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How much protein do you need?

Most people are aware that protein is critical for building and repairing muscle and other tissues, as well as maintaining a strong immune system.  However, in my experience people are often confused about the amount of protein they actually need in their diets to stay healthy.  This month’s column will examine individual protein requirements, common sources of protein, as well as special considerations for athletes.

Protein Requirements

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg body weight per day for healthy adults.  That means that a 75kg individual would require 60g of protein per day (75kg x 0.8g/kg).  Note that some individuals may require additional protein in their diet, including athletes and those suffering from certain diseases (cancer, liver disease, pancreatitis, etc.).

Sources of protein

Most people should be able to meet their dietary protein needs without the use of supplements or bars.  Check out the information below to find the protein content of some common foods.  As you can see meat and fish have the highest protein contents, however, it is entirely possible to obtain enough protein in your diet from vegetarian sources.  It’s important to note that the quantities listed in the table tend to be less than what would be typically consumed in one sitting.

Protein content of common foods

3 oz chicken, beef or lamb – 23-28g
3 oz tuna or salmon – 22g
large egg – 6g
½ cup lentils – 9g
½ cup chick peas – 7g
½ cup fava (fuul) beans – 7g
½ cup tofu (soy) – 10g
½ cup quinoa – 4g
1 tbsp peanut butter – 7g
1 oz almonds – 6g
1 cup yogurt – 11g
1 cup milk – 8g
1 oz cheddar or mozzarella cheese – 7g

What if you eat more?

Fortunately, as long as you’re healthy there’s not a huge downside to getting excess protein in your diet.  Be aware that like other macronutrients, protein contributes to excess calories, which could lead to unintentional weight gain, however, from a health perspective high protein intakes are really only problematic in those with pre-existing kidney disease.

Protein and exercise

As mentioned previously, athletes require more protein than regular individuals.  This is due to the extra breakdown of tissues (including muscle) that occur within the body during exercise.  The American College of Sports Medicine and American Dietetic Association recommend that endurance athletes ingest 1.2-1.4g/kg and that strength athletes ingest 1.2-1.7g/kg of protein per day.  Most athletes can still meet these additional requirements with food, but some may find it helpful to use protein supplements.  If choosing supplements, intact, high-quality proteins such as whey, casein, and soy are all good options.

The timing of protein ingestion is also important for athletes to consider.  In order to ensure proper recovery athletes should consume protein during or in close proximity to their exercise.  This amount is specific to the athlete and type of exercise they are engaging in.


*originally published on on June 20, 2015

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