Q: Depending on what I read, I don’t know if I’m getting enough (or too much!) protein. How much protein do I need?
A: Good news: protein is talked about so much that many people worry about it, but most of us get enough (or even too much!) in our diets naturally. How much protein you’re eating is probably not as important as the kind of protein you’re eating. Still, let’s talk about the basics.
About 50 grams, or about 15 percent of your calories, is enough daily protein for the average adult to meet basic needs. But I say eating as much as a third of your daily calories from protein (about 112 grams) is both safe and beneficial.
You should also focus on eating a little at every meal and snack rather than loading up at dinner, since protein is digested more slowly than carbohydrates and helps you feel satisfied. (It’s not as hard as you think—even some veggies have protein!)
Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about how much protein you’re eating.
Consider the kind of protein
When I say bumping up your protein to about a third of your daily calories is safe, I’m talking a mix of plant and animal protein. You may have heard about research on how too much protein is associated with cancer because it stimulates growth hormones. That’s true at high levels in certain populations, but studies show the association disappears when the protein you’re eating comes from plants.
So, your best bet is to keep your animal protein intake around 10-15 percent (if you’re eating animal protein) and then incorporate delicious plant-based protein sources like legumes, ancient grains, and nuts, too.
Individual protein needs
You may also need more protein depending on your lifestyle and other factors.
For instance, if you’re extremely active, you should eat more overall, and especially post-workout, since your muscles use it to recover (and get bigger!). (A high-quality protein powder may be your best bet in this scenario.) As you age, it’s also harder to keep muscle mass, so you may want to bump up your protein a little to counteract that.
Finally, pay more attention to your protein intake if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. While how much you need won’t be any different, it can just be more of a conscious effort to get it in without animal products in your diet.
Now, who wants to join me for a quinoa bowl topped with grass-fed steak?