Whether you already consume protein powder or are just thinking about adding it to your diet, it can be tricky to figure out the right amount to use. Most protein powders come with a plastic scoop that holds one serving of powder, but serving size differs among brands -- and depending on your activity level and other factors, you may need more or less than one scoop.
Your Protein Needs
It’s easier to estimate how much powder you should use if you have an accurate idea of your daily protein needs, which depend on your age, weight, activity level and sex. According to the Institute of Medicine, healthy adult men and women need about 56 grams and 46 grams of protein daily, respectively. Athletes may need more, especially if they have a goal of building muscle mass. According to Rice University, active adults need up to 0.6 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, and athletes putting on muscle need up to 0.9 gram per pound.
Your Protein Sources
The next thing to consider is whether you need protein powder at all. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reports that most Americans get more than twice the amount of protein they need every day through just their typical diets, supplements notwithstanding. If you’re in that camp, there may be no need for you to use protein powder; in fact, you can get higher-quality nutrition, better immunity and a greater variety of vitamins and minerals by consuming all of your protein from whole food sources.
If you don’t get enough protein from your regular diet and you do want to supplement with powder, read nutrition labels carefully. Not all powders provide the same amount of protein per scoop, and the amount you want to use may differ depending on whether your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle mass. A typical 30-gram scoop of whey protein concentrate has 110 calories and 23 grams of protein, for instance, and the same amount of whey protein isolate has 113 calories and 27 grams of protein. If you’re going for weight loss, sticking to one scoop mixed with water or milk will keep your calorie count low but still provide enough protein to help you feel satiated. For muscle gain, two scoops mixed with milk or yogurt will provide more of the nutrient you need.
Between 10% and 35% of your total calories should come from protein sources. This number varies depending on your body composition, health, activity level and type, and your goals. Eating enough protein daily is essential to cover your body's needs. Protein helps your body maintain a proper fluid balance, builds and repairs tissues, transports nutrients, and provides other vital functions.
Understanding how much protein you need depends on several factors and changes over time and with certain lifestyle factors. Everyone needs a different amount but determining what's right for you is easier when you know more about the factors involved. Read on to learn more.
How to Tell How Much Protein You Need
It's recommended that you get 10% to 35% of your daily calories from protein. Alternatively, when determining your protein needs, you can target a specific number of grams of protein to consume per day. You can also use your weight, activity level, and lean body mass.
Percent of Daily Calories
Current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines suggest that adults should consume between 10% and 35% of their total calories from protein. To get your number and track your intake, you'll need to know how many calories you consume daily.
Once you know how many calories you consume, multiply that number by 10% and 35% to get your range. For example, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day would need to consume 200 to 700 calories daily from protein.
1:46 6 Tips for Getting More Protein in Your Diet
Protein Grams Per Day
You can target a specific number of protein grams per day as an alternative to the percentage approach. A straightforward way to get a range of protein grams per day is to translate the percent range into a specific protein gram range. The math is easy.
Each gram of protein contains four calories. Divide the two calorie range numbers by four. Someone who eats 2,000 calories per day should consume 200 to 700 calories from protein, or 50 to 175 grams of protein.
Based on Weight and Activity
Other ways to get a more specific protein goal may consider lean muscle mass and/or physical activity level.
The average adult needs a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kg, would need about 60 grams of protein per day.
However, your protein needs may increase if you are very active. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the Dietitians of Canada suggest that athletes need more protein.
These organizations suggest that athletes consume between 1.2 grams and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, with endurance athletes at the lower end of this range and strength and power athletes at the higher end.
Health Benefits of Protein
Protein helps to maintain body tissues, including muscles, organs, the nervous system, blood, skin, and hair. It also serves as a transport mechanism for oxygen, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
In addition, eating protein can help you manage your weight because it takes longer to digest a protein-rich meal. After consuming a meal with protein, you're likely to feel full and satisfied longer.
Some protein foods have additional health benefits. Legumes are high in protein and fiber and contain phytochemicals that may have health benefits. Fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, and trout, are high in protein and also omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for health.
Unlike fat and glucose, our body has little capacity to store protein. If you were to stop eating protein, your body would start to break down muscle. Protein deficiency is rare in developed countries. However, it can happen if you're not eating enough food every day.
On the flip side, it is possible to overeat protein. Some people believe that excess protein is excreted in the urine. However, only part of the protein is excreted. Another part of the protein is converted to glucose for energy or stored as fat.
So if you eat too much protein—and too many calories as a result—you risk gaining weight from excess calories. If you eat more protein than you need but still have your calories balanced, then you will not gain weight, even with the additional protein.
If your calorie goal stays on track, but you get more protein than you need, you are may not be getting enough carbohydrates or fat for your body to function correctly. In addition, excessive protein intake can be strenuous on the kidneys. People with certain types of kidney diseases need to manage how much protein they eat.
The key to proper nutrition is achieving the appropriate balance of macronutrients. Eating large amounts of protein can lead to dehydration, even in elite athletes. So if you follow a high protein diet, it’s important to drink extra water.
