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As with most things in nutrition, there’s no simple answer. Your individual needs will depend on your goals, health, body composition, and level of physical activity (type, intensity, and duration). And even taking all this into account, you’ll end up with a starting number, which you’ll need to adjust through self-experimentation.

Daily requirements are expressed in grams of protein, either per kilogram of body weight (g/kg) or per pound of body weight (g/lb). In this article, we’ll only mention daily requirements for adults.

  • If you’re of healthy weight and sedentary, aim for 1.2–1.8 g/kg (0.54–0.82 g/lb).

  • If you’re overweight or obese, aim for 1.2–1.5 g/kg (0.54–0.68 g/lb).

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to keep your weight, aim for 1.4–2.2 g/kg (0.64–1.00 g/lb). Try for the higher end of this range, as tolerated, especially if you’re an athlete.

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to build muscle, aim for 1.4–3.3 g/kg (0.64–1.50 g/lb). Eating more than 2.6 g/kg (1.18 g/lb) is probably not going to lead to greater muscle gains, but it can minimize fat gains when “bulking” — i.e., when eating above maintenance in order to gain (muscle) weight.

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to lose fat, aim for 2.2–3.3 g/kg (1.00-1.50 g/lb), skewing toward the higher end of this range as you become leaner or if you increase your caloric deficit (hypocaloric diet).

  • If you’re pregnant, aim for 1.66–1.77 g/kg (0.75–0.80 g/lb)

Also, don’t forget that …

  • Protein intake should be based on body weight, not on caloric intake. (But caloric intake should be based on body weight, too, so the two intakes are linked.)

  • If you are obese, you do not need to try to figure out your ideal body weight or your lean mass (i.e., fat-free mass). Most studies on people with obesity report their findings based on total body weight.

  • Most studies have looked at dosages up to 1.5 g/kg; only a few have looked at dosages as high as 2.2–3.3 g/kg. However, even those higher dosages don’t seem to have negative effects in healthy people.

How much protein you need depends on several factors, such as your weight, your goal (weight maintenance, muscle gain, or fat loss), your being physically active or not, and even whether you’re pregnant or not.

Optimal daily protein intake for healthy, sedentary adults

The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg. This is considered to be the minimal amount of protein a healthy adult must consume daily to prevent muscle wasting when total caloric intake is sufficient. According to recent studies, however, the RDA for protein may not be sufficient for healthy young men,[1] older men,[2] or older women.[3][4] These studies point to 1.2 g/kg as the minimum intake before the body starts down regulating important non-essential processes, from immune function to muscle protein synthesis.[5] Even a reanalysis of the data used to establish the RDA suggests the minimum intake should be at least 1.0 g/kg.[6]

A randomized controlled trial that confined healthy, sedentary adults to a metabolic ward for eight weeks provides the final nail in the coffin for the RDA.[7] The participants were randomized into three groups:

Each diet was equally hypercaloric: each participant consumed 40% more calories than they needed to maintain their weight. Yet, as shown in the figure below, eating near the RDA for protein resulted in loss of lean mass, and while this loss is so small as to be non significant, the higher protein intakes were associated with increases in lean mass.

Another takeaway from this study is that eating more than 1.8 g/kg doesn’t seem to benefit body composition, which makes it a good upper end for your daily protein intake, provided that you aren’t physically active or trying to lose weight.

The RDA for protein (0.8 g/kg) underestimates the needs of a healthy, sedentary adult, who should rather aim for 1.2–1.8 g/kg (0.54–0.82 g/lb).

Optimal daily protein intake for athletes and similarly active adults

If you’re physically very active, you need more protein daily than if you were sedentary. The American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Dietitians of Canada recommend 1.2–2.0 g/kg to optimize recovery from training and to promote the growth and maintenance of lean mass when caloric intake is sufficient.[8] This recommendation is similar to that of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (1.4–2.0 g/kg).[9]

Importantly, it may be better to aim for the higher end of the above ranges. According to the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date on the effects of protein supplementation on muscle mass and strength, the average amount of protein required to maximize lean mass is about 1.6 g/kg, and some people need upwards of 2.2 g/kg.[10] For those interested in a comprehensive breakdown of this study, please refer to our Research Digest, Issue 34, Volume 1.

However, only 4 of the 49 included studies were conducted in people with resistance training experience (the other 45 were in newbies). There’s some evidence that female athletes require 1.4–1.7 g/kg,[11] and that amateur bodybuilders require 1.7–2.2 g/kg on their non-training days.[12] Since higher protein intakes don’t seem to have negative effects in healthy people, one may want to err toward the higher amounts.

The daily protein requirement of healthy, sedentary adults is only 1.2–1.8 g/kg (0.54–0.73 g/lb), but regularly active adults and athletes need more. You can optimize body composition, performance, and recovery by consuming 1.4–2.2 g/kg (0.64–1.00 g/lb) — preferably toward the end of this range.

