How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

When you find yourself in the fitness corner of social media, you will hear a lot about protein. Protein shakes. Protein Pancakes. Protein desserts. Protein bars. Supplements. Smoothies. All protein, all the time. According to your favorite influencer, it’s all you need to eat.

Let’s dig into this.

Body composition is the term we use for how your body is divided up into different tissue types. You have fat mass and fat-free mass. Fat-free mass includes fluids, bones, muscle mass, and all the other non-fat tissues. For the best health outcomes, we want less fat mass and more fat-free mass. In particular, we want a good amount of muscle mass. Muscles are what allow you to interact with the world. You use them for walking, lifting, dancing, singing, and even blinking. If you were to lose all of your muscle mass, you would only weigh about 10% of what you do now. If you lose enough muscle, you become an invalid. Lean muscle mass is one of the greatest predictors of longevity and quality of life as you age.

Guess what you need to build and maintain this all-important muscle mass? Protein.

Protein is one of our three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. It is the main building block of the body and gives structure to your hair, skin, nails, bones, and muscle tissue.

Learn more about macronutrients

Besides building new tissue, protein is required for maintaining the health of the tissues you already have. In fact, most of the protein you eat just goes to maintenance. If you actually want to build new muscle, you’ll need to eat enough protein to put you into a surplus.

As we age, our digestive systems become less efficient, and we get less nutrients from the food we eat. Unfortunately, as we grow older our ability to maintain and build muscle becomes less efficient as well. As I mentioned above, the amount of muscle mass you carry into your later years is predictive of longevity. This means we need to focus on building and maintaining muscle as we go through life. It also means that we need to eat more protein the older we get, just to absorb the same amount as when we were younger.

The general recommendations for maintaining healthy muscle mass through life are 1.2-2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight or 0.6-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. The more active you are, or older, the higher on that scale you should aim for. These numbers are for optimum health.

The best sources of protein are the ones that our body can use most readily. We refer to this as ‘bioavailability’, and animal proteins are the most bioavailable. They have all the essential building blocks we need to repair, maintain, and build our protein-dense tissues and muscle mass. When you are looking for foods to help you hit your protein goals, think of red meat, chicken, and dairy first. Whey protein supplements are also an excellent choice.

Remember, protein is essential to your health and longevity. You probably need more than you think, and you’re probably eating less than you think you are. Try to get most of your protein from whole foods and use animal sources as a priority. Aim for 1.2-2g/kg or 0.6-1g/lbs of bodyweight and try for the higher end if you are more active and the older you get.

Josh Wood BHSc GCSC

Coach Josh Wood, BHSc GCSC is a TEDx speaker, health educator, and online fitness coach who lives in Hobart, Tasmania. Coach Josh works to help people find their passion for activity through online coaching, speaking, and teaching busy people how to eat like an adult. He spent most of his adult life studying the body through manual therapies, health science, and strength and conditioning. With a background in teaching massage therapists and personal trainers he also writes for various online publications to keep his communication skills sharp. His diverse background brings the many facets of health and fitness together. Head over to to learn more!

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