To level your protein game with a little more knowledge, we asked Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN, NASM-CPT, deputy director of nutrition at the Good Housekeeping Institute, for guidance.
How much protein per meal is ideal
As a quick reminder, protein is a macronutrient that our bodies need in large quantities to function optimally. “Every single cell in the human body contains protein,” says Sassos. “It is crucial for building and repairing tissue, fighting infections, building muscle, clotting blood and even transporting oxygen throughout the body.”
Sassos adds that there is a certain threshold you may want to keep in mind when considering how much protein per meal is ideal: 30 grams. “Excess protein consumed beyond that will be excreted through the urine and essentially wasted,” says the dietitian. “Eating too much protein can put unnecessary stress on the kidneys and damage them over time. It can also result in high urinary calcium, which can contribute to bone loss and, over time, the development of osteoporosis and osteopenia.”
3 RD-approved tips for optimizing protein intake
Now that we have a few criteria, let’s focus on how to optimize your protein routine.
1. Opt for whole-food lean protein sources
Above all, Sassos reiterates that whole-food protein sources, whether animal or plant-based, are preferred. Compared to protein supplements and powders, protein-rich whole foods are packed with other important nutrients you’ll definitely want to take advantage of. “This synergistic relationship of protein in whole food form with other vitamins, minerals and more is the way nature intended it, which makes it nutritionally superior to supplements and powders,” explains Sassos.
From there, Sassos recommends choosing protein sources that are lean and low in saturated fat. “These include skinless poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, eggs, lentils and beans,” he says.
2. Calculate your optimum daily protein intake
A number of different factors, including but not limited to your age, gender, and activity level, will inform how much protein you should aim for each day. Generally speaking, however, Sassos says a simple way to figure out how much protein you need daily is to multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8. (For example, if you weigh 165 pounds, divide that by 2.2 to find your weight in kilograms, and then multiply that number by 0.8. The final figure will equal the recommended 60 grams of protein per day.) 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight, depending on your fitness goals,” says Sassos.
Again, you can vary your protein needs based on factors such as your activity levels and your desire to build muscle. (Others who may need higher amounts of protein, according to Sassos, include “people with special medical conditions, such as those who have recently had surgery and severe wounds.” be.)
3. Focus on balance
Again, balance is the name of the game when it comes to any nutritional consideration, and protein is no exception. For starters, this means you should aim for protein at every meal rather than packing it all into one meal. “Spreading your protein intake evenly throughout the day is ideal for maximizing protein absorption,” explains Sassos. In addition, she recommends pairing the product with “whole grains and other nutrient-dense foods for a well-balanced meal.”
Tips for creating a protein-rich plate at every meal
For a highly nutritious inspo, Sassos helpfully sums up what a balanced, protein-rich plate can look like at mealtime, from morning to night. It considers the upper limit standard of 30 grams each, but you can (and should!) adjust your portion sizes to suit your appetite and personal needs.
- 3-egg omelet (18 grams of protein)
- 1 ounce of cheese (5-7 grams of protein)
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread (6 grams of protein)
- 3 ounces tuna salad, lettuce, and tomato (21 grams of protein)
- One packet (4 grams of protein)
- 1 oz trail mix (4 grams of protein)
- 3 ounces chicken breast (about 21 grams of protein)
- 1/3 cup quinoa (about 6 grams of protein)
- 1/2 cup roasted vegetables (2-3 grams of protein)