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How to Get the Protein You Need

How to Get the Protein You Need

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Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies; and are constantly being broken down and replaced. Protein accounts for 20 percent of our body weight, performing a wide variety of functions throughout the body as vital components of body tissues, enzymes, and immune cells. Protein is made up of amino acids that are later used for tissue repair and maintenance in the body. There are 20 different amino acids that join together to make the different proteins; some are made in the body, others are not. The amino acids that cannot be made by the body are called essential amino acids; it is essential that our diet provide these.

Dietary protein sources are evaluated according to how many essential amino acids they provide. Complete proteins are those that provide all of the essential amino acids. Animal-based foods, for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese, are considered complete protein sources. Incomplete proteins on the other hand, are those that are low in one or more of the essential amino acids, i.e rice, beans, legumes, etc. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids; an example includes tofu and brown rice or rice and beans.

Although some protein is needed for muscle growth, most people overemphasize protein needs and forget about vegetables! The average American eats about three times the amount of protein he or she actually needs. Think about the size of your palm or a deck of cards as a general rule for animal protein serving sizes, and a bit more for plant protein. Your plate should be balanced with three times as many vegetables to protein, to deliver adequate vitamins, minerals, and other plant nutrients.

Next time you are at the grocery store start by noting the variety of foods, or lack thereof, in your cart. Eating a variety of foods provides a greater opportunity to take in nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals which your body needs to stay healthy.

How much do you need? In general, it's recommended that 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories come from protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) vary by different age groups. Generally women aged 14 and over require at least 46 grams and men 14 and over require at least 52 grams a day. A great rule of thumb to follow is to aim for 20 grams of protein per meal.

Shop Carefully: Look for protein-rich lean meats, poultry, and fish, as well as dairy products (cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein), legumes, tofu, nuts, and nut-butter. Beans and vegetables are also good sources of protein.

• A 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein
• 1 cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein (but needs to be paired with rice, nuts, etc. to be considered "complete")
• An 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein

Focus on variety and your protein needs will surely be satisfied.

— Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru

6 Sneaky Ways to Get More Protein Without Meat

This post was written by Chris Freytag, fitness trainer, health coach, and author. The opinions expressed herein are hers and hers alone. To learn more about Chris, check out her websiteand follow her on Facebook or Twitter. There are plenty of misconceptions about vegetarians and vegans &mdash and I should know. My family consists of one vegan, three carnivores, and me, a &ldquoflexitarian&rdquo who&rsquos mostly vegetarian but occasionally eats chicken or fish. Because we don&rsquot always eat meat, my family has been the subject of many of the misunderstandings about vegetarians &mdash especially the idea that it&rsquos impossible to get enough protein while eating a meatless diet. People have even mentioned to me that vegetarians can&rsquot build muscle like meat eaters because they are protein-deficient. In truth, vegetarians can certainly get enough protein (and muscle!) in their diets, especially with a little planning. Meat-abstainers and carnivores alike can sneak more protein into meals by following these easy six strategies throughout the day. Also be sure to check out my recipes for Spicy Black Bean Burgers and Hummus, below!

