Protein is an essential nutrient and you may need more of it if you're working out; however, eating too much protein can also be harmful to your health. Here's how you can calculate your protein requirements and determine whether you need 200 grams of protein a day.
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Most people don’t need 200 grams of protein a day unless they’re very physically active. Consuming too much protein can have negative effects.
Calculate Your Protein Requirement
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains that protein is one of the three macronutrients; the other two are carbohydrates and fats. Macronutrients are foods that your body requires in large quantities, since they provide calories that fuel your activities.
The Mayo Clinic says that anywhere between 10 to 35 percent of your total calorie intake per day should be from protein. Just to give you an example, the recommended protein intake for a 2,000-calorie diet would be between 200 and 700 calories. One gram of protein translates to 4 calories, so that would work out to 50 to 175 grams of protein per day.
But how do you know whether you should be at the lower end of the range or the higher end? Several factors, including weight, age and physical activity level play a role in making this determination.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended protein intake for sedentary adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, a person weighing 75 kilograms (165 pounds) should consume around 60 grams of protein per day. Age also plays a role in determining protein requirement; you start losing muscle mass after the age of 40 or 50 and require more protein (1 gram per kilogram of body weight) to maintain it.
Athletes, people who lift weights regularly and people who are training for sporting events also need more protein. A March 2016 study published in the journal Food & Function says that the recommended daily protein intake for minimal, moderate and intense physical activity is 1.0 grams, 1.3 grams and 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight, respectively.
If you're thoroughly confused at this point, don't worry. The USDA has a calculator that can help you calculate exactly how much protein you need. All you need to do is enter your age, gender, height, weight and activity level, and it does the calculation for you.
This calculator can help you figure out whether you actually need 200 grams of protein a day or if you're consuming more protein than you require. More than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is considered excessive, states the Mayo Clinic.
Read more: 5 Tips for Eating Protein the Right Way
Negative Effects of Excess Protein
First off, eating more protein than you require can cause you to gain weight. The Mayo Clinic explains that once your body has met its caloric needs, any excess calories are stored in your body as fat. Exercise helps burn off some of those calories, but it's still possible to gain weight if you're consuming more calories than you're burning.
Per the Mayo Clinic, eating too much protein can also take a toll on your kidneys. Your kidneys filter your blood to ensure that protein is retained in your body and waste is discarded. Extra protein makes your kidneys work harder and poses an increased risk for people who are already at risk for kidney disease.
Depending on the type of protein you're eating, excess protein consumption can also lead to other health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, some high-protein foods, like certain meats for example, are high in saturated fat or total fat. These foods raise your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends opting for healthier sources of protein as much as possible. For instance, while a 4-ounce serving of sirloin steak offers 33 grams of protein, it also has 5 grams of saturated fat. A cup of cooked lentils, on the other hand, has 18 grams of protein; however, it also has 15 grams of fiber and practically no sodium or saturated fat.
On a slightly tangential note, a March 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients found that the production of animal protein is also taking a toll on the environment; plant-based protein is not only healthier for you but also more sustainable for the environment.
The Cleveland Clinic says that soy products like tofu and edamame are examples of complete plant-based proteins that supply all nine of the amino acids your body requires; however, you can also meet your protein requirements by eating a variety of plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting your protein from whole foods rather than supplements.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Protein”
- Mayo Clinic: “Are You Getting Too Much Protein?”
- Food & Function: “Dietary Protein Intake and Human Health”
- USDA: “DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals”
- National Kidney Foundation: “What You Should Know About Albuminuria (Proteinuria)”
- Nutrients: “Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Do I Need to Worry About Eating ‘Complete’ Proteins?”