Contents

Q: Is it possible to eat too much protein?

A: Like other food sources, too much of a good thing is not good at all. High protein intake also means ingesting excess calories and placing strain on your kidneys.

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Eating too much protein in one sitting over and over again can stress your kidneys which could lead to dehydration. So make sure you are distributing your intake evenly throughout the day.

How do you know if you are eating too much or too little? Following the standard rule of 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight is suggested. If you’re physically active, it’s OK for your intake to be a little bit higher to help with muscle repair and gain.

But you shouldn’t feel you have to eat strictly meat to help rebuild muscles. A variety of healthy protein sources are available for all diets.

Choosing organic animal and plant-based proteins is always best. Look for lean, grass-fed meats or wild-caught fish. On the plant side, lentils, beans and nut butters are easy and nutritious sources.

If you’re wandering down the aisles looking at the countless tubs of protein powders, choose one that’s organic, has the fewest ingredients and is tested by a third party. Regulations for ingredients in protein powders are more lax, so it’s reassuring to know another source has verified the ingredients in a powder are safe and healthy.

— registered dietitian Kate Patton, RD

How much protein do you need per day?

Quickly and easy calculate your optimal daily intake with our protein intake calculator.

How much protein do you need per day?

As with most things in nutrition, there’s no simple answer. Your individual needs depend on your health, body composition, main goal, 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). Ranges in the table below reflect known individual variances.

  • If you’re sedentary, aim for at least 1.2 g/kg (0.54 g/lb). Keep in mind that your body composition will improve more if you add consistent activity, especially resistance training, than if you merely hit a protein target.

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to keep your weight, aim for 1.4–1.6 g/kg (0.64–0.73 g/lb). People who are trying to keep the same weight but improve their body composition (more muscle, less fat) may benefit from the higher end of the range.

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to build muscle, aim for 1.4–2.4 g/kg (0.64–1.09 g/lb). If you’re an experienced lifter and bulking, intakes of up to 3.3 g/kg (1.50 g/lb) may help you minimize fat gain.

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to lose fat, aim for 1.8–2.7 g/kg (0.82–1.23 g/lb), skewing toward the higher end of this range as you become leaner or if you increase your caloric deficit (by eating less or exercising more).

  • If you’re overweight or obese, aim for 1.2–1.5 g/kg (0.54–0.68 g/lb). This range, like all the others in this list, is based on your total body weight (most studies on people who are overweight or obese report their findings based on total body weight, but you’ll find some calculators that determine your optimal protein intake based on your lean mass or your ideal body weight).

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

  • If you’re lactating, aim for at least 1.5 g/kg (0.68 g/lb).

  • If you’re vegan or obtain most of your protein from plants, then your protein requirements may be higher because plant-based proteins are usually inferior to animal-based proteins with regard to both bioavailability and amino acid profile.

Also, note 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.)

  • 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, in healthy people, even those higher dosages don’t seem to have negative effects on liver, kidneys, or bones.

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 whether you’re pregnant or not.

Optimal daily protein intake for healthy, sedentary adults

For adults, the US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg. However, a more appropriate statistical analysis of the data used to establish the RDA suggests this number should be higher: 1.0 g/kg.

Note that, contrary to popular belief, the RDA doesn’t represent an ideal intake. Instead, it represents the minimum intake needed to prevent malnutrition. Unfortunately, the RDA for protein was determined from nitrogen balance studies, which require that people eat experimental diets for weeks before measurements are taken. This provides ample time for the body to adapt to low protein intakes by down-regulating processes that are not necessary for survival but are necessary for optimal health, such as protein turnover and immune function.

An alternative method for determining protein requirements, called the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation (IAAO) technique, overcomes many of the shortcomings of nitrogen balance studies. For example, it allows for the assessment of protein requirements within 24 hours, thereby not leaving the body enough time to adapt. Studies using the IAAO method have suggested that about 1.2 g/kg is a more appropriate RDA for healthy young men, older men, and older women.

Further evidence that the current RDA for protein is not sufficient comes from a randomized controlled trial that confined healthy, sedentary adults to a metabolic ward for eight weeks. 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 nonsignificant, 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 meaningfully benefit body composition, which makes it a good higher 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 healthy, sedentary adults, who should rather aim for at least 1.2 g/kg (0.54 g/lb).

Optimal daily protein intake for athletes and similarly active adults

If you’re physically active regularly, 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. This recommendation is similar to that of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (1.4–2.0 g/kg).

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. For those interested in a comprehensive breakdown of this study, please refer to our Examine.com 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). IAAO studies in athletes found different numbers: on training days, female athletes required 1.4–1.7 g/kg; the day following a regular training session, male endurance athletes required 2.1–2.7 g/kg; two days after their last resistance-training session, amateur male bodybuilders required 1.7–2.2 g/kg.

Since higher protein intakes seem to have no negative effects in healthy people, one may want to err toward the higher amounts.

Regularly active adults and athletes can optimize body composition, performance, and recovery by consuming 1.4–2.2 g/kg (0.64–1.00 g/lb) of protein — preferably aiming toward the upper 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), although one did not.

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

High protein intakes help 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. 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). This latter recommendation has been upheld by the International Society of Sports Nutrition and by a review article on bodybuilding contest preparation.

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. This range is supported by the European Association for the Study of Obesity, which recommends up to 1.5 g/kg for elderly adults with obesity. It is 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, 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, and triglycerides, while also increasing satiety. 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).

Learn how to select the best whey protein powder for you

Whey protein is far more complex than you’d think – supplement companies are always trying to pull a fast one over you with legal loopholes and proprietary blends.

Our Definitive Guide to Whey Protein breaks down everything you need to know about whey protein so you can buy the best whey protein for you.

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Quickly and easy calculate your optimal daily intake with our protein intake calculator.

Optimal daily protein intake for older adults

Sarcopenia is defined as an impairment of physical function (walking speed or grip strength) combined with a loss of muscle mass. It is the primary age-related cause of frailty. Frailty is associated with a higher risk of having disabilities that affect your ability to perform daily activities, having to go to a nursing home, and experiencing fractures, falls, and hospitalizations. The link between sarcopenia, frailty, and associated morbidities may explain why sarcopenia is associated with a greater risk of premature death and reduced quality of life. This isn’t a minor issue, either: in the US, more than 40% of men and 55% of women over the age of 50 have sarcopenia.
A low protein intake is associated with frailty and worse physical function than a higher protein intake. Aging results in anabolic resistance, a term used to describe how muscle tissue becomes less responsive to the growth-promoting effects of eating protein. Accordingly, older adults need to consume higher doses of protein in each meal to achieve maximal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. Although per-meal requirements for protein are higher in older adults, total daily protein requirements are similar to that of young adults. The RDA for protein for adults aged 50+ years is the same as that for younger adults, 0.8 g/kg. Like with younger adults, however, studies using the IAAO method have suggested that a more appropriate RDA is 1.2 g/kg. Several authorities now recommend older adults to consume 1.2–1.5 g/kg. Notably, doubling protein intake from 0.8 to 1.6 g/kg has been shown to significantly increase lean body mass in elderly men. Similar observations have been made in elderly women who increase their protein intake from 0.9 to 1.4 g/kg. Even a small increase in protein intake from 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg has minor benefits towards lean mass and overall body composition.Older adults (50+ years) should aim to consume at least 1.2 g/kg (0.54 g/lb) of protein daily. Up to 1.5 g/kg (0.68 g/lb) may provide additional benefit, based on limited evidence.

Optimal daily protein intake for pregnant women

The protein RDA for pregnant women is 1.1 g/kg. 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 with the IAAO method 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). Moreover, a meta-analysis of 16 intervention studies reported that protein supplementation during pregnancy led to reduced risks for the baby: – 34% lower risk of low gestational weight – 32% lower risk of low birth weight – 38% lower risk of stillbirth This effect was more pronounced in undernourished women than in adequately nourished women. Importantly, these values were determined from sedentary women carrying one child, meaning that pregnant women who engage in regular physical activity and/or are supporting the growth of twins may need even higher amounts. Also, keep in mind that we can only tell you what the studies reported; we can’t possibly know about your health and your pregnancy specifically. Please be sure to consult with your OB-GYN before making any changes. 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 — especially in undernourished women.

