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How much protein do I need to eat?

My husband, Sean, is bent on gaining some weight. Did I say I hate him? Most of us don’t have a problem gaining weight, but he has a high metabolic rate and moves around all day at work, so he felt he was getting a bit on the skinny side.

To fatten up he was adding his old tried and true methods – lots of chocolate, ice cream and other delicious snacks. Watching him, I am glad I have the awareness to only partake in a small portion, or it would go badly for me.

However, his choice of food, although fattening, is full of sugar and other empty calories, which of course will help him gain weight. Just the wrong kind.

You see, as we get older, we are losing muscle mass, and gaining fat, as our metabolism changes. This loss of muscle mass, function, and strength, otherwise known as sarcopenia, occurs as we age because we are not metabolizing the amino acids in protein as efficiently as we used to. Protein, being one of the three macronutrients, along with fats and carbohydrates, are responsible for not just muscle mass, but also maintaining and regulating the cells in our body.

Of the 20 different amino acids in our body, nine of them can only be obtained from dietary sources. All of these 9 essential amino acids, so named because insufficient amounts may sometimes result in death, are found in complete protein sources, both animal and plant-based. Animal sources of protein are meat, dairy, fish and eggs, while plant-based sources are soy, quinoa and buckwheat.

Therefore, we need more protein on a daily basis. But exactly how much?

Some reports suggest that protein levels in the 30- 35% range of our daily caloric intake may be beneficial. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. Multiply 0.36 x your weight in pounds, and then double that if you are very active or want to optimize your protein intake to help maintain muscle mass as you get older.

A word of caution that too much protein can be harmful to your kidneys so don’t overdo it. Always check in with your physician beforehand to be safe.

Here is a chart to keep things simple.

Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein, based on age

Protein Needed (grams/day)

Age 19 - 70+ (Women) - 46 grams/day

Age 19 - 70+ (Men) -56 grams/day

This is general and is the minimum requirement however an individual may require more or less, given age, physical activity, and metabolism. Some reports indicate that if you want to lose weight, upping your protein is the way to go.

And the protein should be spread out between all of your meals, so if you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, the 46 grams per day would work out to 15.33 per meal. To keep it simple, make sure you have 20 grams of protein at breakfast for satiety, and then split the rest between the other meals and snacks.

And make sure you eat the right type of proteins, including protein that includes the amino acid leucine, which helps preserve body muscle. You can get leucine from beef, lamb, milk and milk products as well as pork, fish, eggs, and soybeans.

Top sources of protein are:

  • Beans and legumes

  • Wild- caught salmon

  • Eggs

  • Greek yogurt

  • Nuts and seeds (in moderation)

The bottom line is if you want to lose fat, gain muscle mass, ward off sarcopenia and osteoporosis, it might be a good idea to monitor your daily protein intake and up it, if need be.

And choose a diversity of whole foods, mixing up your animal and plant-based proteins with the other essential macronutrients (carbs and fats) to ensure your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs so that you continue to stay healthy and strong well into your years.

If you would like a simple chart to track your daily protein, contact me and I'll send it to you.


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