How to Meet Your Daily Protein Intake

Protein is one of the body’s most important nutrients. It builds and repairs muscles, helps regulate hormones, transports molecules and acts as enzymes in chemical reactions. The current recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which translates to 54 grams for a 150-pound woman or 65 grams for an 180-pound man. But many physicians and nutritionists think that recommendation may be too low for older adults.

Protein contributes to satiety, or feeling full, which can help control appetite and weight. Getting enough protein in the diet also supports muscle strength, bone health and immune function. In addition, it provides the building blocks for numerous metabolic functions and can reduce inflammation.

The best way to meet your daily protein needs is with whole foods, including lean meats; poultry; fish, especially fatty, skinless varieties; eggs; dairy, such as milk and cheese; soy, beans, nuts and seeds; and low-fat yogurt or kefir. Ideally, you should aim for about 10% to 35% of your calories to come from protein.

People with different protein requirements include infants, children and pregnant and lactating women who need more protein to support their growth and development. Additionally, those who exercise intensely need more protein to build and maintain muscle mass. Athletes can require up to 3.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Using a simple calculation, you can determine your individual protein needs and plan meals accordingly. You can use a protein calculator on the internet, and most smartphones have calculators built into the app.

It’s important to keep in mind that increased protein intake will increase overall calorie intake, and too much can lead to weight gain. It’s not a “magic bullet” to lose weight or improve your metabolism, but it can be part of a comprehensive plan that includes healthy fats and carbohydrates, as well as physical activity.

Protein can be found in both plant and animal sources, but not all plant proteins are considered complete, meaning they don’t contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to function properly. The most complete protein sources include meats, such as skinless chicken and turkey; fish; shellfish, such as shrimp and crab; and eggs. If you are concerned about getting adequate protein in your diet, consult a dietitian for help developing a plan to meet your goals. They can evaluate your overall health and dietary history and suggest strategies to help you reach your nutritional goals. For example, they can help you identify any food sensitivities or dietary restrictions that might interfere with meeting your daily protein goals. If you have a health condition, such as diabetes, they can also work with your doctor to develop a plan that is safe for you.