Optimal daily protein intake for lactating women

As with pregnancy, there is little research investigating how lactation and breastfeeding affect protein requirements. Women produce a wide range of breast milk volumes, regardless of their energy status (i.e., milk production is maintained even among women with a BMI under 18.5). The infant’s demands appear to be the primary regulator of milk production. Based simply on adult protein requirements plus the protein output in breast milk, the RDA for lactating women was set at 1.3 g/kg. However, one study reported that half of the lactating women consuming 1.5 g/kg/day were in negative nitrogen balance, while another study suggested that 1.0–1.5 g/kg/day leads to a rapid downregulation of protein turnover suggestive of an adaptive response to insufficient intakes. Considering that there is no data investigating the effects of a protein intake greater than 1.5 g/kg in lactating women, and that consuming 1.5 g/kg or less of protein per day leads to adaptations suggestive of insufficient intake, lactating women should aim to consume at least 1.5 g/kg of protein daily. Lactating women should aim to consume at least 1.5 g/kg of protein daily.

Whey protein is far more complex than you’d think – supplement companies are always trying to pull a fast one over you with legal loopholes and proprietary blends.

Our Definitive Guide to Whey Protein breaks down everything you need to know about whey protein so you can buy the best whey protein for you.

I’m ready to learn and save money on protein

Optimal daily protein intake for infants

Breast milk is considered the optimal source of nutrition for infants (0–12 months old) and is recommended as the exclusive source of nutrition for infants aged 0–6 months. Based on the average weight and milk intake of healthy infants aged 0–6 months, their adequate protein intake is 1.5 g/kg. The average protein intake for healthy infants aged 7–12 months is estimated at 1.6 g/kg, assuming that half their protein comes from breast milk and half from complementary foods. Yet the RDA is set at 1.2 g/kg for this age group based entirely on studies conducted in toddlers and children. Although breast milk is considered the ideal food for infants, not all infants can breastfeed. Infant formulas provide an alternative, but there are considerable differences in composition from breast milk. One such difference is the protein content, which tends to be higher in formula. Compared to exclusive breastfeeding, formula feeding is associated with greater increases in fat-free mass throughout the first year of life. Fat mass and body fat percentage tend to be lower during the first six months, but play catch-up afterward and ultimately end up higher with formula feeding than with breastfeeding. An association was found between formula feeding, faster growth during infancy, and obesity in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Some researchers suggested that the higher protein content of infant formulas was responsible, but others have argued that there are too many contributing factors (e.g., breastfeeding helps infants learn to better regulate their energy intake) to single one out. Moreover, if the higher protein content of formulas were responsible for the infants’ accelerated growth, then how would we explain the similarities in growth between formulas containing 1.2 or 1.7 grams of protein per 100 milliliters, or between formulas containing 1.0, 1.3, or 1.5 grams of protein per 100 milliliters? (For reference, breast milk contains about 1 gram of protein per 100 milliliters.) Still, even if consuming more protein from formulas than would be obtained from breast milk is not necessarily detrimental, it doesn’t appear to confer a benefit. There is no good reason to stray from the nutrient composition of mother’s milk during infancy, unless dealing with a preterm infant. Preterm infants need to be fed enough protein to promote growth rates similar to those observed in healthy fetuses growing in utero. The following daily intakes have been recommended based on gestational age: – 3.5–4.0 g/kg (less than 30 weeks) – 2.5–3.5 g/kg (30–36 weeks) – 2.5 g/kg (more than 36 weeks) Since breast milk doesn’t contain enough protein to meet these requirements, complementary supplementation is standard practice. A systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration reported greater weight gain and higher nitrogen accretion in preterm infants receiving 3.0–4.0 g/kg of protein, compared to lower daily intakes. These findings were echoed by another systematic review of 24 clinical trials. When complementary foods are introduced to infants during the latter half of infancy, there may be a benefit to consuming more protein from meat. Compared to feeding cereal grains alongside breast milk (total protein: 1.4 g/kg/day), feeding pureed meats alongside breast milk (total protein: 2.9 g/kg/day) was shown to lead to better growth without excess fat gain. Another study demonstrated that, as a complementary food, meat led to more favorable growth patterns than dairy (higher length-for-age and lower weight-for-length) by 12 months of age — differences that persisted at the age of 2 years. Both the meat group and the dairy group consumed the same total protein (3.0–4.0 g/kg). During their first six months, healthy infants should consume about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (1.5 g/kg/day). This intake can be achieved exclusively through breastfeeding. From age 6 to 12 months, they should consume around 3.0 g/kg/day by using meat as complementary food. Preterm infants require 3.0–4.0 g/kg/day to facilitate catch-up growth.

Optimal daily protein intake for toddlers

The same data used to establish the RDA for infants aged 7–12 months (1.2 g/kg) was used to determine the RDA for toddlers aged 1–3 years (1.05 g/kg). The average daily protein intake of US toddlers is 4.0 g/kg, with 90% of US toddlers consuming over 3.0 g/kg. There is a dearth of data for this age group. However, in toddlers aged 2 years with a total daily protein intake of 4.0 g/kg, complementary protein from meat led to better growth (higher length-for-age) than the same amount of complementary protein from dairy.There is little research on what is optimal, but the average daily protein intake of US toddlers is 4 g/kg — nearly four times the RDA. Meat appears to be a better complementary food than milk.

Optimal daily protein intake for children

The protein RDA is slightly higher for children (4–13 years) than for adults: 0.95 versus 0.8 g/kg. This difference makes sense considering that children are still growing and need more protein to facilitate the process. As with adults, however, the RDA may underestimate true requirements. Use of the IAAO technique in children aged 6–11 years has suggested that around 1.5 g/kg would make for a more appropriate RDA. Protein requirements are likely higher in children involved in sports and other athletic activities. There are no long-term studies on optimal protein intake since it would be unethical to deprive children of the protein they need for their development and various physiologic and metabolic functions. Children require at least 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (1.5 g/kg/day). An unknown amount of additional protein is likely required by children who are involved in sports or otherwise regularly active.

Optimal daily protein intake for vegetarians and vegans

The protein requirements discussed so far were based on studies that used animal-based protein supplements, such as whey and eggs, and/or were conducted mostly in omnivores. There is no reason to believe, however, that people who get their protein mostly or entirely from plants have inherently different protein requirements. However, because plant-based proteins tend to be lower in quality than animal-based proteins, if you obtain most of your protein from plants you will need to pay attention not just to the amount of protein you eat but also to the quality of that protein. A protein’s quality is determined by its digestibility and amino acid profile. Digestibility matters because if you don’t digest and absorb some of the protein you eat, then it may as well not have been eaten. Animal-based proteins consistently demonstrate a digestibility rate higher than 90%, whereas proteins from the best plant-based sources (legumes and grains) show a digestibility rate of 60–80%. Plants contain anti-nutrients that inhibit protein digestion and absorption, such as trypsin inhibitors, phytates, and tannins. While cooking does reduce anti-nutrient concentrations, it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. Plant-based protein powders, however, are mostly free of antinutrients and so have digestibility rates similar to those of animal-based proteins. The amino acid profile of a protein matters because all proteins, including the protein you eat and the protein in your body, are made from some combination of 20 amino acids (AAs). Your body can produce 11 of these AAs, making them nonessential amino acids (NEAAs). Your body cannot produce the other 9, which are therefore essential amino acids (EAAs) you must get through food. Building muscle requires that, cumulatively, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (MPB), resulting in a net accumulation of muscle protein. All 20 AAs are required to build muscle tissue, but MPS is stimulated primarily by the EAAs in the food you ingest. Plant-based proteins, whether from whole foods or protein powders, contain less EAAs than animal-based proteins.