Six Ways to Incorporate More Protein Into Your Day

  • Diversify protein sources. Meat is certainly not the only protein source out there. There&rsquos protein to be found in nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes &mdash and even produce! Legumes (such as peas and lentils) and beans offer a flavorful, inexpensive, and protein-rich alternative to meat. If you eat dairy, there&rsquos a lot of protein in eggs, yogurt, and low-fat milks and cheeses. One of my favorite treats is six ounces of Greek yogurt with two tablespoons raw almonds &mdash for a total of more than 20 grams of protein! Perhaps surprisingly, veggies and fruits can also be a source of protein: For example, one cup of cooked spinach has 4.7 grams!
  • Incorporate protein into side dishes. When people think protein, they often think of main dishes such as eggs, meat, or fish. But it&rsquos possible to get a big percentage of your daily protein needs from side dishes by using beans, legumes, and grains (and even greens, as mentioned above!). In my family, we whip up a batch or two of hummus every week and regularly make black bean burgers (check out the recipes below!). Also popular at my house is quinoa, a gluten free grain loaded with fiber and about six grams of protein per serving. Use it to accompany stir fries and add it to salads for an extra dose of protein. With a little planning, it&rsquos easy to incorporate protein into all parts of a meal.
  • Use substitutes in meat-based dishes. In moderation, soy products can serve as healthy alternatives to meat. I recommend that people avoid Genetically Modified varieties (check the labeling to figure out if a product is GMO free), though the verdict is still out on whether they pose a human health risk. Genetically modified soy consumption has been shown to have negative health effects in animal-based studies, but traditionally fermented soy products like tofu and tempeh are generally considered healthy for humans in reasonable quantities. Two of my favorite options are tempeh and seitan. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and mixed with grains like rice or barley thanks to the grains, it has a nutty flavor and firm texture. Seitan is made from wheat protein. It&rsquos chewy and dense and often used in dishes as mock meat. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan should all be available at most grocery stores.
  • Make some protein shakes. Shakes are another good protein option, especially post-workout: Studies suggest that eating protein within 30 minutes to two hours after a workout helps repair muscles and even prevent muscle soreness. My personal favorite is whey protein (a dairy product and one of the most common protein powders available), which an effective protein source for muscle recovery. Just add whey protein to any smoothie recipe and enjoy it as a meal replacement or snack. Don&rsquot eat dairy? No problem. There are many dairy-free protein powders made from hemp, brown rice, and pea protein.
  • Don&rsquot overdo it on the carbs. Too often, when people give up meat they end up eating more carbohydrates and not-so-healthy snacks in order to feel full. But a diet high in simple carbohydrates (such as white bread or pasta) can cause spikes and drops in blood sugar, which leads to hunger and cravings. Don&rsquot rely solely on simple carbs to fill you up. Instead, choose high-fiber carbohydrates (such as whole grains, vegetables, berries, and nuts) and be sure to pair them with at least some protein at each snack or meal.
  • Get sneaky. Look for recipes that can include kidney beans, chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, nuts, and/or low-fat dairy products &mdash either as substitutions or as add-ins, even if they&rsquore not used in the original recipe &mdash and incorporate these ingredients whenever possible. Some other sneaky tips? Snack on foods like trail mix and sunflower seeds. Add nuts and seeds to salads, stir fries, and other dishes. One my favorite tricks is to add protein powder to morning oatmeal.

If you&rsquore thinking about switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet (or you simply want to eat less meat), know that you can do so without needing to worry about whether you&rsquore getting enough protein. With some simple meal planning, it&rsquos easy to get all the protein you need.

Recipe: Hummus

This is one of my family&rsquos favorite go-to snacks. Pair it with chopped veggies for a healthy appetizer or mid-day snack. What You&rsquoll Need:

1 15oz can Garbanzo beans, drained ½ cup Tahini 4 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoons minced garlic ½ teaspoon sea salt ½ teaspoon cumin 2 lemons, juiced Paprika (for garnish) Sliced veggies of your choice (peppers, carrots, celery, and cucumber are all great options!) What To Do:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Feel free to play with the amounts of garlic, salt, and cumin based on your taste buds.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Scoop the mixture into a serving bowl and garnish with a sprinkle of paprika.
  4. Serve with veggies of your choice, and/or whole-wheat pita chips!

Recipe: Meatless Spicy Black Bean Burgers

Looking for a meatless, protein-rich food to add to your repertoire? Try out the recipe for my Spicy Black Bean Burgers! Also try my family&rsquos favorite hummus recipe, below. And feel free to check out my other recipes here. Serves 4 What You&rsquoll Need:

1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed ½ cup whole-wheat breadcrumbs 1 large egg white 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 cup diced red onion ½ cup fresh cilantro 1 teaspoon chili powder ½ teaspoon cumin 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper ½ cup shredded pepper-jack cheese (optional)

For Serving (optional!): 4 whole wheat-buns, toasted Lettuce 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced What to Do:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the black beans, breadcrumbs, egg white, garlic, red onion, cilantro, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pulse until mixture is well combined and beans are finely chopped (but not entirely smooth).
  2. If using, fold the pepper-jack cheese into the blended bean mixture.
  3. Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat.
  4. Form the bean and cheese mixture into four equal patties.
  5. Place in the hot pan, cooking for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until heated through.
  6. Serve alone, on a bed of lettuce, or on toasted buns and top with sliced avocado and any other veggies or condiments you like!

What are your favorite tips and tricks for getting enough protein without eating meat? Share in the comments below!

