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If you’re embarking on a weight loss journey, one of the questions you may ask is “How much protein should I eat to lose weight?” Understanding the role of protein in weight loss is crucial, as it’s not only about the amount you’re taking in but the quality and timing of your intake.

You’ve probably heard many different recommendations regarding how much you should have, which may leave you confused. And even though there are standard guidelines on how much you should have, new research shows that amount is likely not enough protein to lose weight for women and most other people.

In this comprehensive protein guide, we’ll explore:

  • The ways protein aids in weight loss
  • How much protein per day to lose weight
  • Calculating your protein needs
  • The best high-protein foods
  • And more!

What is protein?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients, among carbohydrates and fats. Macronutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts to sustain health. 

Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids, which are often coined the body’s building blocks. There are 20 amino acids in total, and while the body can make some of them, nine are considered essential and must be obtained through diet.

Protein plays a critical role in nearly all body functions, such as:

  • Growth and repair of tissues and muscle
  • Energy production
  • Digestion
  • Hormone regulation
  • Metabolism
  • Protection and structure for our cells, skin, and bones

While protein is clearly necessary, more research shows the unique role it plays in weight management and appetite control. 

Benefits of protein for weight loss

When it comes to the optimal diet for weight loss, it’s not just about reducing calories. Focusing on what types of foods you should have is not only more enjoyable but also is more effective in ensuring efficient, longer-lasting weight loss.

Protein is seen to support weight loss in a number of ways:

Enhanced satiety: Protein is more satisfying than carbs and fats. Eating more protein with each meal helps keep you full for longer, lessening the frequency and intensity of future hunger pangs. This satiety effect is partly due to protein’s influence on hunger hormones

One tip I often recommend to my clients is to eat your protein first. This can ensure you get in enough with each meal and prioritize it before filling yourself up on the more calorie or carb-heavy options.

High Thermic Effect of Food: Protein has a high Thermic Effect of Food, or TEF. This means high protein foods produce more energy and, therefore, burn more calories upon digestion than carbs and fats. This increased metabolic rate can contribute to weight loss over time.

Muscle-building potential: Maintaining and even building muscle mass while losing weight is important to stay strong, look lean, and support a higher metabolic rate to keep the weight off. Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth, particularly if you’re including exercise in your routine. Muscle burns more calories at rest than body fat, which enhances your overall metabolism.

Eating enough protein can also reduce muscle mass loss during rapid weight loss. This is especially true for those on weight loss medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, or Mounjaro, where muscle loss is common.

How much protein per day to lose weight?

So, we’ve reiterated how vital protein is for weight loss. Let’s answer the question, “How much protein should I eat to lose weight?”

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein remains at 0.8 grams per kilogram or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Any RDA amount is intended to meet the basic nutrition requirements of the majority of the population. For a 150-lb and 68-kg person, this equals about 54 grams per day. 

However, if you’re looking to lose weight and gain muscle, new research shows this amount is not nearly enough to preserve muscle mass (which gradually decreases over time starting at age 30) and overall health. In fact, this 0.8 gram per kg recommendation is becoming outdated for most people – except the sedentary elderly population. 

What is the latest research on protein recommendations?

These new studies suggest instead that a higher protein intake, anywhere from 1.2-2.0 grams per kg based on goals, activity level, and overall health status. 

For most of my weight loss clients, I typically recommend between 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kg per day. This often looks like around 80-120 grams of protein per day, much more than many people typically do. But with conscious effort, it is entirely possible to meet this target. 

For those who are very active, heavy-weight lifters or endurance athletes, upwards of 1.7-2.0 grams per kg may be recommended to maintain adequate lean muscle mass and optimize performance.

Everyone is a bit different, so working with a nutrition professional like myself is essential to determine your exact protein needs.

It’s also important to distribute your protein intake appropriately throughout the day to provide steady energy, curb appetite, and build muscle most optimally.

Protein timing and distribution

Timing your protein intake correctly is also essential to help your body make the most of your intake. 

A big mistake I see many people make is not eating enough protein earlier in the day and then packing it all at dinner. Doing this can lead to unsteady energy, increased hunger, and overeating at dinnertime. 

Here are a few things to consider regarding protein timing:

1. Spread your protein evenly throughout the day

Instead of consuming most of your protein at one meal, aim to distribute it evenly across all meals. For example, if your daily goal is 90 grams, aim for about 30 grams per meal or 25 grams per meal if you include snacks. I promise this is not too much for most people!

This helps you maintain consistent energy and maximizes your body’s muscle-building capabilities.

