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Nutrition

This Is the Real Deal With Eating Protein

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The “right” amount of protein is personal.

photo of eggs instead a pan with other ingredients

As one of three main macronutrients (along with fats and carbohydrates), protein provides necessary energy for the body to function. Beyond giving you energy, protein helps with building muscle and losing weight, making it obvious why it has become such a buzzword in health food. There are protein bars, protein-packed smoothies, protein powders, and even protein-focused lunch boxes you can grab at your local coffee shop. But while your body needs protein to run efficiently, is all of this marketing overkill? 
    
To figure that out, you need to know how much protein you should be eating in a day, and to do that, you’ll need to take a number of factors into account. To start off, the recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to get at the number for you. For a 150-pound woman, it works out to 54 grams of protein a day. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s a little more than 10 percent of your calories. 

But that’s just the minimum recommended dietary allowance, which is how much you need for your body to work correctly, not necessarily the ideal amount you should be eating based on your lifestyle. That number is likely quite a bit higher; in the National Institutes of Health’s recommended range, protein accounts for anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of your total daily calories. 

Close up of fork and knife cutting into chicken on a plate

Why such a big range? The amount of protein you need depends on your age, sex, and how much physical activity you get. Men generally need more protein than women, children need less than adults, and people who are active require the most. In fact, athletic people could need between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight—more than twice that of sedentary people.

All of these recommendations aren’t without controversy though. A small study from Purdue University looked at women between the ages of 80 and 87 and found that these individuals needed 44 percent more protein than the recommended daily allowance of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. And the Purdue study is just one of many studies that suggest that protein requirements should perhaps be higher than they currently are, particularly as you age. 

One thing is clear: A desire to get more protein in your diet doesn’t mean you should just crank up how much meat you’re eating. Red meat products tend to be high in saturated fat, which could increase your cholesterol levels, so it’s good to get protein from a variety of sources. Some great options are seafood, Greek yogurt, beans, eggs, and nuts

photo of a protein shake in a mason jar

You can also get more of the nutrient in your diet with protein shakes, like Centrum Nutrition Protein Mix. The protein blend mixes smoothly with water or milk for a convenient snack option that provides 15 grams of protein per serving—not to mention fiber and essential micronutrients like B vitamins, too.

In short, the world is your protein-filled oyster (and pro tip, a half-dozen oysters has almost 5 grams of protein). So once you determine the right amount of protein for you, there are easy ways to make sure you get enough every day.