How Much Protein Do You Need?

Our guide delves into how much of this vital nutrient you need, what it does for your body, where it can be found, and more.

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Last updated: Jul 20th, 2023
protein sources - nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, protein powder

Whether you're a fitness enthusiast looking to build lean muscle or simply someone striving for a well-balanced lifestyle, understanding how much protein you should consume is key. Protein is not only essential for repairing and building tissues, but it also plays a vital role in various bodily functions.

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What is protein?

Proteins exist in every cell in the human body and are vital for good health. These building blocks are large molecules made up of long chains of hundreds of amino acids. Proteins perform many essential tasks throughout our bodies and are necessary for us to properly build, maintain, and repair tissues and cells. Protein is the foundation of everything from our skin and hair to enzymes and antibodies that protect us from infection. It also helps us build and contract muscles, balance body fluids, clot blood, and carry fats, vitamins, minerals, and oxygen all through our bodies.

Of the 20 amino acids that comprise proteins, nine of them, the essential amino acids, are not made by the body and must come from our diet. This list includes histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

What foods contain protein?

Protein can be found in a wide variety of sources, including plant and animal-based foods. Protein-rich foods, like lean cuts of meat, plant-based foods, and fish, can help you meet your protein goals while also helping you keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check. Also, it’s best to change where you are getting your protein from to gain the most health benefits (like meeting all your nutrient needs) by eating a varied diet.

High-protein foods

Below, we’ve listed some high-protein foods, including how much protein is in common portion sizes and some of their other health benefits (like vitamins and minerals).

Fish and seafood

Fish are an excellent source of protein, are low in saturated fat, and have the added benefit of other heart-healthy nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids (which help lower triglycerides and blood pressure). It’s recommended to eat seafood at least two times a week. Examples include tuna, lobster, salmon, shrimp, cod, catfish, and crab. A piece of fish about the size of a deck of cards provides around 30g of protein.


When it comes to red meat, choose lean cuts more often than fatty cuts. Consuming too much red meat has been linked to cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer risk. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy beef in your diet; just be sure to use moderation. Along with iron and B12, a 4oz portion of 90% lean beef will give you about 25g of protein.

Poultry and eggs

Eating skinless poultry reduces your saturated fat intake while gaining ample protein. Some examples include chicken, turkey, duck, and quail. Egg whites are also a good source of protein, but don’t discount the yolk — it’s a great source of vitamin D, vitamin E, and choline. One large egg provides about 6g of protein, and 4 ounces of chicken breast will give you 32g.


Legumes include beans, peas, and lentils. These superfoods provide not only protein but also serve as excellent sources of fiber, helping you stay feeling full for longer. Half a cup of black beans or lentils provides about 8g of protein.


Tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk are all fantastic suppliers of protein that come from soy. Whole soy foods like these are complete protein sources, meaning they contain all the essential fatty acids. Soy is also low in fat and sometimes less expensive than meat products. Half a cup of cooked soybeans provides you with 16g of protein.

Dairy products

Dairy items like milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese can be great sources of protein. But try to limit sweetened milk and yogurt products with added sugars. Just one cup of Greek yogurt provides you with 25g of protein.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds give you good (unsaturated) fats as well as protein. These foods make a great on-the-go snack or salad topping. Examples include walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds. A small handful of nuts contains roughly 6g of protein.

High-protein foods to limit

Some high-protein foods are also high in saturated fats and salt, which can be risky for your heart health. When choosing sources of protein in your diet, be sure to limit how much fried and processed meat you consume. Some evidence-based guidelines state to keep saturated fats to below roughly 10% of your total calorie intake.

Vegan and vegetarian options

Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to consume animal products to reach your protein goals. Plant sources of protein have the added benefit of being naturally low in saturated fat and sodium. Beans and legumes are excellent protein suppliers and are fiber-rich, helping you feel full longer. Chickpeas, nuts, and seeds are also great options. Tofu (soy) is good for packing a solid protein punch — just 3oz of cooked firm tofu will provide you with 9g of protein.

Rice and pea protein powders are a vegan-friendly option for those looking to supplement their diet. Although these plant-based powders don’t typically contain as much protein as their animal-based counterparts, they can still stimulate muscle growth comparable to milk whey.

What about protein shakes and supplements?

Most Americans get enough protein each day through a balanced diet. However, some groups of people may benefit from additional protein. If you’re an older adult with a struggling appetite, supplementation may help you reach your daily nutrition needs. Protein supplements or shakes (like those from Soylent and Huel) can also benefit those on a restricted diet.

Athletes and exercise enthusiasts looking to increase their muscle gains may find improvement by consuming an extra 20-40g of protein within an hour of working out. And according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the daily protein intake recommendations for muscle gain are 1.4-2.0 grams per kilogram of your body weight. Protein supplements can be pre-made shakes, powders, and bars. Whey and soy are the most common types of protein used in supplements, although several other sources are available, including peas and hemp. Vegans and those allergic to dairy should avoid whey since it comes from milk. It’s also important to look for a supplement that includes all the essential amino acids.

However, keep an eye out for products with high amounts of added sugars (these help with flavor but not with your nutrition). A healthy way to improve the flavor of a protein shake is by mixing your powder with a milk of your choice or adding some fresh fruit.

How much protein do you need per day?

The amount of protein you need each day depends on your personal calorie needs. It relies on several factors, namely your age, sex, height, weight, health status, and activity level. Generally, 10-35% of your daily calories should come from protein. Pregnant or breast-feeding women may require more protein and should speak with their physician about their changing nutrient requirements throughout pregnancy and beyond.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine determines the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) of nutrients we need based on our life stage and sex group. As a general recommendation, the RDA for protein is 0.8g per kg of body weight; this is the minimum you need to keep from becoming deficient. You can calculate this number by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36 (or make it even easier on yourself and use this handy Dietary Reference Intakes calculator from the USDA).

The United States Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services team up to release dietary guidelines every five years, with ideal nutrition goals for each life stage. We’ve included their recommendations for protein based on age and sex.

AgeSexProtein Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA, in grams)
6 to 11 monthsMale and Female11g
12 to 23 monthsMale and Female13g
2 to 3 yearsMale and Female13g
4 to 8 yearsFemale19g
9 to 13 yearsFemale34g
14 to 18 yearsFemale46g
19 to 30 yearsFemale46g
31 to 50 yearsFemale46g
51+ yearsFemale46g
4 to 8 yearsMale19g
9 to 13 yearsMale34g
14 to 18 yearsMale52g
19 to 30 yearsMale56g
31 to 50 yearsMale56g
51+ yearsMale56g

Most Americans eat enough protein daily but need more variety in the types of protein they consume. While protein from an animal source (such as red meat) is more easily absorbed, it’s still best to incorporate plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts) into your diet. This variety in your diet will assist you with getting all the daily nutrients you need.

Knowing how much protein you need and then trying to figure out how much protein your portion sizes actually provide can feel complicated. A quick read of nutrition labels can help you determine how much protein you’re receiving in packaged foods. To give you a general idea of some common foods, one serving (½ cup) of black beans gives you roughly 8g of protein. Just a half cup of full-fat cottage cheese serves up 11.6g, and one egg (50g) delivers about 6g of protein. To help you along, here are a few resources for determining how much protein content is in your favorite foods:



Innerbody uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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