A plant-based diet: How to get all the protein you need

If you’re thinking of pursuing a vegan lifestyle or simply want to cut back on the amount of animal products you consume, you might be concerned about where you’re going to get your protein. But there’s no need to worry! You can get more than enough of all the nutrients you require from these superb sources of plant-based protein.

If you’ve heard that human beings require animal products to get enough protein, you aren’t alone. That rumour has been circulating for quite some time now. Brenda Davis, a registered dietician and nutritionist as well as the co-author of seven books on the subject of healthy eating, explains that the notion that we need animal products to get the “high-quality” protein we require is completely untrue. There is a “myth that meat contains high-quality protein and plants contain low-quality protein,” and that we require animal products for optimal health, explains Davis. But the truth is that the essential amino acids in protein that we’re after are actually made by plants. We can’t make them, and neither can the animals we eat. Nor do animals transform those amino acids into something different or better, asserts Davis.

Getting all the essential amino acids

“There are quite a few plant foods that have very good amounts of amino acids,” she explains, and it’s simply a matter of ensuring you consume a variety of plant-based proteins so you get all the amino acids you require. When amino acids are consumed, they are stored in “pools,” says Davis. So if you don’t consume a certain amino acid at one meal, your body can pull on its amino acid stores from earlier as a way to have everything it requires. You don’t have to consume every amino acid at every meal. So long as you consume protein from a variety of sources, your body will have everything it needs.

Now for the big question: What are the sources of plant-based protein?

These seed crackers are an excellent source of plant-based protein >>


Legumes are the most concentrated sources of protein, explains Davis. Think beans, lentils and peas, as well as the products made from them, such as tofu and tempeh. Soya beans, which are used to make many meat-alternative products like tofu and tempeh, contain the highest quality of protein as well as all the amino acids.

Examples of legumes include kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, red lentils, black-eyed peas and edamame.

Nuts and seeds

Davis points out that seeds are significantly more concentrated in terms of protein than are nuts. For example, in pumpkin seeds, 17 per cent of the calories are from protein, whereas almonds offer 13 per cent. Many seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are also “high in zinc, iron and a lot of other nutrients that can be a little bit of a challenge on a plant-based diet,” she explains.

Examples of nuts and seeds include almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

Non-starchy vegetables

You’ve likely heard of the many benefits of leafy greens, but did you know they are excellent sources of protein? Leafy greens can offer upward of 40 per cent of their calories as protein, explains Davis. Although the fact that non-starchy vegetables are low in calories means it’s hard to get enough protein from them alone without consuming large quantities, they still contribute to your overall intake.

Examples of non-starchy vegetables that are good sources of protein include spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, kale and asparagus.


“Grains are the largest source of protein in the world,” explains Davis, and their percentage of calories from protein can range from 8 to 18 per cent. Eating protein-rich grains in their intact form as much as possible can greatly contribute to your protein requirements.

Examples of protein-rich grains include quinoa, amaranth, teff, wild rice and bulgur.

Get your leafy greens with this fresh and fruity kale salad recipe >>

Where to be careful

There is no reason for someone who doesn’t consume animal products to not get enough protein, but it can happen. The two main reasons for that are consumption of too few calories and consumption of too many low- or no-protein foods. Oils, sugars and fruits are either void of or very low in protein, so a diet high in these foods or one that simply doesn’t contain enough calories can lead to not having enough protein. But if you eat from a variety of protein sources throughout the day, you should be just fine, explains Davis.

How to get it all

As explained above, you don’t have to consume every protein source at every meal of every day. But if you attempt to survive on pasta and bagels, you won’t likely fare well on a vegan diet. A good way to begin is by incorporating legumes, which Davis refers to as “our most precious source of plant-based protein and a source of many other nutrients vegans can be lacking.” She explains that people all over the world who don’t have access to meat have found ways to make legumes taste fantastic. Grains can be used as a scrumptious side or base for all kinds of dishes, and nuts and seeds make excellent snacks and flavourful toppings. When it comes to getting extra greens, blending them into soups and smoothies makes for tasty and time-efficient meals. All sorts of cookbooks and online recipes can be found, just waiting to show you all the ways in which you can make plant-based protein taste great. So enjoy your beans and greens!

What vegetarian foods are high in protein?

Here are some vegetarian sources of protein. I&rsquove included a few non-vegetarian items in the table too (in italics and brackets), purely for comparison.

