Recommended Protein Intake for Optimal Health

Protein is possibly the most crucial macronutrient due to its involvement in nearly every function in the body. Protein is essential for adequate growth and repair of all organs and supports immune function, digestion, and hormone balance.

Here, we review the recommended protein intake for sedentary and active adults, people who are pregnant and breastfeeding, and children. We’ve also included specific recommendations for adults who have muscle growth and fat loss goals.

Most adults can benefit from a daily protein intake of 1.2-2 grams per kilogram (g/kg) body weight. Some adults benefit from up to 3.4 g/kg for very active individuals engaging in frequent resistance training.

Your individual protein requirements may vary based on factors such as age, sex, body composition, activity level, and overall health. Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific needs and goals.

Minimum protein intake for adults

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is established by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It is meant to provide a level of intake for a particular nutrient that will meet the needs of most healthy adults.

The RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) body weight. However, many expert nutrition groups, including the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and Dietitians of Canada (DOC), have adopted recommendations in line with results from several studies showing that most adults need significantly more protein than the RDA.

Most nutrition experts view the RDA as a minimum amount of dietary protein intake needed to prevent malnutrition and support the basic physiological functions of the body.


The minimum protein intake to prevent malnutrition and protein deficiency in adults is 0.8 g/kg body weight, the current RDA, though most people will benefit from more.

Recommended protein intake for adults

Healthy, sedentary

Recommended protein intake to maintain weight and lean mass for adults who don’t engage in regular physical activity:

  • Goal | maintain weight: 1.2-1.8 g/kg (0.54-0.82 g/lb) (1, 2, 3, 4)

Healthy, regularly active

Recommended protein intake to maintain weight, build muscle, and lose fat for healthy, regularly active adults:

  • Goal | maintain weight: 1.4-2.0 g/kg (0.64-0.91 g/lb) (5)
    • 1.8-2 g/kg can help improve body composition for increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
  • Goal | build muscle: 1.6-2.4 g/kg (0.73-1.1 g/lb) (11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
    • Up to 3.4 g/kg for experienced lifters during a bulking phase who want to minimize fat gain (12, 16)
    • Muscle growth also requires consistent resistance training with progressive overload and a hypercaloric diet (consuming more calories than you expend)
  • Goal | fat loss: 1.6-2.4 g/kg (0.73-1.1 g/lb) (17, 18)
    • 2.3-3.1 g/kg can enhance fat loss and minimize muscle loss in lifters with low body fat (19, 20, 21)
    • Fat loss also requires a hypocaloric diet (consuming fewer calories than you expend)
    • Increased protein intake can reduce hunger throughout the day and enhance your metabolic rate since protein requires more energy to digest compared to fat and carbohydrates (22, 23, 24, 25)
maintain weight
maintain weight
build muscle
build muscle, bulking
fat loss
fat loss, lean lifters
1.2-1.8 g/kg1.4-2.0 g/kg1.6-2.4 g/kgup to 3.4 g/kg1.6-2.4 g/kg2.3-3.1 g/kg
Body weight (kg)Body weight (lb)Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):

Higher weight (BMI ≥ 30)

Muscle is the most metabolically-active tissue in the body, so preserving it will prevent your metabolism from decreasing significantly during a phase of calorie restriction, increasing your chances of long-term weight loss. By consuming adequate protein, you are more likely to maintain your lean body mass, especially if engaging in resistance training.

Additionally, protein helps to curb hunger and promote balanced blood sugar which can prevent overeating and cravings. (22, 23)

Recommended protein intake for higher-weight adults:

  • Goal | fat loss: 1.2-1.5 g/kg (0.54-0.68 g/lb) (26, 27, 28, 29)
BMI ≥ 30
(fat loss)
1.2-1.5 g/kg
Body weight (kg)Body weight (lb)Daily protein (g):

Older adults (≥ 50 years old)

The current RDA for protein is inadequate to prevent sarcopenia in older adults. Sarcopenia is age-related loss of muscle, strength, and function. (30, 31) Additionally, as we age, it becomes more difficult to build new muscle and the amount of protein the body can digest and absorb is less than in younger adults.

Most adults over the age of 50 need a minimum of 1.2 g/kg protein, and those who have a goal of fat loss or muscle growth will need even more.