In particular, plant-based proteins are lower in the EAA leucine, which is believed to act as a signal to “turn on” anabolic signaling pathways and MPS, although all EAAs are required for the effect to persist.
The lower leucine and EAA content of plant-based proteins helps explain why several studies have reported lower rates of MPS from soy protein powders and beverages than from whey protein, skim milk, whole milk with cheese, and lean beef. Differences in MPS appear to translate to differences in lean mass as well, at least when modest supplemental protein doses are used (about 20 g/day). However, in higher doses (33–50 g/day), animal-based and plant-based supplemental proteins appear to affect lean mass similarly. In short, consuming more protein overall appears to offset the lower quality of the plant-based proteins. Plant-based proteins also contain limiting amino acids, which are EAAs present in such small amounts that they bottleneck protein synthesis. Lysine is the most common limiting amino acid, especially in cereal grains, such as wheat and rice. Nuts and seeds also tend to have lysine as a limiting amino acid. Beans and legumes, on the other hand, contain sufficient lysine but lack sulfurous amino acids, such as methionine and cysteine. Combining different plant-based proteins can help make up for their respective deficits. Plant-based proteins are of lower quality (they are less bioavailable and contain less EAAs). If you get most of your protein from plants, you will need to consume more protein to achieve the same muscle growth as someone with a more omnivorous diet.

Bolstering plant-based proteins

The simplest method to overcome the EAA deficits of a plant protein is to eat more of it. As aforementioned, a handful of studies have shown that large doses (33–50 g/day) of animal-based (whey) and plant-based (soy, rice) supplemental proteins appear to increase lean mass similarly. Another way to overcome the EAA deficits of plant proteins is to combine complementary EAA profiles. Historic examples of such combinations include beans with corn in the Americas, and rice with soybean in Asia. These grain-legume combos work because legumes supply the lysine missing in grains, and grains supply the methionine and cysteine missing in legumes.
Unfortunately, most plant proteins are low in leucine, meaning that combining different plant proteins will not have a large benefit unless one of those proteins is corn protein (whose leucine content rivals that of whey protein). If your protein has less leucine, you need to eat more of it to maximize MPS — or you can supplement with leucine. MPS was increased similarly by 25 grams of whey protein (providing 3 grams of leucine) and by a combination of 6.25 grams of whey protein and 4.25 grams of supplemental leucine (5 grams of leucine in total). A rodent study using plant proteins reported similar results.The EAA deficits of plant-based proteins can be overcome by eating more, combining complementary proteins, and supplementing with leucine.

How much protein do you need per meal?

Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the process of building new skeletal muscle tissue. When MPS chronically exceeds muscle protein breakdown (MPB), resulting in a positive net protein balance, we can expect muscle growth over the long term. Every time you eat represents a time to facilitate muscle growth through the stimulation of MPS. Protein-feeding studies using varying doses of whey protein suggest that 0.24 g/kg/meal will maximize the MPS of the average young adult, whereas 0.40 g/kg/meal will maximize the MPS of most young adults. For older adults, these values are 0.40 and 0.60 g/kg/meal, respectively. These values are derived from studies using whey protein in isolation. Whey protein is highly bioavailable, rich in essential amino acids (EAAs), and quickly digested. When eating lower-quality or slower-digesting proteins (as would occur when eating a meal), higher protein intakes are probably required. Additionally, while these values suggest a protein-intake threshold for maximally stimulating MPS, there is no known threshold for whole-body protein balance. For example, a study using meals with lean beef found that 40 and 70 grams of protein (0.5 and 0.8 g/kg) led to similar increases in MPS, but that 70 grams led to greater increases in whole-body protein synthesis and greater decreases in whole-body protein breakdown. In other words, eating more protein may not necessarily translate to greater muscle-protein turnover and growth, but since muscle tissue accounts for only 25–30% of whole-body protein turnover, the additional protein is not “wasted” (a common myth). A pragmatic review article suggests that, to maximize their lean mass, active adults should consume 1.6–2.2 g/kg/day spread across four meals (0.40–0.55 g/kg/meal).For maximal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, aim for a per-meal dose of quality protein (such as can be found in meat, eggs, and dairy) of 0.4–0.6 g/kg. Higher doses will not be wasted and are probably necessary when eating mixed meals that contain a variety of protein sources. Quickly and easy calculate your optimal daily intake with our protein intake calculator.

Research has clearly shown that eating too much fat causes weight gain due to excess calorie intake. Carbohydrates (sigh!), this poor nutrient category sure has taken its share of abuse. Everything from no-carb to low-carb to only-brown-carbs has circulated through the media. The truth is, both children and adults over-consume carbohydrates, which, like fats, can lead to weight gain. But dear, old protein, particularly lean protein, is there a “can’t have too much of a good thing” disclaimer on protein as well???

Yep, it’s true. Protein is not spared in the foods-you-should-eat-in-moderation discussion. Protein is required to build, maintain, and repair the tissues in our body. However, like carbohydrates and fats, protein contains calories, and those calories we do not need will be stored as fat.

Protein Requirements – How much do we need?

Kids require approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein for every TWO pounds of body weight, or more precisely, 1-gram protein per kg (1kg=2.2lbs). Thus, a 40-lb (18.2 kg) child needs approximately 18 grams protein per day! “That’s not as much as I thought, you say?” Let’s see how quickly protein adds up!

Sample Menu (suggested for a 4-year old child)

Breakfast: 6 oz fat-free yogurt, ½ cup berries, ½ cup dry cereal, 4 oz skim milk
Snack: ½ apple
Lunch: 2 oz turkey breast, ½ cup baby tomatoes, 10 whole grain pretzels, 5 strawberries, 4 oz skim milk
Snack: ½ cup edamame
Dinner: 4 bites chicken breast, ½ cup pasta, ½ cup broccoli, 4 oz skim milk
TOTAL (drumroll please!): 76 g protein
(Menu provides: 931 calories, 10 g fat, 18 g fiber, 1376 mg Calcium, 15 mg Iron)

This example actually provides sufficient protein for an average adult woman. Seem unrealistic? Look how it breaks down. Milk and other dairy products, provide a large quantity of protein, approximately 1g/oz. Additionally, whole grains provide a considerable amount of protein, particularly those enriched with bean/legume flours. Then, of course, lean meats are touted for their protein content, typically provide about 7 g protein per 1 oz portion.

Protein and Athletic Performance

Protein has been shown to increase muscle mass when combined with heavy weight training. As compared to a diet consisting of 0.8 gram protein/kg body weight, research from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that a protein intake of 1.6-1.8 g/kg/day, when combined with weight training, will further enhance muscle development. Most importantly, there is little evidence that very high protein (greater than 2g/kg body weight per day) is beneficial. Further, supplementation with powders, drinks, or other diet aids is not required nor recommended, and it is possible to obtain sufficient protein through a balanced diet.

Can you have too much protein?

Protein breaks down to amino acids, and produces waste products that are filtered through the kidneys. With healthy functioning kidneys, this additional waste is excreted. Excess protein consumption only makes the kidneys work harder, rather than damage the kidneys, as may be assumed. High protein load does, however, lead to increased water loss, and can lead to dehydration. Thus, maintaining adequate fluid intake is essential.

Bottom line: You really can have too much of a good thing. Keep a good balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates, for a healthy, growing body. Have specific questions about you or your child’s protein requirements? Book an Appointment with one of our FEED dietitians and discuss your child’s nutrition.

Are There Risks Associated with Eating Too Much Protein?

Consuming high amounts of any nutrient for a long period of time typically comes with risks, as can be the case with protein. Overconsumption may lead to an increased risk of certain health complications, according to research.

There are potential benefits to a high-protein diet for otherwise healthy people. However, it’s important to understand the health concerns related to excess protein in the body, especially if you follow an excessively high-protein diet for an extended period.

Weight gain

High-protein diets may tout weight loss, but this type of weight loss may only be short-term.

Excess protein consumed is usually stored as fat, while the surplus of amino acids is excreted. This can lead to weight gain over time, especially if you consume too many calories while trying to increase your protein intake.

