Maybe you’ve heard about the importance of protein in your daily diet, but do you know how much you are really getting and if it’s enough?
Protein is crucial to the body’s health and daily function, but the amount you need is specific to your age, activity, and weight. This is where your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) comes into play. RDA’s for different nutrients have been established by the National Academy of Sciences and are intended to individualize recommendations for each essential nutrient in order to help you and your family optimize your health. Follow the four simple steps outlined below to calculate your (RDA) for protein and ensure you’re meeting your body’s needs.
WHY PROTEIN IS SO IMPORTANT?
Protein is required by every cell in the body. Its involvement ranges from facilitating the electric current that takes place in our brain during thought, to the growth and management of muscle and bone that keeps us up and running. Functions including immunity, hormone creation, muscle strength, as well as hair and nail growth are all dependent on our ability to meet our RDA’s for nutrients like protein.
Protein’s importance in growth and building muscle makes it a valuable nutrient for athletes and those who exercise regularly. People who are physically active have higher daily protein needs, due to their need for muscle repair.
A good helping of protein daily can also aid in weight loss. Protein is highly satiating. This means it will help you to feel full for a longer stretch of time, which in turn, will cause you to eat less calories and lose weight.
Protein is essential for not only many day to day functions, it can also help you reach your body composition goals of building more muscle and losing fat.
What is the RDA for protein?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average adult should aim to eat between 10-30% of our daily calories from protein. This is a large range. A person that needs 2000 calories a day would need to eat between 50-150 grams a day. Does this mean you aim high? Or low? Or somewhere in between?
How can you figure out how much you need? While 10-30% of daily calories is a good guideline, factors such as activity level, weight, and pregnancy can change how much protein is right for you.
To personalize it a bit more, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an RDA protein calculator for different age and gender groups. This helps tailor it a bit more. For example, the RDA for protein for women and the RDA for protein for men differ.
The average RDA for protein for specific age groups are:
- Children 1-3: 13 grams
- Children 4-8: 19 grams
- Children 9-13: 34 grams
- Girls 14-18: 46 grams
- Boys 14-18: 52 grams
- Women 19+: 46 grams
- Men 19+: 56 grams
As you can see the RDA for protein for a teenager, man, woman, or child can vary significantly.
There are of course some exceptions to these average numbers. For example, pregnant or breastfeeding women should be getting close to 60 grams or more of protein each day to support the health of the mom and growing fetus.
Individuals with a vigorous fitness regime will often require a higher dose of protein. In addition, if you have certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease or cancer, it is important to talk with your healthcare providers about the right amount of protein for you.
One thing to note about the RDA, it is the amount of protein needed to support day to day functions and prevent muscle wasting. It is not the amount of protein you need if you are an athlete, an older adult, want to lose weight or are in a period of growth. This is why protein needs should be calculated to your specific lifestyle and goals.
How to Calculate the RDA for Protein
The averages discussed above are meant to provide general guidance, but for information tailored to you, it is a good idea to learn how to calculate your RDA for protein. If this seems overwhelming, consider speaking to a registered dietitian who can help figure out how much protein you need
For adults over the age of 19, in order to calculate your RDA for protein, follow these quick steps:
- First, step on the scale. To get an accurate number, weigh yourself in the morning with an empty bladder. If you don’t have a scale, it is okay to use a recent weight from an appointment, such as a doctor’s visit.
- Next, you will need to convert your weight from pounds to kilograms. There are 2.2 pounds per kilogram, so simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. If you want to use pounds to calculate your RDA for protein? Skip ahead to Step 4 for the calculation using pounds.
(weight in pounds) / 2.2 = weight in kilograms
- Now that you have your weight in kilograms, you can easily calculate your RDA. Simply multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8 to arrive at your daily protein recommendation.
(weight in kilograms) x 0.8 = RDA for protein (g/day)
- Using pounds to calculate your RDA for protein:
(weight in pounds) x 0.36 = RDA for protein (g/day)
Remember that a calculator will not give you a complete picture, it will only give you the baseline of what you need. If you are routinely exercising, strength training, or are trying to lose weight, you may need more protein than your RDA indicates.
How to Get Enough Protein
It is easy to hit your daily RDA for protein by eating high protein foods at meals and snacks. This does not require eating meat all the time. There are many protein rich foods out there to choose from, so even if you aren’t a big meat eater, it shouldn’t be too difficult to hit your RDA for protein.
To help you along, here are some protein filled foods to incorporate into your meal planning:
- Milk and yogurt
- Protein powder/supplements
As you can see, protein is found in a variety of different plant and animal foods. Eating a variety of high protein plant and animal foods can help you effortlessly meet your RDA for protein. Aim to eat a high protein food at every meal to keep you full and fueled.
Putting it All Together: Meeting your RDA for protein
Once you’ve calculated your RDA for protein, make a point to pay closer attention to nutrition labels when purchasing food. Compare the protein amount in grams of the foods you eat on a regular basis to see if you have been meeting your RDA for protein or if you should increase the amount of protein in your diet.
While eating enough protein may seem difficult at first, remember that this is the amount of protein you need over the course of an entire day. Including a protein source at each meal and snack can help this feel manageable.
If you need an example of how to eat a high protein diet, here’s how you would plan your day. For example, a woman weighing 65 kilograms (or 143 pounds) needs 52 grams of protein per day. If she eats 15 grams of protein at all three meals, which is only about 2 ounces of meat, and has an afternoon snack with 7 grams of protein, like a cup of yogurt, she has met her RDA for protein! It really isn’t that much food to meet your RDA daily.
If you are still unsure how to go about meeting your protein needs, here are some examples of the protein content in some everyday foods to help you determine how much protein you are actually ingesting. Mix and match foods from this list to meet your daily needs.
- 1 cup of milk—8 grams of protein
- 3-ounce piece of meat, chicken, or fish—21 grams of protein
- 1 cup of dry beans—16 grams of protein
- 8-ounces of yogurt—11 grams of protein
- ½ cup legumes- 7 grams of protein
- ¼ cup mixed nuts- 7 grams of protein
- 1/2 cup of tofu—10 grams of protein
- Whey protein powder– 16 grams of protein per scoop
By looking at your diet and how much protein you are eating every day, you may even discover that you have been hitting your RDA for protein without even trying.
So now that you know the importance of protein and are equipped with the tools to calculate your own unique protein recommended daily allowance, you can make a conscious effort to stick close to the number when you plan out your meals.
An easy rule of thumb to get started is to simply eat a high protein food at every meal and snack. Doing this will help you effortlessly reach your daily needs.
Of course, your RDA for protein is simply an average number that you should aim for. Even if you don’t hit it every day, you can still live healthily if you eat more or less some days. Meeting your daily protein needs will help you fuel your cells and muscles, so you can live the healthy life you want.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Accessed June 2, 2021. https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015
- DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals. Accessed June 2, 2021. https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-calculator/
- Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1199-1215.
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