Best Sources of Protein
Protein comes from plant and animal sources, and you can meet your protein needs with either type of protein. Plant sources are typically not considered complete proteins since they lack all of the essential amino acids. For this reason, eating a wide variety of plant-based proteins that cover all of the amino acids you need is important.
Meat and Seafood
Lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy products are excellent protein sources. Each provides all of the essential amino acids along with many other nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and zinc, which are primarily found in animal foods.
Coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, and herring make good protein choices because they're also rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are almost exclusively found in seafood and essential for health.
A chicken drumstick with leg, thigh, and back, (258g) contains 62g of protein. A 6-ounce serving of salmon contains 34g of protein. Eggs contain about
Some vegetables like spinach and kale contain a small amount of protein. Whole grains, such as quinoa are also a good source of protein (1 cup contains about 8 grams of protein).
Keep your plant proteins healthy by choosing recipes and cooking methods that preserve their nutritional benefits. For example, use tofu in place of meat in a stir-fry, add nuts or seeds to a dinner salad, or use dry beans like kidney, navy, or black beans as your primary protein source for a few meals.
How to Get Enough Protein
Here are a few tips to get more protein in your healthy diet.
Serve scrambled eggs and spinach for breakfast.
Choose turkey bacon or sausages that are lower in fat. Better yet, look for brands with reduced sodium.
Add seeds or chopped nuts on top of a veggie side dish.
Snack on a handful of almonds.
Buy lean cuts of meat and serve them with lots of dark green and colorful veggies.
Eat more fish. Choose baked or poached fish.
Serve baked or roasted chicken instead of fried chicken.
Make a stir-fry with chicken or tofu and fresh veggies.
Keep in mind that one serving of protein usually comprises 3 to 5 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish; one egg; 1.5 ounces of cheese; or about 12 walnuts.
You can also use other methods to consume the right portion size. A serving of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand. A serving of cheese is the same size as two dice. Keep in mind that these servings vary based on hunger, weight, age, activity level, and other factors.
Protein Guidelines for Special Populations
Many sources that suggest protein guidelines provide numbers for adult men and women. But there are certain populations that may need more or less protein to manage a medical condition or facilitate growth.
Pregnant and lactating people need more protein than people who are not pregnant (0.88 grams to 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).
Older adults (people over 65 years old) may need more protein than middle-aged adults (1.0 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).
People with liver or kidney disease need to decrease protein intake (0.6 grams to 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).
Consult a doctor or dietitian to determine your ideal daily protein goal.
Protein, like reading, is fundamental. Our bodies need it to build muscle and repair from injury. If you’re working out, you may be considering supplementing your daily diet with protein shakes. But is it possible to overdo it? How many protein shakes a day is too many?
Is it Safe to Have More Than One Protein Shake a Day?
Yes. It’s safe to have more than one protein shake a day, but the experts we spoke with recommended capping your consumption at three.
What happens if I drink protein shakes all day?
“One day of drinking several [four-plus] protein shakes likely won’t cause harm but may be quite uncomfortable physically,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, a registered dietitian in Miami. She says consuming too much protein can lead to GI symptoms that may include:
Another potential pitfall: Drinking too many protein shakes in one day could infringe on the consumption of other essential macros.
“If someone consumes four to five protein shakes a day, that really limits their vegetable and fiber intake as well as other nutrients commonly found in whole grains, greens, fruits and vegetables,” says Brittany Modell, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City.
Can You Overdose on Protein?
No, but regularly overdoing it on protein can have some unpleasant side effects.
“Protein isn’t a drug — you can’t ‘overdose’ on it — but [chronically] over-consuming it could… cause excess fat storage (as can overconsumption of any nutrient) and cause gastrointestinal discomfort,” says Auslander Moreno.
Getting too much protein can be a waste of money and even sabotage your weight-loss or fitness goals.
“When someone over-consumes protein, there is a certain point where your body is no longer absorbing it,” says Modell. “Your body doesn’t store excess protein like it does carbohydrates; that extra protein will either be converted into fat or excreted.”
Calculating Your Protein Intake
So, how much protein does the average person need per day?
For most people, .8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day should be sufficient, but if you work out regularly, shoot for 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. If your workouts are intense (think HIIT or heavy strength training), you should aim even higher — up to 2 grams per kilogram bodyweight per day.
Here’s a handy chart that shows how much protein you need per day by bodyweight.
The best course is moderation: One or two shakes a day.
“When discussing protein shakes with my patients, I always bring it back to the fact that they are a supplement,” says Michelle Grader, RDN, a registered dietitian with Bethany Medical Clinic in New York City. “They are there for convenience, when necessary, to supplement a healthy, balanced diet — not to replace any real food.”
Start incorporating shakes into your diet the right way with Shakeology, which has 16 to 17 grams of pea protein, 6 grams of fiber, and as many as 60 ingredients to help you eat better, feel better, and live better. For protein powders that are targeted specifically for performance and recovery, reach for Beachbody Performance Recover in whey and plant-based varieties, which provide high-quality protein along with amino acids to help support muscle growth and repair.