A 2016 study found that weight gain was significantly associated with diets where protein replaced carbohydrates, but not when it replaced fat.

Bad breath

Eating large amounts of protein can lead to bad breath, especially if you restrict your carbohydrate intake.

In an older registry, 40 percent of participants reported bad breath. This could be in part because your body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis, which produces chemicals that give off an unpleasant fruity smell.

Brushing and flossing won’t get rid of the smell. You can double your water intake, brush your teeth more often, and chew gum to counter some of this effect.

Constipation

In the same study, 44 percent of participants reported constipation. High-protein diets that restrict carbohydrates are typically low in fiber.

Increasing your water and fiber intake can help prevent constipation. Tracking your bowel movements may be helpful.

Diarrhea

Eating too much dairy or processed food, coupled with a lack of fiber, can cause diarrhea. This is especially true if you’re lactose-intolerant or consume protein sources such as fried meat, fish, and poultry. Eat heart-healthy proteins instead.

To avoid diarrhea, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeinated beverages, limit fried foods and excess fat consumption, and increase your fiber intake.

Dehydration

Your body flushes out excess nitrogen with fluids and water. This can leave you dehydrated even though you may not feel more thirsty than usual.

A small 2002 study involving athletes found that as protein intake increased, hydration levels decreased. However, a 2006 study concluded that consuming more protein had a minimal impact on hydration.

This risk or effect can be minimized by increasing your water intake, especially if you’re an active person. Regardless of protein consumption, it’s always important to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Kidney damage

While no major studies link high protein intake to kidney damage in healthy individuals, excess protein can cause damage in people with preexisting kidney disease.

This is because of the excess nitrogen found in the amino acids that make up proteins. Damaged kidneys have to work harder to get rid of the extra nitrogen and waste products of protein metabolism.

Separately a 2012 study looked at the effects of low-carbohydrate, high-protein versus low-fat diets on the kidneys.

The study found that in healthy obese adults, a low-carbohydrate, high-protein weight-loss diet over two years was not associated with noticeably harmful effects on renal filtration, albuminuria, or fluid and electrolyte balance compared with a low-fat diet.

Increased cancer risk

Studies have shown that certain high-protein diets that are particularly high in red meat-based protein are linked to an increased risk of various health issues, including cancer. Eating more red and/or processed meat is associated with colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer.

Conversely, eating protein from other sources has been associated with a decreased risk of cancer. Scientists believe this could be due, in part, to hormones, carcinogenic compounds, and fats found in meat.

Heart disease

Eating lots of red meat and full-fat dairy foods as part of a high-protein diet may lead to heart disease. This could be related to higher intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol.

According to a 2010 study, eating large amounts of red meat and high-fat dairy was shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Eating poultry, fish, and nuts lowered the risk.

A 2018 study also showed that long-term consumption of red meat can increase trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a gut-generated chemical that is linked to heart disease. Findings also showed that reducing or eliminating dietary red meat reversed the effects.

Calcium loss

Diets that are high in protein and meat may cause calcium loss. This is sometimes associated with osteoporosis and poor bone health.

A 2013 review of studies found an association between high levels of protein consumption and poor bone health. However, another 2013 review found that the effect of protein on bone health is inconclusive. Further research is needed to expand and conclude upon these findings.

Can I Have Too Much Protein When Trying to Lose Weight?

You may have heard about a recent study which showed that more protein enhanced weight control. The Australian researchers found that when subjects were fed a lower-protein diet (10 percent of their calories), they ate 12 percent more over a four-day period than when 15 percent of their calories came from protein. But when protein was bumped up to 25 percent there was no observed change compared to the 15 percenters.

The right amount of protein has been a hot topic for quite some time, especially for weight loss. Other studies show that protein supports weight control in at least three distinct ways:

First it’s satiating, as this new study indicates, so it tends to naturally curb eating. When consumed with carbs, it slows digestion to better regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. Finally, it has been shown to increase metabolism and help maintain or build calorie-burning muscle. But that doesn’t mean your dinner should be limited to a mondo piece of grilled chicken if you’re trying to trim down.

When it comes to protein needs there is a pretty wide range for the recommended amount. It’s 10 to 35 percent of total calories, or anywhere between 0.8 grams per kilogram of ideal body weight, up to 1.7 grams per kilo for athletes in training. When I work with clients one-on-one I always individualize it, but in general, I like to aim for the middle of the range. For an average adult woman, that would be roughly 80 to 100 g of protein per day. To put that in perspective, one 3-ounce chicken breast (about the size of a deck of cards) provides about 25 grams.

However, I don’t want my clients to have to count grams or calculate percentages (who has time for that?). To keep it simple, I advocate including a portion specific amount of lean protein at every meal, which can be vegetarian (dairy or eggs), vegan (beans, lentils or organic tofu) or omnivore (poultry, seafood) along with produce, a whole-grain, plant-based fat, and natural seasonings. This configuration, which I call the ‘5-piece puzzle’ is the crux of the weight loss plan in my newest book. I chose it because I believe it creates the best possible balance.

When trying to lose weight many people opt to axe whole grains or good fats and pump up the protein. In my opinion, that’s not balance. Carbohydrate, fat, and protein each perform unique jobs in the body. When you have too much of one and not enough of the others your body can’t function at its best. To use an analogy it would be like if a lot of extra cafeteria staff showed up for work at a school but all of the teachers called in sick – the extra food service workers can’t do the teachers’ jobs, so everything would be out of whack. OK, it’s an odd analogy, but pretty fitting, because your body functions best when it has the right amounts of each type of macronutrient showing up for work.

For example, when too much protein and too little fat and carbs are consumed, your cells burn protein for energy. This can create an acidic environment in the body, which triggers calcium (a base) to get pulled out of bones to neutralize the acid. Muscle also tends to weaken in an acidic environment, which increases the risk of injury and premature aging. And when protein is burned for fuel in place of the carbs you’re not eating (your body’s preferred fuel source), it’s essentially wasted, because it’s not available to maintain and repair your muscle and other lean tissue.

Bottom line: Striking the right balance is the key to optimizing how you look and feel. When you include lean protein at every meal, along with the other ‘puzzle pieces’ as I call them, in the right amounts, you should fall right into the ideal range. I’ve dubbed it the Goldilocks effect – not too little, not too much, just right.

What’s your take on protein? Have you had trouble getting too little, too much or understanding what’s ideal? Please share your comments or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

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Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she’s a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

  • By Cynthia Sass

There’s a rumor going around the gym, and it goes something like this: Eat too much protein, and it’ll just get converted to fat.

As people who eat roughly our body weight in chicken breast every week, we decided to put this rumor to rest.

“Protein is insulinogenic, meaning it can stimulate an insulin response, which puts the body in storage mode,” explains Jackie Buell, Ph.D., C.S.S.D., an assistant professor and sports dietitian at Ohio State University.

So to be clear: Yes, your body can transform the calories from excess protein into fat. However, no study has conclusively shown how much protein you can eat before your body starts changing that protein to fat. In fact, we do know that the protein-to-fat-transformation threshold is fairly high, because a number of studies have researched what happens when people eat lots of protein, and none of those studies reported changes in body fat composition.

A 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that when healthy guys consumed 3.3g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/d) for four months, they didn’t gain any fat compared to when they ate a traditionally healthy diet. (Nor did they have any changes to their blood lipids or liver and kidney function, by the way).

Another widely cited study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that when healthy, resistance-trained guys upped their protein to 4.4g/kg/d—that’s five and a half times the recommended daily allowance—their body fat didn’t go up whatsoever over two months. (Competing interest alert: One of the study authors is the CEO of the ISSN, which is sponsored by two supplement companies that supplied protein supplements for the study. Make of that what you will.)

What’s more, a small 2016 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that when healthy guys ingested up to 3.3g/kg/d of protein and continued their normal strength regimen, they actually lost fat over the four-month period.