Optimal daily protein intake for muscle gain

Resistance training (such as lifting weights) is of course required for muscle gain: you can’t just feed your muscles what they need to grow; you also need to give them a reason to grow.

Assuming progressive resistance overload and a mild hypercaloric diet (370–800 kcal above maintenance), a few studies suggest you’ll gain less fat if you eat more protein (3.3 g/kg rather than 1.8–2.6 g/kg).[13][14]

What’s important to understand is that a daily protein intake of 3.3 g/kg isn’t likely to help you build more muscle than a daily protein intake of 1.8–2.6 g/kg. What the higher number can do is help you minimize the fat gains you’ll most likely experience if you eat above maintenance in order to gain (muscle) weight.

Athletes and active adults can minimize fat gain when overfeeding by increasing protein intake to upward of 3.3 g/kg (1.5 g/lb).

Optimal daily protein intake for fat loss

More protein helps preserve lean mass in dieters, especially lean dieters. An early review concluded that, to optimize body composition, dieting athletes should consume 1.8–2.7 g/kg.[15] Later studies have argued that, to minimize lean-mass loss, dieting athletes should consume 2.3–3.1 g/kg (closer to the higher end of the range as leanness and caloric deficit increase).[16] This latter recommendation has been upheld by the International Society of Sports Nutrition[17] and by a review article on bodybuilding contest preparation.[18]

Note that those recommendations are for people who are relatively lean already. Several meta-analyses involving people with overweightness or obesity suggest that 1.2–1.5 g/kg is an appropriate daily protein intake range to maximize fat loss.[19][20][21] This range is supported by the European Association for the Study of Obesity, who recommend up to 1.5 g/kg for elderly adults with obesity.[22] It’s important to realize that this range is based on actual body weight, not on lean mass or ideal body weight.

Considering the health risks associated with overweightness and obesity,[23][24] it is also noteworthy that eating a diet higher in protein (27% vs. 18% of calories) significantly reduces several cardiometabolic risk factors, including waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides, and fasting insulin, while also increasing HDL-C and satiety.[25] These effects are small, however, and likely dependent on the amount of body fat one loses.

When dieting for fat loss, athletes and other active adults who are already lean may maximize fat loss and muscle retention by increasing protein intake to 2.3–3.1 g/kg (1.00–1.41 g/lb). People who are overweight or obese are best served by consuming 1.2–1.5 g/kg (0.54–0.68 g/lb).

Optimal daily protein intake for pregnant women

The protein RDA for pregnant women is 1.1 g/kg.[26] This value was estimated by adding three values:

  • The RDA for a healthy adult (0.8 g/kg)

  • The amount of additional body protein a pregnant woman accumulates

  • The amount of protein used by the developing fetus

However, as we saw previously with non-pregnant healthy adults, the RDA may not be sufficient, let alone optimal. There’s some evidence that the RDA for pregnant women should be about 1.66 g/kg during early gestation (weeks 11–20) and 1.77 g/kg during late gestation (weeks 32–38).[27][28] Moreover, a meta-analysis of 16 intervention studies reported that protein supplementation during pregnancy led to reduced risks for the baby:[29]

  • 34% lower risk of low gestational weight

  • 32% lower risk of low birth weight

  • 38% lower risk of stillbirth

Importantly, these values were determined from sedentary women, meaning that pregnant women who engage in regular physical activity may need even higher amounts.

Pregnant women may require a daily protein intake of 1.7 g/kg (0.77 g/lb) to support both the fetus and themselves. Protein supplementation during pregnancy appears to lower some risks for the baby — including the risk of stillbirth.

How much protein do I need per meal?

It gets desensitized to the anabolic signaling of protein when intake is too frequent. More realistically, our young 175-pound athlete will simply consume more than 19 g of protein

People over fifty, being less sensitive to the anabolic effects of protein,[30] need to consume higher doses to achieve maximal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis:[31]

These values are derived from studies using whey protein, which is especially bioavailable and rich in essential amino acids (EAAs). If your protein of choice isn’t as bioavailable or as rich in EAAs — especially leucine — you’ll need a higher dose.

Your dose should be even higher if consumed through a meal, in order to suppress body-protein breakdown.[32] While 70 g (of protein consumed in one meal) may not increase protein synthesis more than 40 g does, it can further reduce body-protein breakdown, resulting in greater net protein balance.[33]

The problem with this study is that it looked at whole-body-protein balance. Muscle tissue accounts for only 25–30% of whole-body-protein turnover,[34] meaning that eating more protein may not necessarily translate to greater muscle-protein turnover and growth. Still, these studies show that the additional protein is not “wasted” (a common myth).

