It’s a question we’re asked regularly: how much protein do I need? Whether its to recover optimally, grow muscle, lose weight or improve health, protein requirements vary from one person to the next. So, the short (and frustrating) answer is: it depends!
It depends on your age, body composition, goals, diet and overall health. But there are guidelines which, for the most part, will enable you to calculate how much you need for your desired outcome.
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What are the benefits of protein?
Before we dive into the amounts you need, you might be wondering why we’re even pondering increasing (or decreasing) protein intake. There are many health benefits of protein, but the two biggest we’re looking at here are:
- Aid weight loss / prevent weight gain. Consuming 25-30% of your daily calories in protein has been shown to aid weight loss, predominantly through increase satiety
- Gain muscle and strength. Muscles are composed largely of protein which, when exercised, are broken down. To gain muscle, you need to synthesise protein to grow back stronger
Note: Most of the numbers below are ‘per kg bodyweight’. So, if the recommendation is ‘2g per kg bodyweight’, that means a 70kg person should aim for 140g protein per day (70 x 2). Whereas a 60kg person would be shooting for 120g protein per day.
Get your protein intake right and you'll be as happy and healthy as this little guy
How much protein do sedentary people need?
The NHS recommends most sedentary adults need ~0.75g per kg bodyweight. That’d work out as 47g protein per day for a 66kg woman and 55g protein per day for a 72kg man. When you consider one chicken breast is approximately 30-40g and a pint of milk around 15-20g, you can see how easy it is to hit those benchmarks.
In fact, most people in the western world over consume protein when we should be focusing more on healthy fruits and veggies (but that’s a blog for another time).
If you spend 99% of your day either sitting here or at a desk, you don't need so much
How much protein do active people need?
Most reading this article will fall into this category. You’re fit, healthy, active, not overweight and want to keep in good shape. Your protein requirements will therefore sit in the 1.2 – 2g protein per kg bodyweight. Err on the upper end the most active you are.
Consuming this amount will ensure you recover between sessions, maintain lean muscle mass and strength and will also help keep your appetite in check.
If you engage in regular activity, you might want to increase your protein intake
How much protein to build muscle?
In order to build muscle, you need to aim for above the average guidelines. You’ll be completing heavy resistance training and breaking muscle on a fairly regular basis, so providing enough protein to support regrowth is crucial.
2 – 2.2g per kg bodyweight will put you on the right track, whereas women should aim for around 1.8 – 2g (but there’s no risk if you go over this a little).
We’ll touch on general timing of protein intake later but at this stage remember that, if you’re looking to build muscle, consuming a 20-30g serving of protein within a couple of hours of training will kick your recovery off on the right foot.
Protein is the most important macronutrient for building muscle
How much protein to lose weight?
It’s a bit trickier to calculate exactly how much protein you need to lose weight because, unlike the three categories above, to lose weight it’s worth basing your protein consumption as a proportion of your daily calories rather than bodyweight.
In order to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit (consume less than you’re burning). Begin by working out how many calories you currently consume (keeping a food diary for a week is a great way to do this) and then aim to reduce this by an amount that’s appropriate to you.
This reduction could be as little as 5% if you’re active and maintaining energy levels are important. But it could be as high as 30% if you’re severely overweight and inactive. Shooting for a 10% reduction will help lose weight slowly but sustainably for most.
If you're tipping the scales in the wrong direction, placing more reliance on your protein intake will help you shift excess fat
Once you know what your target daily calories are, aim to consume ~40% of these calories in protein.
For example, if you currently eat 2,500 calories per day, reducing your calorie intake by 10% would change your goal calorie consumption to 2,250. This would mean aiming for 900 calories (225g) of protein per day. The rest will be made up of slow-release carbs and plenty of vegetables.
Please note, these figures are hugely dependent on you: your weight, BMI, body composition, age, activity levels, history of eating disorders and so on, but I hope it provides a useful start point from which to begin your journey.
What are the best protein sources?
Nuts and seeds a superb protein source (here's the 7 best)
Right, so you now know how much protein you’re aiming to consume, but what are the best protein sources?
In the western world, the predominant protein source over the decades – meat - haven’t been great. Meat-heavy diets have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and even a reduction in life expectancy.
So, it goes without saying that meat-free alternatives are the way forward (and just look at their explosion in popularity over the last few years).
We wrote a whole blog on the Top 10 Plant-Protein Food Sources so check that out for starters. If you need further inspiration, look at this protein pancake recipe and then try this outrageously delicious chocolate protein muffin recipe.
33Fuel's award-winning Premium Protein – undoubtedly the healthiest protein powder on the market, packing 20g high quality plant-based protein per serving
Timing – when to consume protein
People tend to get most of their protein during their evening meal with a little at lunch and none at breakfast. But for those looking to lose weight, you’ll want to redress that balance – studies show spreading protein move evenly through the day results in better weight management by decreasing cravings later in the day.
It’s also worth remembering that the general consensus is that we can’t absorb much more than 30g in one sitting, so consuming more than this in one go is pointless. Better to have three 30g portions throughout the day than one 90g portion at dinner.