“Bottom line: Protein in doses higher than the recommended daily allowance of 0.8g/kg/d appear to benefit most people, barring those with pre-existing health or kidney medical problems,” says Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., associate director of the Institute of Sports Sciences & Medicine at Florida State University.

So the question then becomes: If the excess doesn’t build fat, then where is it going? We need more research to fully answer that, Ormsbee says. Buell points out that your body has multiple uses for protein: Your liver decides the fate of amino acids first, and it can ship them out to other tissues to use for muscle repair or for energy, it can keep the amino acids and use them to make more proteins, or it can use them for energy to make glucose or fat, depending on the structure of the particular amino acid.

“We do know that excess intake can also increase the amount we excrete”—meaning protein that just gets flushed out of your system—“so that has to be taken into consideration too,” Ormsbee adds.

And if you’ve increased your protein and feel like you’ve gained fat, your protein intake probably isn’t at fault.

If you subscribe to a “traditional Western” diet and you’re scoring most of your protein through relatively high-fat sources—like meats, cheese, or full-fat yogurt—then yes, you’ll likely gain weight. But it’s not the protein that’s the problem, or the fat, for that matter (just look at every ripped guy on the Keto diet)—it’s the overall calorie count. “Over-consuming calories will lead to weight gain, no matter what nutrient,” Buell says.

And yes, protein powders have calories, Ormsbee adds. Every gram of protein, regardless of its source, has about 4 calories, Buell explains. If your powder has 20g of protein, then that’s at least 80 calories, not including the fat and carbs added to many powders to improve taste and texture.

So how do you increase your protein intake without also risking an increase in your body fat? Focus on a meal’s protein count first, and fill the rest of the plate with healthy carbs, fats, and vegetables, Ormsbee suggests.

And time it right, too. By combining regular exercise with “protein pacing”—that is, pacing a daily protein intake of 2g/kg over five to six meals a day, about every three hours—men and women of all physical builds can improve their body composition without gaining fat, according to extensive research conducted by Paul Arciero, D.P.E., at Skidmore College.

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Tons of women find that a high-protein diet is the ticket to weight loss.

It makes sense: Protein breaks down slower than carbs, so it helps you to feel fuller for longer. Eating enough protein helps you to lose less muscle as you shed weight, which keeps your metabolism humming. Plus, focusing on protein can automatically lead to you swapping junkier processed carbs for healthier options such as lean meat, dairy, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

That said, there is such a thing as too much protein. One large study published in 2015 in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that people whose diets were made up of more than 20 percent protein—especially animal protein—were significantly more likely to gain more than 10 percent of their body weight compared to people whose diets had less than 15 percent protein. And while plenty of other research suggests that you can (no, make that should) go higher in protein to lose, not gain, this study was enough to make us scratch our collective heads.

“I think people don’t understand that protein still has calories,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., creator of BetterThanDieting.com and Read It Before You Eat It. ” And, no matter how much protein you’re eating, consuming more calories per day than you burn off will always lead to weight gain, adds Emily Kyle, R.D.

Related: How to Turn Off Your Weight Gain Hormones

Need some help getting your weight loss (and calories) in check? Check out these four ways that a high-protein diet can sabotage weight loss, along with simple strategies for making a high-protein diet work for you.

You’re Eating Too Much Meat

While that marbled ribeye will definitely help you feel full, it also packs more calories than you probably bargained for: A 10-ounce steak—a small restaurant portion—can clock in at 1,000 calories. “Those excess calories don’t go to your biceps. They turn into fat,” says Taub-Dix.

The fix: As often as possible, opt for veggies and dairy that are high in protein but sill low in calories. For example, a cup of Greek yogurt or beans, for example, net you around 15 grams of protein for less than 200 calories. And when you do eat meat, choose lean cuts and keep your portions in check. One serving should be about the size of a deck of cards, says Taub-Dix. (Learn how bone broth can help you lose weight with Women’s Health’s Bone Broth Diet.)

You’re Setting Yourself Up for Binges

Cutting the carbs can but a damper on your moods and make your body crave carbs, which can lead to binges. “Your brain’s preferred fuel source is glucose, or carbs,” says Kyle. When you do eventually have carbs again, there’s a good chance you’ll overdo it and undo all of the progress you’ve made. “Usually when my patients are really being strict on protein diets, even a piece of Melba toast looks delicious,” says Taub-Dix.

The fix: To keep things in balance, she suggests getting about 50 to 55 percent of your daily calories from healthy carbs. “Carbs are the nutrient we love to hate. But you can still lose weight eating carbs,” she says. Great, weight-friendly sources include whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

Try these 3 whole-grain breakfasts:

You Don’t Have the Energy to Work Out

“Carbs are the best source of fuel for any activity,” says Taub-Dix. Cutting them out entirely to make way for protein can also cause you to feel tired, which means you end up working out less—and that’s counter-productive to any weight-loss plan. “It’s a revolving cycle. You feel lethargic so you don’t work out, and you don’t work out so feel more lethargic,” adds Kyle.

The fix: High protein doesn’t have to mean no carbs, she says. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. Try introducing some more whole carbs from fruits, legumes, and whole grains into your diet and see how your energy levels fare. Before and after your workout are the perfect time for carbs.

Related: 3 Signs You Need To Start Eating More Carbs

You’re Not Getting Enough Fiber

Fiber absorbs fluid to help you feel more full and keeps your GI tract healthy by feeding healthy gut bacteria, and lots of studies have linked fiber to weight loss. But if you’re focusing too much on protein, you might be not get enough fruits, veggies, and whole grains—major sources of nutrients and fiber that can help you feel more satisfied with more volume for fewer calories. “If you’re eating too much protein, you’re not fueling the good bacteria in your gut,” says Taub-Dix.

The fix: So make sure you’re hitting your daily recommended intake of about 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Related: ‘This One Tweak Helped Me Lose All The Baby Weight And Then Some’

What Now? The Right Amount of Protein for Weight Loss

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines say you should max out at 35 percent of your daily calories from protein (that’s a whopping 175 grams of protein if you’re following a 2,000-calorie diet), and one review from the University of Texas found that 25 percent is the sweet-spot for obese women trying to lose weight. But Taub-Dix says most of us need 20 percent of our calories from protein, or about 100 grams of protein, max (Remember, the harder you cut calories, the more protein you need!) Keep in mind that your ability to convert protein into muscle caps out at around 30 or 35 grams per meal, so spread your intake throughout the day.

Think your protein intake might be sabotaging your weight loss? “If you’re feeling off, you’re probably overdoing it,” says Kyle. Watch out for signs you’re getting too much protein, which can include feeling thirsty, being constipated, moodiness, weight gain, and changes in your menstrual cycle. If you think your body is crying out for carbs, try reintroducing them gradually in the form of veggies, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy for a well-balanced diet that will keep you energized and shedding the pounds.

Colleen de Bellefonds Colleen de Bellefonds is an American freelance journalist living in Paris, France, with her husband and dog, Mochi.

No It Won’t Make You Fat: Reasons You Should Be Drinking Protein After a Workout

From beginner to bodybuilder, everyone needs their protein.

Zach NewmanFollow Jan 13, 2017 · 4 min read

Somewhere along the line it seems the general public has come to accept that protein supplements (shakes, powders, bottled protein drinks) are for big, Hulk-like bodybuilding gym rats who rattle the gym floor after each and every step as they maneuver their way through their domain.

But the honest truth is, protein is for everybody. Allow me to break it down for you.

Side note: I’ll be using the term “protein” to encompass protein supplements in all their forms — powders, shakes, store bought drinks, etc.

What is protein anyway?

So protein, alongside carbohydrates and fats, is one of the three macronutrients we need to carry out various functions and provide the energy we need to do work. Protein, specifically, is important because it is composed of 20 different amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of muscle tissue which is mostly comprised of proteins which are a major component of all body tissue.

Why do we need protein after a workout?

After a workout, especially after a resistance workout, our muscles are fatigued. They undergo stress throughout the course of the workout that causes them to break down. Following the workout, the body begins to repair these muscle tissues in a way that will build them stronger and more durable in order to sustain another workout of that caliber.

