Protein intake guide: how much protein do I need?

Protein is an essential part of our diet, and you might be asking yourself just how much protein do I need? Despite its important role within the body, many of us are unsure how much protein we should be consuming, and what that looks like for our day-to-day diet. 

The importance of protein in your diet

Protein is what’s known as a macronutrient - those nutrients that we need in larger quantities for energy (1,2). Fat and carbohydrates are the two other examples. After water, protein is the second most abundant in the body and forms a large structural component of your muscles and bones(1). It’s also essential for other bodily functions such as transporting nutrients and the growth and repair of cells and tissues (3)

In the body, proteins are formed from amino acids - often referred to as the ‘building blocks’ of protein(4). There are approximately 20 different amino acids and they’re found in many different foods from both plant and animal sources. Nine of these amino acids are deemed as essential because they cannot be produced in the body itself (1,4).

What is the recommended dietary allowance for protein?

How much protein do I need in a day? It’s a common question. 

The amount of protein you need is dependent on factors such as your age, body weight and fitness goals, and will vary from person to person.

In the UK, the recommended protein intake for adults is 0.75 grams per kg body weight per day (6). Although it is recognised that athletes or regular exercisers have higher protein requirements depending on the type and intensity of exercise they do(7).

protein meal

Do I need to take protein supplements?

Whether you’re a regular gym goer or you just like to go for the odd run, you’ve probably seen people enjoying a quick protein shake before or after they exercise. 

Protein powders or supplements can be a convenient way to increase your protein intake - especially if your goal is to build muscle. However, they are rarely essential, and the average healthy individual should be able to get all the protein they need from a healthy, balanced diet which includes a variety of protein sources. Luckily, there are a wide range of food sources of protein to choose from such as milk-based drinks or dairy products. Find out some of the best food sources of protein here. 

If you do choose to consider a protein supplement, it’s important to always read and follow the dosage guidelines and speak to a healthcare professional before doing so, to ensure that this is the right thing for you. Athletes should take careful considerations before choosing any type of supplement and always consult with a sports nutritionist beforehand to assess the need. 

How much is too much protein?

Individuals with special conditions may also need higher protein intakes due its role in growth and repair in the body(11). Whilst protein is essential for our overall health, there has been some discussion around what the upper limit should be for protein intake, and what, if any, the detrimental effects may be. 

Additional protein, beyond the amount of protein that we need, isn’t always efficiently used by the body. Although there is no definite answer when it comes to how much protein is too much, the advice from the Department of Health is that adults shouldn’t consume any more than double the Reference Nutrient Intake of protein each day (12)

Very high amounts of protein have not been shown to lead to greater muscle growth(13) – so don’t be fooled in thinking that the more protein you eat, the bigger your gains! If you’re unsure about how much protein is too much, or about your protein intake in general, it’s always a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional. 

Read more

 
  1. British Nutrition Foundation. Protein [online]. Available at https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-sustainable-diets/protein. [Accessed November 2023]
  2. World Health Organization. Macronutrients [online] 2023. Available at https://www.emro.who.int/health-topics/macronutrients/introduction.html#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20broad%20classes,be%20divided%20into%20three%20groups. [Accessed November 2023]
  3. Cuanalo-Contreras, K., Mukherjee, A., & Soto, C. Role of protein misfolding and proteostasis deficiency in protein misfolding diseases and aging. International journal of cell biology, Published 2013.
  4. Lopez, M. J., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2020). Biochemistry, essential amino acids. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32496725. [Accessed November 2023]
  5. NHS. Total Protein Test [online] 2022. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/total-protein-test/ [Accessed November 2023]
  6. COMA. Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom – Report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Published 1991. London: TSO
  7. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. Published 2017 Jun 20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
  8. NHS. Eating a balanced diet [online] 2022. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/eating-a-balanced-diet/. [Accessed November 2023]
  9. NHS. Meat in your diet. 2021.   Available at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/meat-nutrition/ [Accessed November 2023]
  10. Delimaris I. Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults. ISRN Nutr. 2013 Jul 18;2013:126929. doi: 10.5402/2013/126929. PMID: 24967251; PMCID: PMC4045293.
  11. Phillips SM, Paddon-Jones D, Layman DK. Optimizing Adult Protein Intake During Catabolic Health Conditions [published correction appears in Adv Nutr. 2021 Mar 31;12(2):578]. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(4):S1058-S1069. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa047
  12. Department of Health Report on Health and Social Subjects (1991) Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom.
  13. Witard OC, Jackman SR, Breen L, Smith K, Selby A, Tipton KD. Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(1):86-95. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.055517
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