Food itemProtein per 100g
Half-fat cheddar cheese32.7g
(Grilled chicken breast)(32g)
(Grilled lamb chop)(29.2)
Cheddar cheese25.4g
(Canned tuna)(23.5g)
Wholemeal wheat flour12.6g
Cottage cheese12.6g
Bread (brown or white)7.9g
Red lentils7.6g
Kidney beans6.9g
Full fat yogurt5.7g
Semi-skimmed milk3.4g
Data from British Nutrition Foundation

As you can see, the meat-based items are generally higher up the table than the vegetarian protein sources. But, it&rsquos not always as simple as that.

While a lot of meat-eaters would have a chicken breast with their dinner, and consider their protein sorted for the day, vegetarian meals generally contain more than one of these ingredients in the same meal.

For example, a vegetarian meal could easily contain cheese, eggs and chickpeas, which would add up to a considerable amount of protein overall.

As you&rsquoll see in the high protein vegetarian meals I&rsquove featured below, it&rsquos really not difficult for a vegetarian to eat the necessary amount of protein to stay strong and healthy.

21 Ways to Get More Protein without Eating Meat

There are lots of wholesome ways to increase your protein intake without resorting to meat.

These days, protein seems to be the superstar nutrient – and for good reason. Gram for gram, it’s more satisfying than carbohydrates or fat – meaning it keeps you fuller, longer. Protein is also essential for repairing and building muscleਊnd keeps your metabolism humming along.

The daily recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For most adult men and women, that translates to 46 to 56 grams of protein򠺬h day. For reference, a 3-ounce, fist-sized hamburger delivers 24 grams of protein.

Struggling to cook healthy? We'll help you prep.

Some sayਊmericans get adequate or਎ven too much protein others argue we could safely eat more than what’s recommended (and perhaps should).

If you’re looking to up your protein intake, that doesn&apost necessarily translate to �t more meat.” Plus, you’re likely aware of ways to add meat-based protein to your diet – with beef, chicken, turkey, seafood, etc. Though animal-based protein delivers all of the essential amino acids we need, you can absolutely get sufficient proteinਏrom plant-based sources.

How to Get the Protein You Need

Although nonvegetarian diets typically provide more protein over all, vegetarian diets are well able to meet and exceed the recommended daily intake. Beans, lentils, and tofu are rich sources of protein, and breads, grains, and nuts provide significant amounts. Even a serving of green vegetables has a few grams of protein. About 40 percent of the calories in asparagus and broccoli are protein.

Food protein is important because it contains the amino acids necessary for life. The body puts these building blocks to work on such tasks as making skin, nails, hair, muscle, bone, and connective tissue, as well as the synthesis of vital hormones, important brain neurotransmitters, antibodies, and digestive enzymes. Also, protein can be used as an alternate energy source when other reserves are in short supply.

Every protein in both plant and animal foods has its own unique structure, composition, and properties with special amino acid patterns. Of the 20 different amino acids needed for human life, nine are classified as essential since the body cannot manufacture them in sufficient quantity for normal body functions. This means that the nine must be obtained from the diet. Optimal health depends upon the adequate supply of these essential amino acids.

How do you get the right balance of protein in a vegetarian diet?

The quality of a protein depends upon the relative amounts of each one of the essential amino acids it contains. Animal proteins usually have a better balance of the amino acids than do plant proteins. However, a mixture of plant proteins can provide a similar balance. In other words, a relative deficiency of an amino acid from one plant protein can be made up by the amino acids from another plant protein. In fact, the intake of the nine essential amino acids by vegetarians is normally well above the recommended dietary intake for each of the amino acids.

For example, cereals tend to be low in the amino acid lysine but adequate in the amino acid methionine. Legumes provide adequate lysine but are low in methionine. The amino acid profiles of cereals and legumes complement each other so that a cereal-legume combination provides high-quality protein. But take note: It’s important that whole grains be used rather than refined grains because the protein quality of a food is significantly reduced when refined. The protein quality of white flour is 22 percent less than that of whole-wheat.

What are some examples of good protein combinations?

Many cultures around the world rely on a cereal-legume combination to provide a major portion of their energy. Examples include maize and beans in Latin America, millet and ground nuts in the African Sahel, rice and soybeans in Southeast Asia, wheat and garbanzos in the Middle East, rice and dal in India, and corn bread and black-eyed peas in the southern United States.

For different types of protein to complement each other, they should be eaten during the same day, but not necessarily within the same meal. This allows for flexibility in food preferences and removes the concern about whether each meal contains properly balanced protein sources.