In the muscle rebuilding process, this is called “protein synthesis” whereby new proteins are generated to replace damaged or old ones. When we take in protein, quality protein that contains all essential amino acids, we aid our body in this process as the protein we take in is used to rebuild the muscle stronger and quicker.

Does it matter if I did cardio or lifted weights?

No, both cardio and resistance (also referred to as weight training, lifting, etc.) workouts can benefit from added protein intake immediately following the workout. Both place great demands on the body’s muscular tissue causing muscle fatigue that can benefit from the intake of protein.

I will say, though, that because resistance training places greater demands on the muscles than cardio does, and produces more micro-tears in the muscle tissue that the body must repair and build stronger, it is wildly more important that we get the protein we need to rebuild these muscles as soon as possible.

But doesn’t protein make you gain weight? Will I get fat?

Protein won’t make you gain weight. You gain weight when you eat more calories than your body needs to maintain. That is called being in a caloric surplus. Most protein powders contain anywhere from 100–150 calories a scoop and are very low in carbs and fats.

What you see is probably people taking mass gainers that contain double or triple the amount of calories per serving that an average protein powder does and then doing nothing with it — not working out.

You may also be seeing people taking multiple shakes a day that are added with extras like peanut butter, bananas, oats, and other ingredients. These kinds of extra ingredients are fine and they can enhance the benefits and taste of your shake, but when taken in excess they add too many calories to your diet thus putting you in a caloric surplus causing you to gain weight. Additionally, if these people aren’t putting in the work like they should, all of these added calories get stored as fat.

Conclusion

So no, protein supplements won’t make you fat. Protein itself won’t make you fat. Whether you’re looking to break world records, personal records, or even just become leaner, protein supplements are an excellent way to facilitate muscle development.

Of course, if you can meet your daily protein intake needs through “real food” then by all means go for it. If you can whip together a solid meal after a workout then kudos to you. Protein supplements are just a quick and accessible way to get the protein you need post-workout as soon as possible.

Protein is now everywhere — from shakes and powders to granola bars. Meat, too, is part of our cultural DNA, whether it’s giant steaks or burgers that have quadrupled in size since the 1950s.

Obviously you can’t live without protein — it’s the basic building block of the human body, making up all of your bones, tissues and cellular structure — but our recent cultural obsession with the stuff is way out of proportion to the amount we actually need.

And yes, this is still the case for dedicated gym rats. You’ve been told that your muscles need protein, and it’s true: Muscles grow as a result of a process called protein turnover. This, explains Carolyn Dean, a medical advisory board member at the Nutritional Magnesium Association, is the “breakdown of damaged muscle proteins and the creation of new and stronger ones.”

Put more simply, when you work out, you’re deliberately damaging your muscle tissues so that they grow back bigger and stronger, and for this to happen effectively, the body needs a good supply of protein. But since there are limits to how much protein your body can actually use, chugging protein shakes may be doing you more harm than good.

How Much Protein Should We Be Eating?
The best way to calculate your protein needs, according to Dean, is to “multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.35.” The figure you get is roughly how many grams of protein you need to consume in one day. In other words…

  • If you weigh 175 pounds, you should be eating 61.25 grams of protein daily (175 x 0.35 = 61.25 grams).


If you, like pretty much everyone else, have trouble visualizing 60 grams of protein, it’s less food than you think. One 4-ounce chicken breast contains 43 grams of protein, so if that’s in one of your meals, you’re already more than two-thirds of the way there. Add in two eggs for breakfast (6 grams each) and a serving of broccoli (4.5 grams) and you’ve met your daily allotment.

Or you can take the easy route: A 9-ounce steak comes close to 80 grams of protein by itself, so that puts you way over in just one meal.

How Much Protein We’re Actually Eating
Short answer: Too much. “Current protein intake is above the recommended dietary allowance for protein,” says Jamie I. Baum, an assistant professor of nutrition in the food science department at the University of Arkansas. In fact, most of us are eating almost double the protein we need, and it’s definitely not all going to our muscles. Even eating more than 30 to 35 grams of protein in a single meal isn’t helpful, according to Baum: “Anything over that won’t do much because the pathways in our body are maxed out after that amount.”

The excess gets turned into body fat because your system can’t use it. “Without exercise extra protein isn’t going to do much for you as far as physical fitness and physique are concerned,” Baum says. “, too much protein when trying to get in shape can lead to excess weight gain.”

What Else We Should Be Eating
Unsurprisingly, the secret to healthy eating is balance. “Your diet should be a balance of complex carbs, fats and protein,” Dean says. Complex carbs contain nutrients like fiber and starch, so going for broccoli, grains, apples and beans instead of that third chicken breast helps contribute to a more balanced metabolism. As for fats, health, nutrition and lifestyle consultant Mike Kuhn warns against crude oils and fast food, recommending coconut oils, avocado, grass-fed butter and eggs (the yolks especially). Fats are important, since they stockpile nutrients and energy and protect our vital organs from physical harm.

How Did We All Get It So Wrong About Protein?
It’s not actually a new phenomenon: We’ve been eating too much of the stuff since at least the 1960s. It’s not just Americans, either — many developed nations take in too much protein, so much so that there’s a correlation between developed nations and the occurrence of gout from too much meat intake, according to Dean.

More recently, fad diets like paleo and Akins — those that advise people to run screaming from carbs but eat all the meat they like — have played a part. They may be superficially helpful in losing some weight quickly, but it’s thrown our awareness of real nutritional balance way out of whack.

The paleo diet, especially, invokes the image of our tough, sinewy caveman ancestors, raised on a diet of raw leaves and mammoth steaks. But even this is BS, since the protein intake of a caveman was wildly irregular. “Our ancestors ate seasonally,” explains Dean. “When the fish were ‘running,’ they ate fish. They hunted in the fall and winter and stored food for the next season. There was no ‘daily’ amount of protein that they ate.”

As for protein in the modern age? You really can have too much of a good thing.

Cookbook:High Protein Diet

Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Special diets

A High Protein Diet is often recommended by bodybuilders and nutritionists to help efforts to build muscle and lose fat. It should not be confused with low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet, which are not calorie-controlled and which often contain large amounts of fat.

High Protein diets typically obtain 30%–60% of their calories from protein, 15%–30% from fat and the remainder from carbohydrates. They tend to rely heavily on seafood and lean meat, which makes them difficult or impossible for vegetarians.

Benefits

  • Protein is essential for building muscle.
  • Unlike carbohydrates, protein provides long-lasting energy without an insulin surge (which promotes fat storage).
  • Protein tends to suppress the appetite.
  • Protein takes quite a bit of energy to digest, which boosts the body’s metabolism.
  • Lean protein-rich foods are much less calorie-dense than carbohydrate-rich foods. For example, the ham in a common sandwich may have 343 kJ per 100g, whereas the bread has 1011 kJ per 100g. Like vegetables, they help to bulk out a meal.

Sample diet

Overview
Category: Special Diets
Servings: 1
Calories: 1250 (per day)
Time: 10 min (total)
Difficulty:

The daily food intake that is detailed below contains 1250 kCal in total, and would therefore be suitable for someone with 45 kg of lean bodyweight—such as a 60 kg female with 25% bodyfat—who wants to lose weight at a rate of ¼–½ kg a week (the maximum safe rate). Individuals with a greater lean bodyweight should increase their food intake proportionately, as should lean individuals who are attempting to gain weight. 50% of the calories come from protein, 25% from carbohydrates and 25% from fat.

Anyone attempting to reproduce this diet should try to find products that match the nutritional profiles shown below. The protein, carbohydrate and fat content is given as their percentage by weight, which is the same as grams per 100g (as marked on nutritional labels). This is not the same as the percentage of calories.

A multivitamin supplement should be taken to ensure that adequate levels of each essential vitamin and mineral are maintained.

Sundried tomato tuna with baby beetroot is a quick, tasty and nutritious high-protein meal, that can be eaten hot or cold.

