How Much Protein Do You Need Daily? Ideal Protein Intake for Muscle Growth, Weight Loss & Managing Chronic Conditions


When it comes to weight loss, building strength and overall wellness, protein tends to steal the nutritional spotlight — and for good reason. Made up of amino acids, this macronutrient helps build lean muscle mass, supports growth and development, makes you feel fuller longer and speeds up muscle recovery after a workout. Donna Matt, registered dietician and certified diabetes care and education specialist with UnityPoint Health, breaks down everything you want to know about protein — including how much you actually need, the best sources for it and more.

How Does Protein Contribute to Feeling Full and Satisfied?

There are a few ways protein can limit drive by pantry snacking. First, it takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, which helps regulate blood sugar and slows down the pace your stomach empties. Protein suppresses the hunger hormone, ghrelin, while boosting appetite reducing hormones like GLP1 and leptin.

What are Complete and Incomplete Proteins?

There are 20 amino acids that make up proteins in both plant and animal protein sources, but our bodies only make 11 out of the 20. Matt says the other nine are essential, meaning, our bodies can’t make them, and we need to get them from outside sources.

A complete protein includes the nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t make and are typically found in animal source proteins. Incomplete proteins are from plant-based proteins, which have a few of the nine essential amino acids but not all of them.

“If you don’t have the nine essential amino acids in your system, you’re missing a piece for proper protein metabolism. That’s why it’s important to complete, or match, proteins,” she says.

For example, eating a peanut butter sandwich is a way of matching up incomplete proteins to make a whole. The whole grain from the bread doesn’t have all the essential amino acids but neither do peanuts. Together, they fill each other’s gaps and make-up the essential amino acids your body needs.

Other common protein matches include combining legumes (beans, lentils) with grains (rice, wheat) or nuts and/or seeds with grains.

Matt says you don’t have to pair incomplete proteins in the same meal, but it’s a good idea to have them within a day or two of each other.

Examples of complete protein sources include:

  • Meat: Beef, pork, lamb and poultry
  • Fish: Salmon, tuna, cod and other types of fish
  • Eggs: Egg whites, in particular
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese and yogurt

While the majority of complete proteins come from animals, one plant-based protein has all nine amino acids, and that’s soy, which is found in tofu, edamame, tempeh or miso.

In fact, Matt says beans are a protein powerhouse, because they’re easily matched with other nutrients to make-up the essential amino acids.

“Beans aren’t a mainstay in most people’s diets in the Midwest, but they should be. They’re literally a superfood, especially for people with diabetes, given their ability to lower blood sugar. They’re not only nearly a complete protein, except for soybeans — which are complete, they lower cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk, are cost effective and high in fiber. If you’re trying to increase your protein intake to build muscle mass or lose weight, beans are a great option.”

Are Animal or Plant Proteins Easier to Digest?

Protein that comes from animals is easier to digest than plant-based protein. The fiber in plants makes it more difficult to digest food. In fact, only 75-80% of plant-based protein is absorbed compared to 95% of animal protein. However, plant-based protein offers more health benefits.

How Much Protein Per Day?

How much protein you have per day depends on your health goals and weight. Matt says there’s no magic number but offers a helpful outline based on desired outcomes:

  • Average person: Recommended intake is about 0.8 grams per kilograms for most adults. (1 kg = 2.2 pounds)
  • Person with diabetes: Protein intake for a person with diabetes is also about 0.8 grams.
  • Build muscle: Recommended intake is 1-1.5 grams per kilogram. Adding more protein to your diet than this won’t help with muscle growth.
  • Weight loss: Recommended intake is 1-1.2 grams per kilogram.

Breaking it down based on weight, a person who weighs 150 pounds (68.2 kg) has a recommended protein intake of about 55 grams per day. If you’re trying to build muscle, aim for 69-102 grams of protein per day. If you’re trying to lose weight, shoot for 68-82 grams of protein per day.

Matt says to split your daily protein intake between your three daily meals.

“Your body does a way better job at metabolizing protein when it’s consumed 15-30 grams at a time. Studies show a higher intake of protein, like more than 40 grams in one sitting, isn’t more beneficial. Most of us tend to eat all our protein at one meal but try 20 grams at breakfast and then divide the rest between lunch and dinner.”

Can You Have Too Much Protein in Your Diet?

Yes, too much protein in your diet can have both short-term and long-term negative consequences. Excessive amounts may lead to the following:

  • Kidney strain: High protein intake puts strain on the kidneys, especially in people who have a preexisting condition.
  • Dehydration: Higher protein intake can increase urine production, potentially leading to dehydration if you’re not drinking enough liquids.
  • Digestive issues: Excess protein intake, especially from animal sources, can lead to diarrhea or constipation.
  • Nutrient imbalances: Diets overly focused on protein can cause nutrient imbalances. A well-rounded diet should have a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.

