How much protein do we need?

By: Dr. Joey Shulman

Author: Canadian Living


How much protein do we need?

By: Dr. Joey Shulman

Protein is one of the three macronutrients that is a requirement in the daily diet (the other two macronutrients are carbohydrates and fat). Protein is derived from building blocks called amino acids. Each protein is formed from the bonding of various amino acids into configurations.

There are 20 amino acids in total. Out of the 20 amino acids, 11 are non-essential, meaning your body can make them. The remaining nine must be derived from the food we consume on a daily basis. Similar to the alphabet, which can form a variety of long and short words, the different configurations of the amino acid structures are the building units for literally hundreds of protein varieties in the body.

As a major constituent of the diet, protein serves as the foundations for health, repair and replenishment. Our muscles, skin, hair and connective tissue are all made up of protein. This essential macronutrient is also involved in many of the body’s important chemical messengers such as enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormone function.

How much protein is enough? 
In the athletic world, there is no greater debate than how much protein you require on a daily basis. There are a number of varying recommendations and calculations when it comes to how much protein you should be consuming. On closer inspection, the daily intake of protein depends on age and activity level. For example, weight trainers and teenagers require more protein than a sedentary individual.

There are a few calculations that can be used in terms of protein recommendations. You can go by total percentage of calories per day. In other words, it is safe and within normal limits to consume 20 to 30 per cent of your total daily calories from optimal protein sources such as lean meats, eggs and dairy products. In other words, if you are a female consuming 1,800 calories per day and 20 per cent of the calories are derived from protein, the calculation would be:

1800 x 0.20 = 360 calories from protein
Since 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, divide protein calories by 4
= 90 grams of protein daily

Page 1 of 3Another method of calculation
An alternative calculation is to go by your current body weight. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is to consume 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. On average, based on the RDA, the average male who weighs 154 pounds should consume approximately 56 grams of protein per day, while the average female who weighs 110 pounds should consume approximately 40 grams of protein per day.

The RDA increases by 30 grams per day during pregnancy and 20 grams per day during lactation. During growth, different amounts are needed. For example, 2.2 grams of protein are needed per kilogram of body weight each day in the first six months of life, and 2.0 grams per kilogram for the next six months.

Many nutritional experts feel the RDA for protein is far too low and is only suitable for sedentary adults. For those who are active, insulin sensitive, overweight or seeking weight loss or are in their teenage years, the amount of protein should be higher. If this is the case, you will likely need to increase your protein intake from the RDA's recommendation of 0.8 g/kg to 1.2-1.8 g/kg. The calculation would be:

1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
2. Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm

If you are pregnant, recovering from an illness, stuck in a metabolic rut, under stress or work out intensely, I recommend using a number between 1 and 1.8. The calculation would be:

Example: 150 lb female who is a regular exerciser and lifts weights

150 lbs/2.2 = 68kg
68kg x 1.5 = 102 gm protein/day

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What type of protein should I eat?
Proteins are not as “grabbable” as carbohydrates and need a bit more thought and planning. As a general rule, it is important to have a protein source at most meals. The following list below will highlights the foods that contain significant amounts of protein (beef, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, soy and dairy), and other foods that contain less such as nuts and seeds.

• Hamburger patty, 4 oz – 28 grams protein
• Steak, 6 oz – 42 grams
• Most cuts of beef – 7 grams of protein per ounce

• Chicken breast, 3.5 oz - 30 grams protein
• Chicken thigh – 10 grams (for average size)
• Drumstick – 11 grams
• Wing – 6 grams
• Chicken meat, cooked, 4 oz – 35 grams

• Most fish fillets or steaks, 3-1/2 ounces – 22 grams of protein 
Tuna, 6-oz can – 40 grams of protein

• Pork chop, average – 22 grams protein
• Pork loin or tenderloin, 4 oz – 29 grams
• Ham, 3 oz serving – 19 grams
• Ground pork, 1 oz raw – 5 grams; 3 oz cooked – 22 grams
• Bacon, 1 slice – 3 grams
• Canadian-style bacon (back bacon), slice – 5 to 6 grams

Eggs and dairy
• Egg, large – 6 grams protein
• Milk, 1 cup – 8 grams
• Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup – 15 grams
• Yogurt, 1 cup – usually 8 to 12 grams, check label
• Soft cheeses (Mozzarella, Brie, Camembert) – 6 grams per oz
• Medium cheeses (Cheddar, Swiss) – 7 or 8 grams per oz
• Hard cheeses (Parmesan) – 10 grams per oz

Beans (including soy)
• Tofu, 1/2 cup – 20 grams protein
• Tofu, 1 oz – 2.3 grams
• Soy milk, 1 cup – 6 to 10 grams
• Most beans (black, pinto, lentils, etc.) – about 7 to 10 grams protein per half cup
• Soy beans, 1/2 cup cooked – 14 grams protein
• Split peas, 1/2 cup cooked – 8 grams

Nuts and Seeds
• Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons – 8 grams protein
• Almonds, 1/4 cup – 8 grams
• Peanuts, 1/4 cup – 9 grams
• Cashews, 1/4 cup – 5 grams
• Pecans, 1/4 cup – 2.5 grams
• Sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup – 6 grams
• Pumpkinseeds, 1/4 cup – 19 grams
• Flaxseeds, 1/4 cup – 8 grams

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Dr. Joey Shulman is author of the best selling book The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). For more information, visit
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How much protein do we need?