How Much Protein Should You Eat? (+ 1 day meal plan)
Most of us know by now that protein is important. It plays a vital role not only in weight loss and maintaining your desired body composition, but also in achieving optimal (or even basic) levels of health and wellness.
The official daily recommended intake is between 10-35% of total calories, or 0.8 grams per kilogram of body-weight. If that feels unhelpful, we agree. An easier formula is to take 0.36 x your body-weight in pounds. Or you can use this calculator.
But keep in mind this recommendation is only what is needed to prevent deficiency, not to thrive. This baseline also assumes a sedentary lifestyle, not exactly something to strive for either.
So what is recommended for someone who is relatively active (minus the random weeks where work just sucks and you’re chained to your desk), and who wants to look and feel optimal?
While this remains a somewhat debated topic in the scientific community (mostly because it’s difficult to get funding to study “optimal” health), for active adults it’s recommended* to increase the formula from 0.36 to between 0.64-0.9 grams per pound.
(*Also recommend this article for a deeper dive into protein and the science behind why it’s important).
Here’s an example of daily intake for a female who weighs 145 lbs.
To prevent deficiency: 0.36 x 145 = 52 grams protein
Lower end of optimal: 0.64 x 145 = 93 grams protein
Upper end of optimal: 0.90 x 145 = 131 grams protein
Essentially on days you workout, aim to consume closer to the upper end of the formula, and on days you don’t, you can consume a little bit less (but that goes for carbs and fat too!).
So what does that look like for a day of eating? Here is a 1 day meal plan to give you an idea of how you can easily add or subtract protein depending on your day. Text in blue is optional.
Omelet with avocado and veggies + Ezekiel toast + banana
Protein add on: Turkey slices, pinto, black, or red beans, feta cheese
Breakfast is probably one of the easiest meals to adjust protein intake accordingly.
If you know you are headed to your favorite HIIT class after work, add some turkey, or 1/2 cup beans to your morning omelet. This will not only help you power through the morning without needing to snack an hour later (protein helps you feel fuller longer), it will also help to fuel your sweat session later.
Starting off on a strong foot is extremely important in setting the tone for the day.
Roasted potatoes, chicken sausage, broccoli, olive oil + Blueberries
Protein add-on: Tempeh, pinto, black, or red beans, quinoa, lentils
For lunch it’s always best to build your meal around your protein choice, that way you don’t accidentally skimp.
In terms of serving size, most lunch spots will give you a standard portion. If you are bringing food from home, or are grabbing options from a lunch bar at your work cafeteria, use the palm of your hand as a reference. 1 serving = 1 palm sized amount of protein.
Keep in mind that even broccoli has protein (3 grams!), so if you aren’t sure, occasionally pop your lunch choices into MyFitnessPal to check.
Burger with side salad + dark chocolate peanut butter cups
Protein add on: Quinoa, lentils, nuts on salad
When it comes time for dinner, you don’t want to short change your protein content.
It can be tempting after a long day, to settle for a bowl of cereal or something that requires no effort to put together. While that will solve the immediate problem of needing food right when you walk in the door, without adequate protein, you are much more likely to snack later on during your evening TV time.
Do yourself (and your waistline) a favor by rounding out the day with a protein packed dinner.
Protein add on: Protein shake
Snacks can make or break your day of eating, so make sure you choose wisely!
Instead of reaching for the donut holes your co-worker just brought it, try to first opt for something packed with protein. After you’ve eating a protein heavy snack, you’ll be much less tempted to binge on carbs and sugar. This is where convenience is key.
Always keep quick and easy options like RX Bars or protein shakes handy, so that when the 3pm hunger strikes, you are ready!