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This is a super question we answer almost daily and wanted to make sure you had the answer(s) too.

Q: How much protein do I really need?  Is it based on my weight? Activity levels?  Age? Other?

A: Great question.  The short answer is that it is based on your body weight – especially on your lean body weight/mass.  According to the CDC’s NHANES data the average American woman is 40% body-fat and 176.4 pounds which means she has about 105 pounds of lean body mass. 

Therefore the minimum protein she’d want to get is 80% of that number, or about 84 grams per day. 84 grams is a lot of protein in one meal, but spread it out over 3 meals and it’s about 28 grams or 4 ounces of chicken breast.  Here’s 19 more ways to get your protein.

What if I’m not average?
Because we’re all at least a bit different we use the InBody with our clients at intake. It gives a direct measurement (not an estimation) of how much lean body mass you have.

What about age?
The primary impact that age might have is that it could increase your protein needs.  This is because sometimes our ability to absorb and utilize protein decreases with age.  The easiest way to tell if you need more is to hit the minimum protein for a month and re-check yourself on the InBody.  If you are keeping your muscle while losing weight, or building some while your weight is stable then we’re on the right track. 

With that said if muscle mass is decreasing its usually the result of mislabeled protein, and I would try a different brand of protein if using shakes, before increasing overall intake.

What about activity levels?
If you are hitting 80-100% of your protein goal (1 gram per pound of lean body mass) then you will have enough protein to recover from pretty much any exercise program.  If you are extremely active what changes is how many calories you need (the more you move the more you burn), and you can get those extra calories (if needed) from carbs, fat and/or protein.  Sadly, there’s no level of activity that lets you eat as much as you want all of the time, but the more you move the easier it is to manage your calorie budget.

Hope this answered your questions!


PS – We love using the free version of My Fitness Pal for tracking meals and making sure we are getting in our protein needs.

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