Recommended protein intake for older adults:

  • General needs: 1.2-1.5 g/kg (0.54-0.68 g/lb) (32)
  • Goal | build muscle: 1.7-2.0 g/kg (0.77-0.91 g/lb)
  • Goal | fat loss: 1.5-2.2 g/kg (0.68-1.00 g/lb)
Older adults
Older adults
(build muscle)
Older adults
(fat loss)
1.2-1.5 g/kg1.7-2.0 g/kg1.5-2.2 g/kg
Body weight (kg)Body weight (lb)Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):


The RDA for protein during pregnancy is 1.1 g/kg. However, this amount is likely inadequate, and several studies have shown that higher protein consumption during pregnancy resulted in decreased risk of small-for-gestational-age infants. (33, 34)

Recommended protein intake during pregnancy:

  • 1st-2nd trimester: 1.7 g/kg (0.77 g/lb) (35, 36)
  • 3rd trimester: 1.8 g/kg (0.82 g/lb) (35, 36)
  • Regular physical activity or carrying more than one child: up to 2 g/kg (0.91 g/lb)

Always consult with your physician or dietitian before making changes to your diet.


The RDA for protein during lactation is 1.1 g/kg, though some studies show that protein needs remain high for at least the first 3-6 months postpartum, especially if you’re exclusively breastfeeding. But even if you are only partially breastfeeding, additional protein is needed to replenish your protein stores and aid the healing and recovery process. (37)

Recommended protein intake during lactation:

  • Partial breastfeeding: ≥ 1.5 g/kg (0.68 g/lb)
  • Exclusive breastfeeding: 1.7-1.9 g/kg (0.83-0.86 g/lb)
(1st-2nd trimester)
(3rd trimester)
Partial breastfeedingExclusive breastfeeding
1.7 g/kg1.8 g/kg≥ 1.5 g/kg1.7-1.9 g/kg
Body weight (kg)Body weight (lb)Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):Daily protein (g):
45.41007782≥ 6877-86
56.712596102≥ 8596-108
68150116122≥ 102116-129
79.4175135143≥ 119135-151
90.7200154163≥ 136154-172
102225173184≥ 153173-194
113.4250193204≥ 170193-215
124.7275212224≥ 187212-237
136.1300231245≥ 204231-259

Always consult with your physician or dietitian before making changes to your diet.


Your individual protein needs will vary greatly based on your age, weight, activity level, and goals. Additionally, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding have different protein needs than during other life stages. Most adults can benefit from 1.2-2 g/kg protein per day, and people with more muscle mass or who regularly engage in resistance training may need up to 3.4 g/kg.

Recommended protein intake for infants & children

There is limited research on appropriate protein intake for infants and children since it would be unethical to intentionally deprive children of protein. For infants, Adequate Intake is used. For toddlers, the average amount of protein consumed with no adverse outcomes is used.

Recommended protein intake for infants & children:

  • Infants (preterm): 3.0-4.0 g/kg (1.36-1.81 g/lb) (38, 39, 40)
  • Infants (full-term, 0-6 months): ≥ 1.5 g/kg (0.68 g/lb) (41)
  • Infants (full-term, 7-12 months): 1.6 g/kg (0.73 g/lb) (42)
  • Toddlers (1-3 years): 3.0-4.0 g/kg (1.36-1.81 g/lb) (43
  • Children (4-13 years): 1.5-2.9 g/kg (0.68-1.32 g/lb), greater for children involved in sports or regular physical activity (44, 45)
Age groupInfants
0-6 months)
7-12 months)
(1-3 years)
(4-13 years)
Protein needs3.0-4.0 g/kg≥ 1.5 g/kg1.6 g/kg3.0-4.0 g/kg1.5-2.9 g/kg

Always consult with your child’s physician or dietitian before changing their diet.


Protein needs during infancy and childhood can be variable based on gestational age and activity level. If you have questions about your child’s protein needs and how to assess if they are getting enough, consult your child’s pediatrician or dietitian for further recommendations.

Recommended protein intake for vegans & vegetarians

Plant foods tend to have less protein than animal foods, and the protein contained in plant foods is often less bioavailable due to antinutrients and low amounts of some essential amino acids (EAAs).

Bioavailability is the ability of your body to digest, absorb, and use nutrients from food.

Antinutrients are certain compounds that are naturally occurring in plants and can prevent the digestion of protein and other nutrients. They can be broken down and reduced through soaking, sprouting, and cooking.

Most plant foods are missing one or more of the EAAs, so it’s essential to get your protein from many different sources to ensure you’re consuming all of the EAAs.

