes and spinach (3 grams) = approximately 19 grams of protein
  • Egg white frittata (17 grams) with mixed veggies (7 grams) and goat cheese (6 grams)  = approximately 30 grams of protein

Lunch:

  • Large salad with mixed greens (1 gram), 4 ounces grilled chicken (21 grams), 1 tablespoon seeds (8 grams) and 1/4 cup feta cheese with olive oil and vinegar (4 grams) = approximately 34 grams of protein
  • Tuna salad sandwich (16 grams) on two slices wheat bread (6 grams) = approximately 22 grams or protein
  • Turkey burger (25 grams) on whole-wheat bun (6 grams) = approximately 31 grams of protein
  • Whole-wheat pita (4 grams) with 3-4 ounces sliced turkey (23 grams), one slice low-fat cheese (8 grams) and veggies (7 grams) = approximately 42 grams of protein

Dinner:

  • Turkey chili with kidney beans or black beans (33 grams) and shredded cheese (4 grams) = approximately 37 grams of protein
  • Lettuce wraps with shredded chicken and avocado = approximately 29 grams of protein
  • 4-5 ounces baked salmon or tilapia (23 grams) with roasted cauliflower and broccoli (3 grams) and 1/2 cup brown rice (3 grams) = approximately 29 grams of protein
  • Grilled shrimp (23 grams), mixed veggies (7 grams) and one small sweet potato (2 grams) = approximately 32 grams of protein
  • Grilled pork tenderloin (23 grams) with mixed greens salad (1 gram) = approximately 24 grams of protein

Snacks:

  • Hard-boiled egg = approximately 6 grams of protein
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese (23 grams) with fruit (1 gram) = approximately 24 grams of protein
  • 2-3 ounces turkey slices (23 grams) with whole-wheat crackers (3 grams) and one cup of yogurt (12 grams) = approximately 38 grams of protein

Vegetarian and vegan options

Breakfast:

  • Tofu scramble with avocado and salsa = approximately 25 grams of protein
  • One cup steel-cut oats (6 grams) with one tablespoon almond butter (2 grams) and chia seeds (4 grams) = approximately 12 grams of protein
  • Smoothie with almond milk, banana and flaxseed = approximately 24 grams of protein

Lunch:

  • Whole-wheat wrap (4 grams) with black beans (9 grams), quinoa (4 grams), hummus (2 grams) and veggies (3 grams) = approximately 22 grams of protein
  • Lentil soup (11 grams) with whole-wheat roll (4 grams) = approximately 15 grams of protein
  • Vegetarian split pea soup = approximately 14 grams of protein
  • Kale (2 grams) and quinoa (4 grams) salad with walnuts (4 grams) and cranberries = approximately 10 grams of protein

Dinner:

  • Butternut squash (2 grams) with quinoa (4 grams) and black beans (10 grams) = approximately 16 grams of protein
  • Three-bean chili = approximately 26 grams of protein
  • Brown rice (5 grams) with tempeh (10 grams) = approximately 15 grams of protein
  • Black bean burger (11 grams) or veggie burger (11 grams) on sprouted grain bread (4 grams) = approximately 15 grams of protein

Snacks:

  • Handful of almonds or pumpkin seeds = approximately 6 grams of protein
  • Raw veggies (5 grams) with two tablespoons hummus (2 grams) = approximately 7 grams of protein
  • A slice of wheat bread (3 grams) with a tablespoon almond or peanut butter (4 grams) = approximately 7 grams of protein
  • One sliced banana (1 gram) with two tablespoons nut butter (8 grams) = approximately 9 grams of protein
  • Steamed edamame sprinkled with sea salt = approximately 11 grams of protein
  • One cup bean salad = approximately 10 grams of protein

All of these foods are not only rich in protein, but also filled with other vitamins and nutrients that your body needs!


Your body needs protein! However, it’s important to know how much is enough without overdoing it. With these different foods in your diet, you’ll be healthy and happy