Is soy a good protein source?

Soy is a good source of protein. Experiments in Boston, Massachusetts, with young college students who were fed diets containing different protein sources showed that soy protein is of high nutritional quality and is capable of providing adequate amounts of all essential amino acids. It was clear that the quality of soy protein compares favorably to animal proteins, and soy does not have to be supplemented with any other plant proteins.
In addition, soy protein contains the isoflavonoid genistein and similar substances that act as phytoestrogens to inhibit tumor growth, lower blood cholesterol levels, decrease the risk of blood clots, and diminish bone loss. This translates into a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and osteoporosis. Consuming one to two servings of soy products a day will help you achieve the optimal benefits.

How much is enough?

Protein requirements depend on many factors, including a person’s body size, age, rate of growth, and the quality of the protein they eat. Pregnant and lactating women require additional protein because of the growth and development of their child.

The recommended protein intake for adult men and women is only about two ounces (46-56 grams) per day. This can easily be met by simple, nutritious everyday foods.

The protein in cereal grains such as wheat, oats, and rice is about 10 percent of the total calories of these foods, while legumes average about 20 to 30 percent of their calories from protein. As long as your diet contains enough calories, a diet based on a variety of cereal-legume combinations clearly provides adequate protein.

Are there advantages to plant protein instead of animal protein?

There are a number of advantages to plant proteins:
1. An excess of protein is unhealthy. The lower protein intake of vegetarian diets may be beneficial since an excess of protein—especially animal protein rich in sulfur amino acids—can cause unnecessary losses of calcium through the urine. This may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Also, excess protein can negatively impact kidney function in individuals with previous renal disease.

Furthermore, a high-protein diet increases the requirements for some vitamins and minerals. Also, the use of animal protein (with its typically high content of saturated fat and cholesterol) increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

2. The use of plant protein is good for the environment. Present methods of meat production harm the environment. Overgrazing can produce soil erosion, while runoff from livestock fattening pens and chicken farms can contain fecal waste that seriously contaminates the water supply.

Feeding grains and legumes to animals to produce beef, pork, and other animal proteins involves large losses of protein and energy. For example, only 4 percent of the calories consumed by beef cattle are returned in beef, while 15 percent of the energy consumed by dairy cattle shows up in the milk they produce.

A plant-based diet with an emphasis on whole grains and legumes also conserves land, water, and energy resources. It takes only one tenth as much land to feed people plant foods rather than animal products.

3. Plants are a safer source of protein. Fresh beef, chicken, pork, fish, and other animal foods are highly perishable, while grains and legumes can be stored and easily transported with little spoilage. The risk of bacterial contamination and food poisoning from animal foods is several orders greater than from plant foods. Every year hundreds of Americans become sick and die from animal products contaminated with Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, and other organisms. In some parts of the world mad cow disease is a concern, and the fear of contracting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a deadly neurodegenerative disease, leads many to choose a plant-based diet.

4. Plant protein is much more economical than meat. Pinto beans, tofu, or lentil soup are considerably cheaper than beefsteak. Furthermore, in the United States the direct medical costs attributable to meat consumption is estimated to be between $30 and $60 billion annually. These greater health-care costs result from the increased prevalence of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and foodborne illnesses among meat eaters.

A Healthy Option

You can be sure that a plant-based diet is able to meet the protein needs of healthy individuals, provided that the diet contains an adequate level of calories and includes a variety of unrefined grains, legumes, and vegetables.

Dietary surveys confirm that vegetarian diets contain both the quantity and quality of protein necessary for optimal health. In fact, plant protein provides an additional bonus. Legumes and whole grains contain a variety of substances (such as phytosterols, unsaturated fat, soluble fiber, isoflavones, saponins, ferulic acid and other polyphenolics) that help lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lower the risk of diabetes and various cancers.

Plants were created to sustain human life. Science is proving every day that plant foods are a major contributor to optimal health.

Why Protein is Important at Breakfast

Protein is important when trying to lose weight because it fills you up without making you feel bloated and stuffed. It’s also better for your metabolism because it takes longer to digest which means you’ll feel full longer.

When you don’t include protein into your breakfast routine, it’s easy to feel hungry in about an hour or two after eating. If you eat a high sugar or carb breakfast, you’ll feel that crash and burn before your morning snack time arrived.

I would really recommend filling your morning with a nutrition protein-rich breakfast that will serve you well when trying to eat healthier and lose weight.