Tips to meet protein needs on a vegan or vegetarian diet

  1. Start with the appropriate guideline based on your age, health, weight status, and goals.
  2. Consider eating additional protein to account for the lower bioavailability and incomplete protein profile of most vegan foods. (46)
  3. Consume a wide variety of plant foods, with an emphasis on foods containing leucine, lysine, methionine, and cysteine, which are often low in plant proteins.
    • Best vegan sources of leucine: beans, corn, lentils, peas, seitan, soy
    • Best vegan sources of lysine: beans, lentils, peas, soy
    • Best vegan sources of methionine + cysteine: rice, seitan (vital wheat gluten)


People who primarily eat a plant-based diet require a variety of protein foods to ensure adequate essential amino acid intake since many plant foods are incomplete proteins. Amino acids of particular concern include leucine, lysine, and methionine. Additionally, proper preparation and cooking of nuts, seeds, grains, beans, and vegetables will help improve digestibility and increase the amount of protein available to the body.

Health conditions that may affect your protein requirements

Some health conditions may worsen with a high-protein intake due to decreased ability of your body to remove the breakdown products from protein digestion. These include the following:

  • Chronic kidney disease, particularly for people not on dialysis (47)
  • Liver failure, particularly for people experiencing impaired cognition associated with an elevated ammonia level in the blood (48)

Other health conditions may benefit from increased protein intake due to the accelerated metabolism required for the body to heal and/or tissue breakdown caused by the disease process. These include the following:

  • Cancer, especially for people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, or those who are experiencing weight loss (often accompanied by muscle loss) (49)
  • Severe burns, wounds, critical illness, and traumatic injuries (50, 51, 52, 53)

Be sure to consult with your doctor or dietitian for individualized nutrition recommendations.


If you have certain health conditions, your protein needs may be different than the general population. Your doctor or dietitian can provide you with the appropriate recommendations based on your individual health goals.

How much protein to eat per meal

Consuming adequate doses of protein throughout the day is important to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS).

Muscle protein synthesis is the process of building new muscle tissue, and it occurs when protein consumption exceeds muscle protein breakdown.

Every time you eat protein, your body has an opportunity to use the protein for muscle growth.

Here are the estimated per-meal protein intakes required to maximize MPS and meet daily protein needs at different ages:

  • Adults (20-30 years old): 0.24-0.40 g/kg/meal (54)
  • Adults (30-60 years old): 0.30-0.50 g/kg/meal (55)
  • Adults (60 years and older): 0.40-0.60 g/kg/meal (30, 54)
(20-30 years old)
(30-60 years old)
(≥ 60 years old)
0.24-0.40 g/kg0.30-0.50 g/kg0.40-0.60 g/kg
Body weight (kg)Body weight (lb)Per meal protein (g):Per meal protein (g):Per meal protein (g):


You can easily calculate your per-meal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis every time you eat. Be sure to compare your per-meal value to your daily protein goal and adjust to meet your individual needs.

How much protein to eat after exercise

After exercise, you want to minimize muscle protein breakdown as much as possible, so eating protein is essential.

Generally, eating an adequate dose of protein (per-meal goal or around 30 grams) within 2 hours after exercise is a good goal. Often, you may still be digesting food from a prior meal, so your body is likely absorbing and using those nutrients throughout your workout and you may be okay to wait a bit if needed. (56)

If you haven’t consumed adequate protein within 1-2 hours before training, it is more important to eat a high-protein meal as soon as possible after exercise.


If you eat a meal 1-2 hours before your workout, consume a high-protein meal (around 30 grams) within 2 hours after finishing. If you eat more than 2 hours before your workout, consume a high-protein meal as soon as possible after your training.

How to meet your daily protein needs

If you are paying closer attention to your protein intake or increasing your consumption to meet a certain goal, you may realize you’re falling short of your protein goal at the end of the day due to a lack of planning. So, we’ve broken down the steps to easily divide your daily protein intake throughout the day. And if you prefer to measure your food in ounces, here is a reference to help with that.

Protein Equivalents:

Protein per 1 oz: Meat (cooked): 8-9 g | Fish (cooked): 7-8 g | Tofu: 4 g | Cott. cheese: 4 g | Eggs (cooked): 3 g | Beans (cooked): 2.5 g

  • How to calculate ounces of protein for your meal and daily intake:
    • Divide the total grams of protein by grams per ounce
      • Meat (cooked): 20 g protein/meal / 8 g per oz = 2.5 oz/meal | 100 grams protein/day / 8 g per oz = 12.5 oz/day
      • Tofu: 20 g protein/meal / 4 g per oz = 5 oz/meal | 100 grams protein/day / 4 g per oz = 25 oz/day