How Does Protein Benefit Building Muscle and Recovery?

Matt says having protein before a workout is good, especially if you’re working out first thing in the morning, but it’s critical to have protein after a workout.

“Your muscles break down during exercise so putting that protein back in place as they’re trying to ‘regroup’ helps them rebuild. People tend to think they get bigger muscles when they eat more protein but heavier weights are what builds muscle,” she says.

How Much Protein is in My Food?

Matt outlines the protein content for foods that support a well-rounded diet. For reference, three ounces is about the size of a computer mouse.

  • Avocado: 3 grams
  • Banana: 1 gram
  • Beans: ½ cup is 7-8 grams
  • Cheese: 3 ounces is 18 grams
  • Chicken: 3 ounces is 21 grams
  • Cottage cheese: 1 cup is 14 grams
  • Egg: 7 grams
  • Greek yogurt: 17 grams
  • Milk (2% or Whole): 1 cup is 8 grams
  • Mushrooms: 2 grams
  • Nuts: ¼ cup is 7 grams
  • Oatmeal: 1 cup is 26 grams
  • Salmon: 3 ounces is 25 grams
  • Shrimp: 3 ounces is 20 grams
  • Turkey: 3 ounces is 21 grams

Matt recommends having protein with every meal in addition to pairing nutrients for sustained energy and longer satiety.

“I see a lot of people with Type 2 Diabetes who are trying to lose weight. In addition to adding protein to each meal, I recommend eating a matrix of nutrients. For example, eating a single carbohydrate — like a piece of fruit — gets in your bloodstream quickly and increases blood sugar levels and appetite. When there’s multiple nutrients in your snack or meal, such as a carb with a fat or a protein with a carb, they slow down how fast the carbohydrates get in your blood stream.”

Suggestions for balanced snacks that combine carbohydrates with fats or proteins include:

  • Apple with nut butter (carbohydrates, healthy fat and protein)
  • Avocado on whole wheat bread (healthy fat and carbohydrates)
  • Cheese and crackers (carbohydrates and protein)
  • Chia pudding (healthy fat, protein and carbohydrate)
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple (protein and carbohydrates)
  • Edamame (protein and carbohydrates)
  • Greek yogurt with berry and granola (protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat)
  • Hard boiled eggs with whole grain crackers (protein and carbohydrates)
  • Trail mix (without candy) (carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein)

What is Whey Protein?

There are two proteins in milk — whey and casein. Whey is the watery part and casein is the curds. Whey is digested more quickly than casein and has all the essential amino acids, including leucine, which is important in muscle protein synthesis. It’s good to have after exercising and contains 20 - 30 grams of protein per serving, depending on the product.

There are three main types of whey protein: whey protein concentrate (WPC), whey protein isolate (WPI) and whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). WPC contains a lower percentage of protein but retains more of the beneficial nutrients found in whey. WPI goes through further processing to remove more fats and carbohydrates, resulting in a higher protein concentration. WPH is pre-digested, making it easier to absorb.

Casein is digested more slowly and helps stop muscle protein breakdown. ”Some people drink a casein shake before bed, since there’s muscle breakdown overnight when you’re not eating. A mix of both whey and casein in your protein is the best of both worlds,” Matt says.

How Many Protein Shakes Can You Have Per Day?

Matt advises limiting protein shakes to two 8-ounce shakes per day — three being the absolute max. She says while supplementing protein with a shake is fine, regular meals should still be eaten. If you’re consistently relying on protein shakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’re missing out on some key nutrients.

Are Protein Bars Good for You?

Similar to protein shakes, protein bars are a good option for a satisfying snack but shouldn’t replace a regular meal. Matt says paying attention to added sugar on a bar’s nutritional label is important. Added sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup, acts as a partner in crime to causing inflammation in our body. Anything with more than five grams of added sugar is a dealbreaker. Ideally, look for a protein bar with less than 200 calories, at least 10-15 grams of protein and the least amount of added sugar. People with diabetes should pay attention to total carbohydrates as well, shooting for less than 15 grams in the bar.

Talk to Your Doctor about Your Protein Intake

From fueling our muscles and aiding in recovery to supporting cellular function and promoting satiety, the many benefits of getting enough protein in your diet cannot be overstated. Whether sourced from lean meats, plant-based options or convenient supplements, opt for pairing your protein with a diverse and balanced approach of nutrient-dense foods. If you have questions about nutrition or dietary needs, talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a dietician for extra support or help you develop a plan to start feeling your best.