From a pragmatic perspective, it seems prudent to treat 0.24 g/kg (adults in their twenties) and 0.4 g/kg (adults over fifty) as minimum doses per meal, to be exceeded as necessary. This fits the conclusion from a recent review article on the maximal amount of protein that can be used from a single meal.[35] The authors suggest that, to maximize lean body mass, active adults should consume 1.6–2.2 g/kg per day, spread across four meals (0.40–0.55 g/kg per meal).

According to this table, a young 175-pound athlete needs to consume only 19 g per meal. But, as shown in the “Daily protein intake for athletes and other active adults” table, he could benefit from as much as 175 g per day — which translates as nine meals per day! Constantly sipping on a protein shake is an option, but maybe not an optimal one, since the body

per meal.

For maximal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, the per-meal dose of quality protein (such as can be found in meat, eggs, and dairy) is at least 0.24 g/kg for adults in their twenties and 0.40 g/kg for adults over fifty. Higher doses will not be wasted and are probably necessary when eating mixed meals that contain a variety of protein sources.

  1. Humayun MA, et al. Reevaluation of the protein requirement in young men with the indicator amino acid oxidation technique . Am J Clin Nutr. (2007)

  2. Tang M, et al. Assessment of protein requirement in octogenarian women with use of the indicator amino acid oxidation technique . Am J Clin Nutr. (2014)

  3. Young VR, Marchini JS. Mechanisms and nutritional significance of metabolic responses to altered intakes of protein and amino acids, with reference to nutritional adaptation in humans . Am J Clin Nutr. (1990)

  4. Elango R, et al. Evidence that protein requirements have been significantly underestimated . Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. (2010)

  5. Bray GA, et al. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial . JAMA. (2012)

  6. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance . Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2016)

  7. Jäger R, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise . J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2017)

  8. Morton RW, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults . Br J Sports Med. (2018)

  9. Wooding DJ, et al. Increased Protein Requirements in Female Athletes after Variable-Intensity Exercise . Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2017)

  10. Bandegan A, et al. Indicator Amino Acid-Derived Estimate of Dietary Protein Requirement for Male Bodybuilders on a Nontraining Day Is Several-Fold Greater than the Current Recommended Dietary Allowance . J Nutr. (2017)

  11. Leaf A, Antonio J. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition - A Narrative Review . Int J Exerc Sci. (2017)

  12. Antonio J, et al. A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women--a follow-up investigation . J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2015)

  13. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation . J Sports Sci. (2011)

  14. Helms ER, et al. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes . Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2014)

  15. Aragon AA, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition . J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2017)

  16. Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation . J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2014)

  17. Krieger JW, et al. Effects of variation in protein and carbohydrate intake on body mass and composition during energy restriction: a meta-regression 1 . Am J Clin Nutr. (2006)

  18. Wycherley TP, et al. Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials . Am J Clin Nutr. (2012)

  19. Kim JE, et al. Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis . Nutr Rev. (2016)

  20. Mathus-Vliegen EM, Obesity Management Task Force of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. Prevalence, pathophysiology, health consequences and treatment options of obesity in the elderly: a guideline . Obes Facts. (2012)

  21. Jensen MD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society . J Am Coll Cardiol. (2014)

  22. Blüher M. Adipose tissue inflammation: a cause or consequence of obesity-related insulin resistance? . Clin Sci (Lond). (2016)

  23. Santesso N, et al. Effects of higher- versus lower-protein diets on health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis . Eur J Clin Nutr. (2012)

  24. Institute of Medicine. 10 Protein and Amino Acids . Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. (2005)

  25. Stephens TV, et al. Protein requirements of healthy pregnant women during early and late gestation are higher than current recommendations . J Nutr. (2015)

  26. Elango R, Ball RO. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy . Adv Nutr. (2016)

  27. Imdad A, Bhutta ZA. Maternal nutrition and birth outcomes: effect of balanced protein-energy supplementation . Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. (2012)

  28. Burd NA, Gorissen SH, van Loon LJ. Anabolic resistance of muscle protein synthesis with aging . Exerc Sport Sci Rev. (2013)

  29. Moore DR, et al. Protein ingestion to stimulate myofibrillar protein synthesis requires greater relative protein intakes in healthy older versus younger men . J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. (2015)

  30. Deutz NE, Wolfe RR. Is there a maximal anabolic response to protein intake with a meal? . Clin Nutr. (2013)

  31. Kim IY, et al. The anabolic response to a meal containing different amounts of protein is not limited by the maximal stimulation of protein synthesis in healthy young adults . Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2016)

  32. Nair KS, Halliday D, Griggs RC. Leucine incorporation into mixed skeletal muscle protein in humans . Am J Physiol. (1988)

  33. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution . Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. (2018)

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