The amount of protein you need changes over time
Protein is one of those nutrients that wears a halo of goodness but is shrouded in confusion. People know they need protein in their diets and that it’s good for them, but don’t know how much they need or if they’re getting enough. I can help.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
The amount of protein we need each day is based on our age and weight and if we have any specific building or repair conditions that demand more protein, such as pregnancy, recovery from a serious illness or extreme physical activity. This means our protein requirement is not a fixed number of grams once we reach adulthood, as most other nutrients are, but a value that changes over our lifetime.
What Are the Recommendations for Protein?
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science is charged with establishing the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) is for all essential nutrients. The DRIs are calculated to provide a sufficient amount of each nutrient to meet the requirements of 98% of all healthy Americans. For healthy adults over the age of 19 the DRI for protein is 56 grams a day.
The Percent Daily Values (DV) we see on the Nutrition Facts panels of food labels are based on 50 grams of protein per day. This represents 10% of the calories in a 2000 calorie a day diet coming from protein. The key point here is that the Daily Values are not nutrient recommendations. Daily Values are a tool for consumers to use when comparing foods on the shelf to see what has more or less of each nutrient. They are all based on a 2000 calorie diet as the common reference point. Obviously, we don’t all need 2000 calories a day, and may need more or less protein as well.
The sample menus on the USDA ChooseMyPlate food plans are based on providing between 17% – 21% of the total calories as protein. On those 2000 calorie diets, that translates to a total of 85 -105 grams of protein a day.
What Amount of Protein is Right for You?
To get a more personal calculation of your protein requirement you’ll need a calculator. It involves multiplying your weight in pounds by .36 grams for the lowest amount of protein you should get each day and .8 for the highest amount if you’re not in one of those special needs categories mentioned above. (If using weight in kilograms, multiply by the factors .8 grams and 1.8 grams.) If you weigh 120 pounds, that’s a range of 54 – 96 grams a day. For someone weighing in at 175 pounds, the range would be 63 – 140 grams per day.
Strength and endurance athletes are advised to get from 0.5 – 0.8 grams of protein per pound (1.2 – 1.7 grams/kg) for best performance according to a joint Position Statement on Nutrition and Athletic Performance of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine. That works out to 60 – 96 grams for the 120 pound person and 88 – 140 grams for the 175 pound person mentioned above.
Look for my next post on how to be sure you’re getting enough protein in your daily diet and how to distribute over your day.