2. Include at least 25 grams of protein with breakfast

Many people have a carbohydrate-rich breakfast or sometimes no breakfast at all. But the morning is one of the most critical times to prioritize protein for all-day appetite control.

A protein-rich breakfast with at least 25 grams of fiber or more (depending on your needs) kick-starts your metabolism, facilitating your body’s ability to burn calories immediately.

Protein-rich breakfast options include Greek yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, smoothies or protein powders, nuts, and seeds.

3. Consume protein after exercise

Consuming protein after exercise, especially strength training, is essential for muscle repair and growth. While new research shows you don’t need to immediately reach for a protein shake after working out, having a protein-rich meal or snack within a couple of hours post-workout can be beneficial. 

This helps replenish energy stores, foster muscle growth. Eating protein consistently throughout the day can also help you get ahead of increased hunger that may ensue after your workouts. Especially if you’re doing high-intensity workouts, your hunger may increase, and you’ll want to get ahead of it so you don’t go over your calorie deficit.

How to calculate your protein needs

While there is no perfectly accurate calculation, you can get a good estimate of your daily protein needs in a few simple steps. In my sustainable weight loss program, I take it further and determine your exact needs based on your age, weight, activity level, and goals.

If you want a starting point, here are two simple steps to take:

Step 1: Determine your weight in kilograms. 

To do this, simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. 

Here’s an example: if you weigh 150 pounds, do 150 ÷ 2.2 = 68.2 kilograms.

Step 2: Multiply your weight by the right amount of protein

Next, multiply your weight in kilograms by an estimated number to determine how much protein you need daily. Here are a few ranges depending on your goals and activity level:

Sedentary: 1.2-1.5 grams per kg

Moderately Active: 1.4-1.7 grams per kg (walking, jogging, light weights)

Very active and want to build muscle: 1.7-2.0 grams per kg (running, heavy weight lifting, endurance athlete)

Best high-protein foods

Once you figure out your estimated protein requirements, it’s time to make a list. Here are some of the best high-protein foods to include in your routine, ranked from highest to lowest in protein per 4 ounces.

  • Chicken breast – 26 g
  • Tuna – 24 g
  • Lean ground beef (at least 95% lean) – 21 g
  • Fish – 19 g
  • Ground turkey – 18 g
  • Eggs – 13 g
  • Cottage cheese – 11 g
  • Greek yogurt – 10 g (can vary depending on the brand)
  • Tofu – 10 g
  • Lentils – 9 g
  • Black beans – 9 g
  • Quinoa – 5 g

While there are many other plant-based protein sources, you’ll need to consume a larger portion and more calories to get enough protein. It is entirely possible to meet your protein needs for weight loss on a vegan or plant-based diet, but it requires more strategic thought and planning to ensure you are staying within a calorie deficit.

Sample day of high protein meals and snacks

To better understand how to disperse your protein intake evenly, here’s a one-day sample menu that contains 30 grams of protein per meal and 10 grams per snack for 100 grams per day.

Breakfast: Greek yogurt parfait: 1 cup of Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds and a sprinkle of chia seeds

Lunch: 5 oz grilled chicken with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and oil and vinegar

Dinner: 5 oz of salmon with steamed broccoli and ½ cup quinoa

Snack: 1 scoop of protein powder blended with almond milk, a handful of spinach, and frozen fruit

Can you eat too much protein?

It was previously thought (back in my clinical nutrition years) that too much protein can cause kidney problems. However, more updated guidelines show this is not usually the case. 

It’s more of a concern for someone who already has established kidney disease, or if you’re going above the 2 grams per kg per day recommendation. In this case, it’s essential to speak to your doctor before increasing your protein intake.

Of course, there can always be too much of a good thing. If you’re unsure how much to support weight loss while protecting your kidneys, consult a nutrition expert for guidance.

Key takeaways

Answering the question “How much protein should I eat to lose weight?” is not a clear-cut and dry response. While the RDA for protein is a general starting point, most people find a higher intake is more effective for weight loss and muscle maintenance.

Protein needs are highly individualized based on your goals, activity level, and health status. As a starting point, most people need at least 1.2 grams per kg of body weight per day. 

Prioritizing protein-rich foods low in calories, such as chicken breast, turkey, and eggs, will make meeting your daily protein targets easier without getting out of a calorie deficit.

To fine-tune your protein and other macro needs like carbohydrates and fats, consult a registered dietitian like myself to take the guesswork out of the equation.

Looking to learn more about protein and high-protein recipes to lose weight? Check out these additional resources!

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace personalized medical guidance. For specific recommendations for your needs and goals, consult your medical provider and registered dietitian.