Many of us tend to think breakfast protein = eggs, and we forget that there are so many more other high protein foods for breakfast without eggs. Here are a few of my favorite egg-free ways to get protein in the mornings.

This Is How Much Protein You Need to Eat Every Day

Daily protein intake requirements aren't one-size-fits-all. Here's how to calculate how much you need, how much is too much and who needs more.

Protein is the stuff of life. From your hair to your fingernails to your muscles, protein is the glue that holds each cell in your body together, and what makes up many major hormones and antibodies. That&aposs why getting enough protein in your daily diet is important. New evidence suggests exactly how much you need depends on a host of factors: your diet, age, health, activity level and-for women-whether you&aposre eating for two. Here we show you how much protein you need to eat, how to calculate your needs, how much protein is too much and which people may need more. Here&aposs everything you need to know to make sure you&aposre eating the right amount of protein.

What Are Daily Protein Requirements?

Current guidelines, established by the Institute of Medicine in 2002, recommend adults 19 years of age and older consume 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein. That&aposs about 200 to 700 calories from protein for a 2,000-calorie diet. Another way to calculate how much protein you need each day is to multiply 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. With a little math, this translates to 54 grams of protein for a 150-pound woman, or 65 grams for a 180-pound man.

Here are some examples of what 10 grams of protein looks like:

  • 2 small eggs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 3/4 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 cup uncooked oats
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Meat is an obvious protein source, and here&aposs a handy trick for calculating grams of protein in most meats: 1 ounce of meat has 7 grams of protein, with a 3- to 4-ounce portion (a piece of meat about the size of an iPhone 6) providing around 30 grams of protein. See what typical servings of protein look like and find out how much is in chicken, eggs and more in our guide to protein serving sizes.

But the IOM&aposs recommendations set the minimum amount of protein you need to eat in order to avoid falling short of this vital nutrient. (Not getting enough protein could lead to progressive muscle loss and other health issues.) Recent research suggests that aiming for more, between 1.3 and 1.8 grams/kilogram of body weight (approximately 88 to 122 grams for women, 105 to 145 grams for men), may be optimal for health, especially when it comes to warding off age-related muscle loss.

Do I Need More Protein?

So does this mean you can eat the 12-ounce steak for dinner? Not exactly.

Protein deficiency in the U.S. is a rarity and, if you&aposre eating a varied diet, there&aposs no need to go out of your way to "beef" up your intake. But how you spread your protein out throughout the day may matter just as much-if not more-than how much you eat.

Americans&apos protein consumption is skewed: We typically skimp on protein in the morning and load up in the evening. But research suggests that evenly splitting up your protein consumption is the best way to support your muscles.

Recipe to Try: Avocado & Smoked Salmon Omelet (with 19 grams protein!)

People who ate about 30 grams of protein at each meal-breakfast, lunch and dinner-had 25 percent greater muscle growth, compared with those who ate the same total amount primarily at dinner, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

"Since we don&apost have a storage form of protein in our bodies besides our muscles, if we&aposre not eating protein at each meal, then we may be losing that muscle mass," says Jessica Crandall, R.D.N, a certified personal trainer and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And less muscle mass could mean a decrease in metabolism (which makes it harder to lose weight).

For breakfast, try two eggs with a cup of yogurt and fruit, or 3/4 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and a handful of pumpkin seeds. At lunch, toss half a chicken breast or half a can of beans into your salad for a protein boost.

How Much Is Too Much Protein?

Eating too much protein can mean missing out on nutrients from carbohydrates (like fiber) and healthy fats. That&aposs why experts say to stick to eating about one-third of your daily calories from protein, and keeping to a rough daily maximum of 2 grams/kilogram body weight. That&aposs about 140 to 160 grams per day. Overconsuming certain sources of protein-we&aposre looking at you, red meat-has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, so vary your protein sources for the most benefit.

Also, don&apost worry about your protein intake putting you at risk of kidney stones or osteoporosis. (The concern: digestion of protein releases acids that need to be neutralized by calcium-which may be pulled from bones.) In fact, recent research has found that eating in the higher recommended range may be beneficial for bone health, especially when you&aposre eating enough calcium. And unless you have kidney disease, your protein intake is unlikely to cause harm.

Here's a look at specific factors that impact your protein needs:

Since protein isn&apost one-size-fits all, there are certain groups that need more and may have a harder time getting enough.