Some of the milk can be put towards cups of coffee or tea throughout the day. If required, artificial sweeteners should be used instead of sugar. Milk is an important weapon against osteoporosis, not just because of its calcium content, but because it also contains enzymes that promote bone growth.

In order to achieve the recommended six meals a day, one sandwich should be eaten mid-morning, one at lunchtime and one mid-afternoon. Soya/linseed bread has very low Glycemic Index (36), which also helps to ensure a steady release of energy during the day. Lettuce or sliced tomato may be added to make the sandwiches more interesting.

Dinner serving size weight protein carbs fat kJ/100g net energy
Red Salmon 1 large tin 210g 16.8% 0.0% 10.1% 683 343 kCal
Fresh or Frozen Vegetables 1 cup 85g 2.7% 3.4% 0.2% 110 22 kCal

Red salmon is a very good source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (2.7%). Other fish or seafood may be substituted if salmon is unavailable. The meal can be microwaved, or stir-fried without oil in a nonstick pan. “Zero-calorie” condiments such as herbs, spices and soy sauce may be added.

Pre/post-workout serving size weight protein carbs fat kJ/100g net energy
Protein Bar ½ large bar 45g 44.4% 21.0% 10.9% 1480 159 kCal

The protein bar may be more suitable as a pre-workout or post-workout meal, depending upon when the workout occurs. It can be useful pre-workout if the workout would otherwise occur more than two hours after the last meal. Alternatively, it can be consumed immediately following the workout, because both protein uptake and protein usage are increased at this time.

The protein shake should be taken shortly before going to bed to maintain protein availability during the night, when HGH (Human Growth Hormone) levels are at their peak. The milk-powder based diet shake adds slow-release casein to the mix of proteins, and offsets the sometimes poor taste of whey-based shakes. The added dietary fiber aids digestion.

High Protein Recipes

Most meat recipes are suitable for a High Protein diet, for example:

  • Paprika Chicken
  • Coq au Vin
  • Carpetbag Steak

Visible fat should be cut from the meat, and (in the case of poultry) the skin should be removed. Generally, lean meats such as beef or turkey are preferred to pork or duck.

Soya protein powder can be mixed with flour to increase the protein content of pancakes, muffins and other baked goods.

References

  • Eades, Michael and Mary (1997). Protein Power. Bantam. (ISBN 0553574752)

Do you want to build muscles, lose fat, or simply maintain your physique? Whatever your fitness goal is, what you eat is critical for achieving it. Craft your ideal macronutrient ratio now with our pro tips or by using our macro calculator!

Catching the word “macros” in your local fitness club is not really a surprise. Focusing on your daily macronutrients intake instead of your calorie intake has become the new norm in today’s health & fitness world. And quiet frankly, we should all get on board with it, as according to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, you won’t reach your fitness goals without the essential macronutrients. This is probably what started the buzz around the so-called IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros diet.

If It Fits Your Macros

Macronutrient Basics

The IFFYM diet completely revolves around the three macronutrients all foods are composed of – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. As explained by the Washington State University, macronutrients are that group of nutrients that your body needs greater volumes of. The simple explanation behind this is that macros are made up of calories that fuel your body with energy.

The calorie content of each macro is as follows

  • A gram of protein contains 4 calories
  • And a gram of fat contains 9 calories
  • A gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories

What’s the IIFYM Diet?

Essentially what the IIFYM diet advocates for is personalization, flexibility and not just a smarter, but also a more human form of dieting.

It is based on the fact that there’s no ideal diet that fits all sizes. Your body’s macronutrient needs will vary based on several factors, such as personal characteristics, your everyday life, and your objectives. And so even though, life’d be a lot easier with a typical ‘ideal ratio’ of carbs, fat and protein, reality is much more complicated than that.

This is one of the reasons why the IFFYM diet is considered to be superior over a simple calorie counting method. With the IFFYM you’ll follow a macro ratio that is entirely tailored to you. You’ll learn about the meaningful stuff behind calories, the nutrient value of various foods. And most importantly, what you eat will not block you from your fitness goals, but will help in reaching them.

Learn more about why macro counting is better than simple calorie counting

So let’s get into the specifics and see how to calculate your ideal macro ratio to get you on that IFFYM diet!

Step 1: Set your optimal daily calorie intake

If you ever hear someone saying ‘calories don’t count when you do a macro diet’, don’t believe them! First of all, you could eat the most nutrition dense magic food, but if you ate 10,000 calories worth of it, you’d still gain weight. And secondly, as most diets, IFFYM and your personal macro ratio also have to be based on your target calorie intake. To get this number, you need to go through a three-step process.

  1. Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
  2. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
  3. Decide on your calorie deficit or surplus

Calculate your BMR

The very first calculation you need to make is to get your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR number is the amount of calories your body burns at a resting state. Meaning that this is the amount of energy your body uses to function.

BMR varies person by person, as the amount of calories your body burns depends on several personal factors. These include your sex, age, weight, and height.

Calculate Your TDEE

BMR is the basis, but since you are not just sitting at home all day, it needs to be adjusted. To get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), you have to account for your physical activity.

Use this simple calculation to get your TDEE👇

Decide on your caloric deficit or surplus

Once you know your TDEE number, all you have to do is decide what your fitness goal is to get your target calorie intake. To keep things simple, here we talk about three main goals: 1) maintain your weight, 2) lose weight 3) gain muscles.

Calories for Weight Maintenance

The first option is evidently the easiest. If you’re aiming for weight maintenance, your ideal calorie intake is simply your TDEE. Since in this case, you’ll burn the same amount of calories as you consume resulting in no weight gain or loss.

Calories for Weight Loss

If you’d like to lose weight, you have to aim for a caloric deficit. This means that your calories in should be less than your calories out, creating a deficit. The commonly recommended deficit for a healthy and sustainable weight loss is around 10-25% of your TDEE. Research shows that this moderate calorie cutting will help to maintain muscle mass while losing weight. However, the exact amount of this deficit really depends on specific factors, like how much weight you want to lose in what time span, your training specifics, genetics, and so on.

Calories for Muscle Gain

On the flip side, if you’d like to gain muscles, in most cases you’ll need to have a caloric surplus. You’ll need to consume more than what you burn. Since this number is also dependent on many personal factors, even more so than the caloric deficit, it is hard to give a general recommendation for ideal surplus. While you might gain more lean mass with greater surplus, you might also increase your body fat during the process.

Factors that can affect your caloric deficit & surplus include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Type of training
  • Frequency of training
  • Training volume
  • Training experience

Read this Sci-fi article for an overarching literature review on caloric deficit & surplus

Step 2: Calculate your ideal macro ratio

Once you have your target daily calorie intake, you’ll have to break it down into the three macros. This is how you’ll know how many calories you should spend on each macronutrient.

Calculate your protein target

When crafting your ideal macro ratio, you should start with the most important one, which is protein. Protein is an essential element of your body cells (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, IOM), and is also used for maintaining, repairing, and building your tissues. Therefore, regardless your fitness goals, your body needs dietary protein to simply function in a healthy way.

The tricky thing about protein is that while it’s nonessential amino acid components can be produced by our body, we can only gain its essential amino acid components from food (FDA). Stressing further how much we need to pay attention to our protein intake.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA – set by the IOM), which is the bare minimum our body needs for functioning is 0.36 grams of protein/lb of body weight. Raising this amount, the IOM suggests that if you’re physically active, you should consume 0.5-0.8 grams/lb of body weight.

Converting these numbers into percentages, protein should make up 10-35% of your daily calorie intake. Where you sit within this range or whether you fall outside of it is again dependent on several factors.

Fitness Goals

If your aim is to lose weight, research suggests to move towards the higher end of that protein spectrum. Increasing your protein intake can help in boosting your energy expenditure, as well as reduce your hungriness.

When it comes to gaining muscles, protein intake recommendations get a lot more controversial than with weight loss. You’ve probably heard crazy numbers, like 1.5-2 grams/lb before, but this is just a myth. Based on previous research , the very maximum amount of beneficial protein is thought to be 0.8 grams/lb of body weight, which is also at the higher end of the general recommendation range.

