How Much Protein Do You Actually Need Each Day? The Answer Is Complicated

If you've ever ended up on the health and fitness side of social media, you've probably heard advice about getting more protein. But did ever stop and wonder, "How much protein should I eat?" or "What foods are high in protein?" Because yes, you need protein in your diet to help repair cells and make new ones, per the National Library of Medicine. That said, when it comes to this macronutrient, it's not always a case of "more is better." So, how much protein should you be eating in a day, exactly?

The good news is that you probably don't need to stress over your protein intake. The National Library of Medicine sets a wide range for acceptable protein consumption, anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of your total calories each day. (For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, that's 200-700 calories or 50-175 grams of protein.) And research shows that how much protein you eat isn't directly related to overall mortality or specific causes of death.

But if you have decided to take a closer eye at your nutrient intake — or are just curious how much protein you really need — we've got the tools to help. Ahead, we've got you covered with how much protein you should eat in a day, what foods are rich in protein, how much protein is too much, side effects of too much protein, and a protein intake calculator to help you figure out your personal protein needs.

Experts Featured in This Article

Jim White, a registered dietitian and American College of Sports Medicine-certified exercise physiologist.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?

The standard dietary reference for protein intake is approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, says registered dietitian Jim White, a certified exercise physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine. That's about seven grams for every 20 pounds of bodyweight. (For example, that means a 150-pound, or 68-kilogram, person should aim for 52 to 54 grams of protein per day.)

That number — 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight — is generally considered the minimum recommendation for adults. For that reason, most registered dietitians suggest something a little higher, typically one to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, White says. (So for that same 150-pound person, an RD may recommend eating between 68 and 82 grams of protein a day.)

That said, protein recommendations are pretty variable. While those numbers are a standard reference, your target may vary depending on your age, weight, goals, and lifestyle, including how active you are. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, that will also change your nutritional needs.

How Do I Calculate How Much Protein I Need?

In general, it's best to speak with a registered dietitian or your doctor to find out what kind of daily protein intake will work best for you. But if you want a rough estimate, you can do some simple math to calculate the number of protein grams per day that might serve you well. Here's how, with guidance from a 2016 research paper published in the Royal Society of Chemistry:

  1. Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 to figure out your weight in kilograms.
  2. Multiply that number by 0.8, 1.0, 1.3, or 1.6, depending on how active you are, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
    • Sedentary (0.8): Daily activities such as housework or gardening.
    • Lightly Active (1.0): 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, such as walking at 4 mph.
    • Active or Pregnant (1.3): 60 minutes of moderate activity per day, such as walking/jogging at 3-4 mph, or 30 minutes of vigorous activity, such as jogging at 5.5 mph.
    • Very Active (1.6): 45-60 minutes of vigorous activity per day.
  3. That final number is the number of grams of protein you can aim for per day.

If you want to opt out of the math drill, check out this handy protein calculator from the USDA.

how much protein do you need? graphic
Getty | Tanja Ivanova

How Much Protein Should I Eat to Build Muscle?

If you want to build muscle, "the goal of daily protein intake should be 50% higher [than that of a sedentary adult], or 1.2 grams," per Harvard. But protein alone won't help you build muscle. You should also couple your protein intake with regular exercise, as "it's been shown that muscle mass increases over time when resistance exercise (i.e. weight lifting, body weight exercises, etc) is combined with nutrient intake," according to the Academy College of Sports Medicine.

That said, these are estimates and it's always best to seek professional guidance from an MD or nutritionist who can assess you, your goals, and your health history more personally.

How to Get Enough Protein Every Day

Now that you have an idea of how much protein to eat per day, you might be wondering how to reach that goal. You can start with you meat intake, of course. But you don't need to eat meat or even animal products to reach your protein goals. There are also plenty of vegan protein sources, from beans and rice to nuts and seeds, that, all together, can help you reach your protein-intake recommendations.

There's also a good chance you're getting enough protein without even trying. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from 1988 to 2018, US adults have consistently gotten 15 percent or more of their daily calories from protein, which is enough for the average person. Even foods you might not commonly associate with the nutrient can offer a gram here or there, which adds up over the course of a day. For example, one cup of broccoli has 2.3 grams, according to the USDA, and a boiled sweet potato (eaten without its skin) has another two grams.

For reference, here are some common protein-rich foods you might already have in your diet:

If you're concerned about your protein intake, reach out to your doctor or a registered dietitian to get more personalized recommendations on how to get more of this important nutrient. Otherwise, rest assured that you're probably doing just fine.

Can You Eat Too Much Protein?

With all the emphasis on protein, you don't often hear people worrying that they're overdoing it with the macronutrient. But according to Harvard Medical School, you can eat too much protein. Having a protein-heavy day here or there may not have any noticeably consequences, or it could upset your stomach or lead to constipation (if you're choosing protein foods over high-fiber foods). But over time, you could experience some side effects of eating too much protein.

"People that eat very high protein diets have a higher risk of kidney stones. Also a high protein diet that contains lots of red meat and higher amounts of saturated fat might lead to a higher risk of heart disease and colon cancer, while another high protein diet rich in plant-based proteins may not carry similar risks," Harvard reports, a statement backed up by research in the journal ISRN Nutrition.

How Much Protein Is Too Much?

The chart above lays out some good guidelines for how much protein to aim for, depending on your activity level. There's not necessarily any evidence that exceeding those amounts would have any benefit, and Harvard Health Publishing reports that the "average person (who is not an elite athlete or heavily involved in body building) it's probably best to aim for no more than 2 gm/kg; that would be about 125 grams/day for a 140-pound person."

But it's also smart to talk to your doctor or ask for a referral to a nutritionist if you have questions about your diet, since everyone's needs are so different.

— Additional reporting by Jenny Sugar, Christina Stiehl, and Alexis Jones

Lauren Mazzo was the senior fitness editor at PS. She is a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through the American Council on Exercise. Prior to joining PS, she worked for six years as a writer and editor for Shape Magazine covering health, fitness, nutrition, mental health, sex and relationships, beauty, and astrology.

Jenny Sugar is a former POPSUGAR staff writer. She reports on all things fitness, but especially loves CrossFit and yoga.

Christina Stiehl is a former senior editor for PS Fitness. She is a writer, editor, and content strategist with more than 10 years of professional journalism experience. Her work has appeared in SELF, VICE, SHAPE, Men's Health, Thrillist, and more.

Alexis Jones is the senior health and fitness editor at PS. Her passions and areas of expertise include women's health and fitness, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining PS, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women's Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.