Protein fuels the muscle-building process, dulls hunger and can help prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease. But if you’re not a boxer trying to go pro, how much do you need to stay fit or lose weight? Step on a scale and be honest with yourself about your activity level. Men who work out for 45 minutes three to five days a week need about 0.45 gram per pound; women with the same activity level need 0.35 gram per pound. So an 180-pound guy who works out regularly needs about 80 grams of protein a day. For a 140-pound woman, that translates to nearly 50 grams of protein daily.
Now, for the fun part: eating! The fewer calories you consume, the greater the proportion of calories that should come from protein, says Donald Layman, PhD, a professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois. And no, that extra protein won’t wreck your kidneys: “Taking in more than the recommended dose (which is currently 46 and 56 grams, per The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) won’t confer more benefit. It won’t hurt you, but you’ll just burn it off as extra energy,” Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, who studies exercise and nutrition at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, says. But be warned: Taking in excess calories, from protein or otherwise, can lead to weight gain, so be sure to stay within the recommended calorie range for your goal.
Vegans and vegetarians should incorporate plant-based sources of complete protein to meet their daily quota. Vegan sources of protein are healthy picks for carnivores, too, but should be supplemented with fat-burning animal proteins. And no matter what diet you follow, be sure to distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day. Research shows that grazing on the nutrient instead of packing it all into one meal boosts protein synthesis by 25 percent!