How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is an important macronutrient for the body. It is used to build and maintain many parts of the body including our muscles, collagen, skin, hair, hormones and immune system. But how much protein should you be eating?
As with most questions in nutrition, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question. Your ideal intake of protein depends on your health, body composition, goals and physical activity.
Kids need approximately 1 gram of protein per kg of bodyweight (1). For example, a 20kg 5year old only needs 20grams of protein per day. “That’s not as much as a thought” I often hear from parents.
Let’s see what this looks like in a day:
Adults and athletes
For an adult, the amount of protein varies depending on the individual. The deciding factor is based on someone’s metabolically active tissue. That is, their fat free mass.
For people who are already lean (for example, athletes) and participating in resistance training the target is 1.6 to 2.2grams of protein per kg of bodyweight (2). For extremely lean individuals (for example competitive body builders) this may go up to 2.3 to 3.1grams per kg of fat free mass (3).
In the case of someone who is wanting to lose weight and is at a higher body fat percentage, in general, the goal is 1.0 - 1.5grams of protein per kg of fat free mass (4).
Let’s see what that looks like for a 70kg female athlete:
From about the age 50, humans begin to gradually lose skeletal muscle. This is known as sarcopenia and is common in older adults. Loss of muscle mass is worsened by chronic disease, poor diet and low activity levels (5,6).
Meeting the daily protein recommendation may help you maintain muscle mass and strength. This is important for maintaining your ability to perform daily tasks and reduce the risk of injury from falls.
So how much protein should you be eating? (7,8)
- Sedentary but healthy older adults: 1.0–1.2 grams of protein per kg
- Sick or injured older adults: 1.2–1.5 grams of protein per kg
- Older adults wishing to lose weight: 1.5–2.2 grams of protein per kg
- Older adults wishing to build muscle: 1.7–2.0 grams of protein per kg
Older people with severe kidney disease is the exception to this rule, please speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian for individualised recommendations as you may need to limit intake.
Here we have looked at the protein requirements (1-1.2g/kg) for a healthy, but sedentary older adult. For an adult who is unwell, looking to gain muscle or or lose weight the requirements will be much higher (up to 2.2g/kg) and extremely difficult to meet through food intake alone.
Top 3 tips to reach your protein targets
It can be difficult to hit your protein goals, particularly for those with a poor appetite or high requirements. Our top 3 tips to reach them are:
- Start your day with a high protein breakfast every day. This is a mealtime people often struggle to achieve their protein targets. Include foods such as Greek yoghurt, eggs, baked beans or add a quality protein powder to your recipes. Meal ideas include Boomers Overnight Oats and High Protein Pancakes.
- Include a high protein food with each meal. Don’t wait until the end of the day to squeeze in your total protein intake. Include a minimum of 20-30grams of protein with each meal throughout the day.
- Have a high protein drink. If you are struggling to reach your targets through food alone. Consider supplementing with a protein powder. See our full range here!
1. Protein. (2014). Retrieved 24 September 2020, from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/protein
2. Morton, R., Murphy, K., McKellar, S., Schoenfeld, B., Henselmans, M., & Helms, E. et al. (2017). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, 52(6), 376-384. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
3. Helms, E., Aragon, A., & Fitschen, P. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, 11(1). doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
4. Pasiakos, S., Cao, J., Margolis, L., Sauter, E., Whigham, L., & McClung, J. et al. (2013). Effects of high‐protein diets on fat‐free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The FASEB Journal, 27(9), 3837-3847. doi: 10.1096/fj.13-230227
5. Thomas, D. (2007). Loss of skeletal muscle mass in aging: Examining the relationship of starvation, sarcopenia and cachexia. Clinical Nutrition, 26(4), 389-399. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2007.03.008
6. Houston, D., Nicklas, B., Ding, J., Harris, T., Tylavsky, F., & Newman, A. et al. (2008). Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community-dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 87(1), 150-155. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.1.150