You&aposre a Vegetarian or Vegan

Good news for those forgoing animal products: If you&aposre eating enough calories, opting for a plant-based diet doesn&apost automatically mean you&aposre not consuming enough protein. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the terms "complete" and "incomplete" protein are misleading. "Protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during the course of a day, supplies enough of all indispensable (essential) amino acids when caloric requirements are met," the Academy said in a 2016 position statement.

Vegetarians and vegans may need to pay a bit more attention to what foods give them the best protein-for-calorie value than the average meat-eater, but eating a varied diet that includes protein-rich legumes and soy will keep your body and muscles humming along just fine.

Other great vegetarian sources of protein: eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts, quinoa and peanut butter. See our Top Vegetarian Protein Sources if you need help eating more protein. Vegans, read up on our Top 10 Vegan Protein Sources.

Protein isn&apost just a concern for the shake-guzzling bodybuilder wanting to build muscle-or the elite distance runner trying to keep it. Adequate protein is needed at all levels of fitness and the ability to support the creation of muscle and act as a building block.

The IOM&aposs guidelines were based on studies in sedentary individuals. The American College of Sports Medicine and the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommend aiming for more protein if you&aposre active, up to 2 grams/kilograms of body weight each day to maintain muscle mass. While keeping protein within 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories still applies, experts recommend consuming 15 to 25 grams of protein within an hour post-workout (an example is 1 cup of milk, 1-ounce almonds and 5 dried apricots) to maximize results.

Does more protein equal better results? Not so, says current research, which suggests that benefits level off after recommended intakes. "It&aposs kind of like adding laundry detergent to your clothes-it&aposs not going to get them cleaner-but having the right amount, at the right time, is important," Crandall says.

Plus, the type of protein you choose could give you an athletic edge.

Foods high in a specific amino acid-the building blocks of protein-called leucine may be most effective for the maintenance, repair and growth of muscle. High-leucine foods include milk, soybeans, salmon, beef, chicken, eggs and nuts like peanuts. While you should strive to meet your protein needs from food, whey protein supplements are also high in leucine and are a research-backed option.

As we age, our bodies become less efficient at transforming the protein we eat into new muscle. The result is gradual muscle loss that can lead to decreased strength, frailty and loss of mobility. But you can give Father Time a one-two punch by staying active and eating enough protein.

Two international study groups recommend that older individuals eat like young athletes: Keep your minimum daily protein intake to 1 gram/kilogram of body weight (68 grams and 80 grams for a 150-pound woman and a 180-pound man, respectively). And spread out your protein-about 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal-since the amount of protein needed to trigger muscle maintenance is higher. Men and women aged 67 to 84 who ate the most protein and had the most even distribution across meals over two years had more muscle than those who fell short, per a 2016 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.

You&aposre Pregnant or Breastfeeding

"Protein needs rise a minimum of 10 grams per day during the second and third trimesters because your baby is growing-and it needs the tools to grow," says Rachel Brandeis M.S., R.D.N., who specializes in pregnancy nutrition. The IOM recommends that pregnant women eat a minimum of 1.1 grams/kilogram of body weight per day, or around 70 grams total.

Recent research suggests pregnancy protein needs may be slightly higher than these previous estimates, however, so it&aposs best to check in with a doctor or registered dietitian to see how much protein is right for you.

As for breastfeeding mothers, your body will need more calories and protein to make enough milk. See our guide for what to eat when you&aposre breastfeeding to make sure you&aposre getting enough of both to support your body and your baby.

Bottom line on protein intake

Protein is an important nutrient, but when you&aposre eating a varied healthy diet, you are likely getting enough. Aim to include protein-rich foods throughout your day, not just at dinner. And if you&aposre a person who needs more protein-whether you&aposre active, older or pregnant-you may need to be more conscious of your protein intake to make sure you&aposre getting what you need.

How Do I Calculate the Protein in My Food?

You can do this using food labels, as well as by weighing out your food on a food scale and using one of the many online nutritional databases.

Weighing food may seem like a lot of counting and not much fun, but it gets easier over time. Fitness coach Vince Del Monte says in the article, "From Here to Macros: 4 Steps to Better Nutrition" that you quickly learn to "eyeball" quantities of both calories and macronutrients after just a few weeks of practice.


  1. Tojat

    Sorry, I can't help you. But I am sure that you will find the right solution.

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