Check out Bayesian Bodybuilding’s article for a comprehensive analysis of studies about ideal protein intake for muscle building!

Recommended protein intake/day for weight loss & muscle gain: 25-35%

Exercise Type

Another factor that very much influences the daily protein needs of your body is your exercise type. Different types of workouts burn energy differently, have different effects on your body and hence, vary in the nutritional support they need.

Based on previous studies, if you’re participating in endurance training, your body needs relatively lower amounts of approximately 0.5-0.6 grams of protein/lb. But if you are focused on strength training, your daily protein intake should range around 0.7-0.8 grams/lb.

Recommended protein intake/day for endurance training: 15-25%

Recommended protein intake/day for strength training: 25-35%

Calculate your fat target

As the IOM says, fat is one of the key energy sources for our body, but it’s a lot more than that. Healthy fats, or saturated fatty acids are critical for absorbing Vitamin A, D, E and K, help with cell membranes construction and also tend to decrease appetite.

It’s important that we make a distinction between saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids, which are unsaturated and mainly generated via industrial processes. While the former one is an essential for healthy living, the latter one is associated with negative outcomes. Therefore, trans fatty acids should be avoided.

Unlike protein, there’s no generally accepted RDA for fat. However, the IOM’s Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat is 20-35%. While just like with protein, you might jump out of this range based on personal factors, here you are only recommended to go beyond, but not below.

As healthy fats have various benefits for your body, the recommended range is going to remain relatively the same regardless your fitness goals. While it sounds pretty ironic that you need fat to lose fat, it is true. As we’ve said before, research has proven that healthy fats lower the sensation of hunger and can aid weight loss.

On the other side of the story, saturated fatty acids also play a key role in building muscles. Hence, they shouldn’t be neglected in this case either. But it’s important to note that with both fitness goals, it’s usually suggested to follow a “less is more” philosophy and stay in the 20-35% range.

Recommended fat intake/day for weight loss & muscle gain: 20-35%

Special Diet

Macro Recommendation for Ketogenic Diet

One circumstance that is going to significantly move your fat intake is the diet you preach for. As the Ketogenic or Keto Diet is widely known to be a high-fat-diet, your range is going to climb up quite a bit. According to the Keto Diet App team, ideally 60-75% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat.

The idea behind such diet is that the ultimate fuel supply for your body becomes fat. This lowers your insulin volumes and intensifies your fat burning. A theory that makes Keto Diet an alternative for low-fat weight loss diets.

Listen to our 20 Minute Fitness Podcast About The Keto Diet

Recommended fat intake/day for Keto Diet: 60-75%

Calculate your carbs target

In contrast to protein and fat, carbohydrates have only one role, but it’s a big one. They provide your body with energy. Therefore, your carbs intake also needs attention, especially if you’re a regular at the gym and need to fuel your workouts.

The RDA for adults is 130 grams of carbs/day, which is the least amount you need for having enough energy. And if we are thinking about percentages, the usual recommendations revolve around 45-60%. But again, these are just general numbers, which might not match with your targets. Your actual ideal carbs intake can depend on your gender, age, fitness goals, diet preferences, and so on.

First and foremost, if you’re en route to weight loss, you won’t want to consume the same amount of carbs as those who’re building muscles.

Probably the most common tip you hear for weight loss, is the low carbs diet. But the real question here is how low is that low. As discussed previously, carbs is your energy source, so you should still consume enough of it. Therefore, we recommend a moderate intake of 35-45% of your daily calories to be carbs. Aim for the lower end if you’re not that active, and for the higher end if you’re regularly hitting the gym.

And if you’re a muscle builder, there’re a ton of benefits you’ll be able to gain from adequate carbs intake. According to the Juggernaut article, carbs will increase your training intensity, intensify your recovery between both sets and workouts, and lower the intensity of your drop-off rate during longer sessions. Additionally, carbs will also help to increase training volumes above your overload threshold, and protect your muscles from injury. For these reasons, we suggest to hit the higher end of the carbs target when building muscles.

Recommended carbs intake/day for weight loss: 35-45%

Recommended carbs intake/day for muscle gain: 50-60%

Activity Level

Since carbs are the energy that fuels your body, it’s clear that your carbs intake is influenced by your activity level. As the length and intensity of your exercise go up, your carbs needs increase with them. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ manual, you need the following amounts of carbs/day based on your physical activity.

Carbs, just like fat, highly depend on the particular diet you follow. If you’re on a Keto Diet, your carbs intake has to drop significantly below the recommended range. As the Keto Diet App’s team recommends, your daily carbs target should be merely 5-10%. This decrease in carbs leaves the necessary space for the high fat intake.

Macro Recommendation for Paleothic Diet

Not as drastic as the Keto Diet dictates, but if you’re following a Paleo Diet, you still have to cut on carbs. As mentioned by Paleo Leap, when you’re on a Paleo Diet, your carbs intake should be about 20% of your total daily calorie intake.

Recommended carbs intake/day for Keto Diet: 5-10%

Recommended carbs intake/day for Paleo Diet: 20%

Ok, so this is a ton of information, that’s for sure. So here’s a quick recap on the different macro ratios.

And while you could start doing the math with a pen and paper, we have a much better solution for you.😉 Just put your deets in our magic calculator below, and get your ideal macro ratio in seconds!

Best Macro Calculator

Additional Macronutrient Tips

Not All Macronutrients Are Equal

However, your ideal macro ratio is not everything you should pay attention to. It’s also key to have healthy macronutrient sources. For instance, getting your daily carb intake from sugary cookies won’t have the same effects on your body as complex carbs. Just like your body reacts differently to animal protein than plant protein.

Meal Timing and Quantity

Additionally, the number of meals you have also matters. Your body’s absorption reaction won’t be the same if you try to stuff all macros in your belly at once versus over 4-5 smaller meals. And lastly, the nutrition timing, especially if you work out regularly, is also something to look out for. Your body has different needs pre and post workout and if you’d like to maximize your results, you’ll need to give it what it needs.

Read More About The Ideal Nutrition Timing

Step 3: Track your macros

So you’re all done, right? No actually, not at all. The harder part is just about to begin. Once you have your ideal macro ratio, you’ll have to start eating accordingly and make adjustments if needed.

Learn About ShapeScale

First of all, you’ll have to start tracking what you eat. To do this, we have 2 basic tips.

#1 Buy a food scale

This is going to be your very first step towards keeping your diet. With a food scale, you’ll be able to accurately measure how much you eat from what and precisely track your nutrients. And trust me, guessing the amounts is a very dangerous game, so you’ll really need that scale.

#2 Download a calorie and macro counting app

The second step is keeping track of what you measure. And the best way to do it is with an app on your smartphone that’s smart enough to handle all the calculations for you. The best apps will let you personalize your macro ratios and give you little warning signs if you’re heading towards exceeding them.

Check Out The Best Calorie & Macro Counting Apps

And finally, what is even more important than tracking the actual process, is tracking the results. You have to be aware that your macro ratio is not set in stone. You might get it right for the first time and see great results. But you also might need to go back and forth and adjusting it several times.

So how exactly will you get fast enough results to not waste your time eating what’s not ideal for your body?

#3 Use ShapeScale

ShapeScale will give you faster feedback on how your body is changing than you could ever dreamed of. With our extremely accurate visual features, such as the difference view and the 3D heatmap, you’ll see changes on your body in only a couple of days.

This will allow you to see whether your body’s reacting to your macro ratio as expected. And if not, you’ll simply be able to adjust the ratio and use ShapeScale for further tracking. Ultimately, you’ll find the perfect macro ratio and reach your fitness goals easier than ever!

Pre-Order Your ShapeScale Now For Accurate Tracking

Get the Ultimate Nutrition Guide Use our free guide to design your very own personalized nutrition plan. Download e-Book Get the Ultimate Nutrition Guide … start working on your unique diet plan. Download E-Book

Protein when losing weight

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