Steps to make sure you are eating enough protein

  1. Determine your daily protein goal.
  2. Decide how many meals and snacks you plan to eat daily (usually 3-4 meals and 0-3 snacks).
  3. Divide your protein goal between your meals and snacks.
    • For meals, determine your per-meal goal and choose an amount within the range to start with (usually 25-50 g/meal)
    • For snacks, choose a slightly lower amount than your meals (usually 10-20 g/snack)
    • Adjust your meal and snack amounts as needed to meet your total daily protein goal
  4. Choose your protein sources for each meal. Choosing foods that have a high protein density will help you easily meet your goal and prevent overconsumption of calories.
    • Animal foods with high protein density:
      • Lean fish: barramundi, cod, haddock, halibut, pollock, red snapper, sole, tilapia, tuna, whiting
      • Shellfish: clams, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, shrimp
      • Beef & game meat: beef (ground, 93-95% lean), beef (top round, lean), beef jerky, buffalo, deer, elk, moose, pastrami, veal
      • Poultry: chicken breast, turkey breast, turkey drumstick, turkey (ground, 93% lean)
      • Pork: ham, pork (ground, 96% lean)
      • Dairy & eggs: cottage cheese (2% fat), egg whites, Greek yogurt (0% fat), milk (0% fat)
    • Plant foods with high protein density:
      • Soy products: soybeans, tempeh, texture vegetable protein, tofu (firm)
      • Legumes: lupin beans, peanut butter powder (or defatted peanut flour)
      • Meat alternatives: mycoprotein, seitan (vital wheat gluten)
      • Grains: wheat germ
  5. If you are struggling to meet your protein needs through whole foods alone, you can also add in protein powders and protein shakes, though these should be supplemental and not your main source of protein since they typically lack many vitamins and minerals.


By calculating your daily protein goal and per-meal protein goal, you can then evenly spread your intake throughout the day. While it may take some planning, choosing more protein-dense options can make it easier to meet your needs. Preparing your proteins in bulk each week can increase your adherence.

More resources

Frequently asked questions

How much protein do most adults need?

Most adults benefit from 1.2-2 g/kg (0.54-0.91 g/kg) body weight of protein per day. Your individual needs may vary based on your age, sex, body composition, activity level, and overall health.

How much protein do you need to build muscle?

To build muscle, most adults benefit from 1.6-2.4 g/kg (0.73-1.1 g/lb) body weight of protein per day. Muscle growth also requires a hypercaloric diet, so you’ll need to consume more calories than you are burning so that your body has the additional energy to repair and build new muscle tissue.

How much protein do you need to lose weight?

To lose weight, most adults benefit from 1.6-2.4 g/kg (0.73-1.1 g/lb) body weight of protein per day. Weight loss also requires a hypocaloric diet, so you’ll need to consume fewer calories than you are burning so that your body will ideally break down fat tissue to use for energy. 

Often, with weight loss, your body will also break down muscle tissue for energy, but by consuming a higher protein diet, you can minimize muscle loss which is important for long-term weight management.

Is there a maximum amount of protein to gain benefits?

The maximum amount of protein that you can benefit from is around 3.4 g/kg (1.54 g/lb) body weight of protein per day. People who benefit from this higher amount include experienced lifters (like bodybuilders) who are in a bulking phase and want to minimize fat gain.

Our bodies cannot store protein, so most people won’t see a benefit from eating this much protein, and any protein beyond what the body needs is either used for energy (on a hypocaloric or isocaloric diet) or stored as fat (on a hypercaloric diet).

Is eating too much protein harmful?

For most healthy people, eating more protein than the body needs will not have long-lasting negative effects. 

The most common side effects include weight gain if eating more total daily calories than your body needs; digestive discomfort (like diarrhea or constipation), particularly if consuming a low-fiber diet with fried or highly-processed foods; and dehydration due to your body flushing out excess nitrogen more frequently.

For people with decreased kidney function, excess protein intake can accelerate the progression of kidney disease, and a lower protein diet is often recommended.

Some studies show an association between high-protein diets, cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. However, the research is largely inconclusive and the increased risk for these conditions is likely related to other lifestyle factors beyond protein intake. Furthermore, recent research has shown that higher protein intake is preventive against numerous diseases.

Are plant-based proteins as effective as animal-based proteins?

Plant-based proteins are considered to be of lower quality than animal-based proteins. This is because most plants are low in some essential amino acids and the proteins can be harder to break down and use due to antinutrients (found in fiber) which can block the absorption of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

With that said, a plant-based diet can adequately meet your total protein and amino acid needs with proper planning and preparation methods, like soaking, sprouting, and cooking, to break down the fiber.

Animal-based proteins naturally contain adequate amounts of all essential amino acids, so protein needs are often easily met on a diet containing animal products.

What are the best sources of protein?

The best sources of protein include fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, soy products, legumes, and seitan.

Want to download the reference charts with your recommended protein needs? Click here to get a PDF copy delivered to your inbox.

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