How Much Protein Do I Really Need?
Protein plays a key role in the formation and maintenance of every cell in your body. Your body requires protein to produce and support new cells, generate antibodies to keep your immune system strong, and carry oxygen throughout your body.
Protein is an important component of a well-balanced diet. A lack of protein in your diet may lead to muscle loss.
However, there are many variables to consider when determining how much protein your body needs.
What is Protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient. It is made from various amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
There are 20 different amino acids, nine of which are considered essential amino acids. The nine amino acids – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine are all considered essential because your body can’t create them on its own. These nine essential amino acids must come from a food source.
Animal Protein Sources
Animal protein sources are considered complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. Examples of animal protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Plant Protein Sources
Plant protein sources lack one or more of the essential amino acids that your body needs. Examples of plant protein sources may include beans, lentils, nuts, and grains.
Should you shy away from plant protein sources because they’re lacking in some amino acids? No. Eating a combination of plant protein sources will help your body get the essential amino acids it needs.
In fact, according to a recent study, diets high in plant protein are linked with many health benefits including lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 
Health Benefits of Protein
Beyond protein’s ability to build muscle, protein can also be a powerful tool in helping to improve your health.
Curbs Appetite and Hunger
Eating adequate amounts of protein throughout the day can curb your hunger and make you feel fuller for longer. Protein reduces the level of the “hunger hormone” leptin while also increasing the hormone ghrelin, which makes you feel full.
Lowers Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Higher protein intake has been linked to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and reduced triglycerides. One study found that a higher protein diet lowered cardiovascular disease risk factors such as body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels. 
Boosts Your Immune System
Amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of all cells including cells that regulate your immune system. The numerous antibodies that help fight infection and disease are made of protein. For example, specific amino acids found in protein are essential for T-cell function. T-cells are responsible for protecting your body from dangerous pathogens.
Reducing your calorie intake to shed some weight may also lead to a loss of muscle mass. Eating adequate amounts of protein can help to preserve muscle mass which will keep your metabolism working efficiently as you shed fat.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Unlike carbohydrate and fat, your body doesn’t have the ability to store protein. Therefore, it’s important to get adequate amounts of dietary protein each day. The amount of protein you need will depend on a variety of factors. These factors may include age, activity level, fitness goals, and overall health.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are the suggested intake of specific nutrients to meet the needs of the majority of healthy people. The RDA for protein for an inactive healthy adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. 
The protein requirements for people that regularly participate in physical activity are higher. Protein requirements are increased in active people to promote physical strength and to maintain lean muscle mass. Dietary intake of 1.0, 1.3, and 1.6 g protein per kg of body weight per day is recommended for individuals with minimal, moderate, and intense physical activity respectively. 
To calculate your individual protein needs, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8, 1.0, 1.3, or 1.6 depending on your activity level.
For example, if you weigh 170 pounds divide that number by 2.2 which will give you 77kg. If you are moderately active, multiply 77 by 1.3 which will give you an estimate of 100 grams of protein per day.
Protein Intake and Fasting
There is a vast amount of evidence to support the health benefits of fasting. Fasting may be a useful tool to reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve learning and memory function, and reduce inflammation. 
However, it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet with nutrient-dense foods between your fasts. Studies have shown that following a diet with adequate protein can help preserve your muscle mass when fasting which further promotes weight management and health. 
How Much Protein Is Too Much?
Can you eat too much protein? Perhaps. Eating more than your body needs of anything can increase your calorie intake. Increasing your calorie intake can increase your fat storage and lead to weight gain.
Additionally, people that follow a very high protein diet have a higher risk of developing kidney stones. Moreover, a high protein diet that contains a lot of red meat may lead to a higher risk of chronic diseases.
One study found that people who reported eating a diet high in animal protein were four times more likely to die from cancer during the 18-year study period than those who consumed less protein. 
When calculating your specific protein needs, it’s prudent not to allow for more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
Healthy Protein Sources
Emerging research suggests a reduction in the consumption of animal-based proteins for optimal health.  A recent study found that an intake of plant protein was associated with lower rates of mortality from cardiovascular disease. 
In another study researchers found that participants whose primary sources of protein were animal-based had a 23% higher risk of death than participants who had the most balanced ratio of animal and plant-based protein in their diet. 
Aim for a variety of lean protein with a mix of animal and plant sources. These may include:
- Tofu and tempeh
- Fish and shellfish
- Greek yogurt
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
Protein is found throughout every part of your body. This vital nutrient plays an important role in not only maintaining muscle mass but also in immune function and in the prevention of chronic disease. Choosing a combination of animal and plant dietary sources to meet your protein needs is best for your overall health and well-being.
Emily Hirsch, MS, RD
Emily has over 12 years experience in the field of nutrition. In her writing, she strives to bring lackluster research on health and nutrition topic to life. She loves writing about GI health and women’s issues. Find her at www.southcharlottenutrition.com