More than half of the U.S. population is eating too much protein, according to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The report also highlights a lack of variety of protein sources in the diet and a tendency toward nutrient-poor choices.
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The amount of protein you need each day depends on your age, weight, gender and activity level. If your requirement is 50 grams of protein per day — or per meal — ensure that it comes from a variety of nutrient-rich sources.
Individual Protein Needs
The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for protein is 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight. This is the amount suggested for all adults to meet basic nutritional needs. The calculation for determining your daily protein is to multiply your weight by 0.36. So, for example, if you weigh 135 pounds, you'd need about 50 grams of protein each day.
But your weight isn't the only factor that determines your protein needs. Typically men need more calories than women, so their individual macronutrient needs are increased, and older people need more protein to counter age-related muscle loss.
Very active people and athletes also need more protein than the RDA. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, people who exercise may need as much as 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Using this estimate, a person who weighs 165 pounds may need to get 50 grams of protein at each meal.
All foods contain some protein, but some are better sources than others. For example, animal foods are typically a denser source of protein than plant foods. Here are some examples of protein-rich foods in each food group:
Meat and Fish (per 3.5-ounce serving)
Eggs and Dairy
Vegetables and Fruits
Nuts, Seeds and Legumes
Read more: Top 10 Sources of Protein
50 Grams Per Day
It's easy to get enough protein if you only need 50 grams each day. And it's easy to go over your protein needs, which is OK if you account for the calories and make the necessary adjustments to keep your total daily calories in check. Keeping your calorie intake in balance with calorie expenditure is key for maintaining your weight. Some sample meals to help you get just enough — but not too much — protein each day include:
- One serving of oatmeal topped with 1/2 cup of raspberries and one medium sliced banana
- 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
Salad with 2 cups of raw spinach; 1/2 cup of raw broccoli, chopped; one medium apple, chopped; 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds; and 1/2 cup of chickpeas
- 2.5 ounces of salmon
- 2 cups of kale, sauteed
If you like to snack during the day, remember to add that to your total for the day.
50 Grams Per Meal
Getting 50 grams of protein per meal is a little more challenging, but you likely have to eat a lot anyway to meet your calorie needs. As long as you choose protein- and nutrient-rich sources at each meal, you shouldn't have any problem. Some sample meals that add up to 50 grams of protein each include:
- Two-egg omelet with veggies of your choice and 1 ounce of cheddar
- 1 cup of low-fat Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup of raspberries
- 1 ounce of almonds
- 2 cups of raw spinach topped with 3.5 ounces of sliced chicken breast, 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds, and additional fruits and vegetables of your choice
- 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese with fresh fruit
- 3.5 ounces of tilapia
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa
- 2 cups of kale sauteed with lemon and 1 ounce of sunflower seeds
If you can't quite make 50 grams at each meal, you can make up the difference in one or two protein-filled snacks such as nuts or hummus with cut-up veggies.
Read more: How Much Protein Is Right For You?
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Current Eating Patterns in the United States: A Closer Look at Current Intakes and Recommended Shifts
- Harvard Health Publishing: How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?
- ACE: Do Men and Women Have Different Nutritional Needs?
- Today's Dietitian: Protein for Fitness: Age Demands Greater Protein Needs
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise
- USDA: Basic Report: 23220, Beef, Ground, Unspecified Fat Content, Cooked
- USDA: Basic Report: 05064, Chicken, Broilers or Fryers, Breast, Meat Only, Cooked, Roasted
- USDA: Basic Report: 17011, Lamb, Leg, Whole (Shank and Sirloin), Separable Lean and Fat, Trimmed to 1/4" Fat, Choice, Raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 15085, Fish, Salmon, Sockeye, Raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 15262, Fish, Tilapia, Cooked, Dry Heat
- USDA: Basic Report: 01123, Egg, Whole, Raw, Fresh
- USDA: Basic Report: 01086, Milk, Nonfat, Fluid, With Added Nonfat Milk Solids, Vitamin A and Vitamin D (Fat Free or Skim)
- USDA: Basic Report: 01015, Cheese, Cottage, Lowfat, 2% Milkfat
- USDA: Basic Report: 01117, Yogurt, Plain, Low Fat
- USDA: Basic Report: 01009, Cheese, Cheddar
- USDA: Basic Report: 20037, Rice, Brown, Long-Grain, Cooked
- USDA: Basic Report: 20137, Quinoa, Cooked
- USDA: Basic Report: 28397, Bread, Multi-Grain (Includes Whole-Grain)
- USDA: Basic Report: 08640, Cereals, Quaker, Instant Oatmeal Organic, Regular
- USDA: Basic Report: 11090, Broccoli, Raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 11234, Kale, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- USDA: Basic Report: 11458, Spinach, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- USDA: Basic Report: 11821, Peppers, Sweet, Red, Raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 09040, Bananas, Raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 09003, Apples, Raw, With Skin
- USDA: Basic Report: 09176, Mangos, Raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 12061, Nuts, Almonds
- USDA: Basic Report: 12155, Nuts, Walnuts, English
- USDA: Basic Report: 12663, Seeds, Pumpkin and Squash Seeds, Whole, Roasted, With Salt Added
- USDA: Basic Report: 12220, Seeds, Flaxseed
- USDA: Basic Report: 16057, Chickpeas (garbanzo beans, bengal gram), mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt
- USDA: Basic Report: 16015, Beans, black, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt
- USDA: Basic Report: 09302, Raspberries, raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 01287, Yogurt, Greek, plain, lowfat
- USDA: Basic Report: 12036, Seeds, sunflower seed kernels, dried