Melissa Boufounos, CHN


February 22, 2023

Melissa Boufounos, CHN

Certified holistic nutritionist

By Melissa Boufounos, CHN

Certified holistic nutritionist

Melissa Boufounos is a certified holistic nutritionist, nutrition writer, and lifelong athlete in the greater Ottawa, Ontario, Canada area. She specializes in sports nutrition and works with teen hockey players and competitive obstacle course race athletes in her virtual private practice MB Performance Nutrition.

Image by LUMINA / Stocksy

February 22, 2023

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The topic of protein can be controversial, with clashing opinions regarding how much you need to eat and when

We spoke with nutrition experts and protein scientists to figure out how much protein you need to eat, and help answer all your questions about how to get more of this macronutrient in your diet. 


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Why you need protein.

Protein is well known for its role in rebuilding and repairing tissues broken down during exercise, like muscle tissue.

Protein isn’t just important for muscle, though. You need protein to survive and thrive. “Protein plays a role in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and virtually every body part and tissue, “says registered dietitian nutritionist Alex Larson, MS, RDN. “It has a critical part in carrying oxygen in the blood, metabolic reactions, immune function, and brain function.”

While your body can store carbohydrates and fat, it doesn’t store protein the same way. Since your body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding new protein, you must eat adequate amounts to function well. 

How much protein you need daily.

So what is adequate when it comes to daily protein intake? 

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for the average sedentary adult is a conservative 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/d). That would look like 60 grams of protein for a person weighing 165 pounds (75 kilograms). 

After consulting protein experts and digging into the research1, we believe that the RDA for protein is low and that most active people should aim to consume at least 100 grams of protein per day for optimal health.

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) takes that recommendation a step further and says active people looking to build or maintain muscle should eat 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight2. If you’re keeping score, that would be 105 to 150 grams of protein per day for a person weighing 165 pounds. 

Resistance-trained individuals eating in a calorie deficit may need even higher protein intakes (2.3 to 3.1 g/kg/d) to minimize muscle loss during weight loss

All that is to say, protein intake is individual and depends on several factors, including your age, weight, activity level, and goals. Your protein requirements will also change throughout your life. For example, women might need to adjust their protein intake during pregnancy and lactation to keep up with their body’s needs. People over 65 may also need to increase their protein intake since the body uses protein less efficiently as we age3.

So what happens if you don’t eat enough protein? Larson says you may experience symptoms like “a slow-healing injury, getting sick frequently, feeling more fatigued than normal, losing muscle mass, or seeing problems with your hair, nails, and skin.”


Protein needs change depending on your age, body composition, activity level, and health goals, but most active people will want to consume at least 100 grams of protein per day.


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Protein timing.

Most people eat the bulk of their daily protein intake at dinner, which might not be a great strategy for building muscle4

The latest research on protein timing suggests evenly distributing protein intake over three meals to maximize muscle growth5

While meeting your total daily protein intake is the first priority, eating a 0.25 to 0.40 g/kg dose6 of high-quality protein every three to four hours has been shown to improve body composition and performance in individuals who exercise. 

Using our 165-pound person as an example, that would look like 19 to 30 grams of protein per meal. 

In a review of the current literature, a dose of 0.40 to 0.55 g/kg protein per meal7 across a minimum of four meals was shown to maximize anabolism (essential for muscle growth). These numbers would help you hit a target of 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg total daily protein. 


The latest research shows that it’s beneficial for muscle growth to break up your protein intake throughout the day. Aiming to consume around 20-30 grams of protein per meal, with a few protein-packed snacks thrown in, is a smart strategy.


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Protein-rich foods.

When you consume foods that contain protein, your body breaks the protein down into amino acids, often called the building blocks of life.

These amino acids are used to build new things. While your body can make some amino acids, others must come from your diet. These are called essential amino acids.

“A key essential amino acid to look for is leucine, which plays a key role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis,” says Stephan van Vliet, Ph.D., a scientist in the Center for Human Nutrition Studies at Utah State University who studies how food and physical activity impact human health.  

Animal proteins:

Animal protein sources are considered “complete proteins” because they contain all the essential amino acids (including all-important leucine) in sufficient amounts. 

This is a big plus, but one downside of animal protein is that it tends to be less sustainable than plant protein.

For example, for every kcal of protein that grain and bean proteins provide, they require two kcals of fossil fuel energy to produce, while beef requires 40 kcals of fossil fuel for every kcal of protein it provides. Producing one kilogram of animal protein also requires about 100 times more water8 than producing one kilogram of grain protein. 

On the plus side, fossil fuel energy consumption can be reduced by about half9 if the animals are fed on high-quality pasture lands and raised regeneratively, instead of in factory farms. As a consumer, you can buy meat from small local farms or use sustainable meat subscription boxes to reduce your environmental impact. 

A few top animal-based sources of protein are: 


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If you want to get more protein without consuming more fat, you can choose lean proteins like skinless chicken breast.

Plant proteins:

Environmental impact aside, even meat eaters can benefit from including more plant-based proteins in their diet.

Though plant-based proteins are considered incomplete proteins because they don’t provide a sufficient amount of all the essential amino acids, “They provide fiber and phytochemical antioxidants that benefit the health of our gut as well as our body’s ability to protect cells from outside stressors, thereby reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says performance dietitian and consultant, Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD.

A few top plant-based sources of protein are: 


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What about protein powders?

While taking a food-first approach is always wise, protein powder supplements offer a quick and convenient way to fill protein gaps in your diet.

Many protein powder options are available, from milk-based to plant-based, and even cricket, egg, or beef-derived protein supplements. Whey and plant proteins are the most popular, and we broke down the differences between the two to help you decide which might work best for you. 

Not all protein powders are created equal. It’s best to choose a protein supplement that contains 25 to 30 grams of protein and minimal sugars or additives. 

When buying whey protein, look for grass-fed or sustainably raised sources. And if you’re looking for a vegan protein powder, make sure it has a complete essential amino acid profile. 

mbg’s picks for clean protein powders

How to eat more protein.

As a nutritionist who works with athletes and active people, I believe it’s easier than you think to eat 100 grams of protein per day. Here are some of my top tips and swaps for working more protein into your diet:

  1. Eat every three to four hours and include a protein-rich food with each meal and snack.
  2. Consider cooking protein in bulk to have it readily available throughout the week.
  3. For quick meals or snacks, stock up on pre-prepped or pre-cooked protein (canned tuna, Greek yogurt, rotisserie chicken, protein powder, etc.). 
  4. Swap traditional pasta for a bean or lentil-based alternative such as chickpea pasta to get an extra protein boost. 
  5. Swap white rice for quinoa to get almost double the protein. 
  6. Use Greek yogurt instead of traditional yogurt to get twice the protein.  
  7. Stock up on carbs that double as good protein sources (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.). 
  8. Add hemp seeds or chia seeds to oatmeal or yogurt. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds provide nearly 10 grams of protein.
  9. Use bone broth as a base for soups or to cook rice.
  10. Use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in recipes. 
  11. Sprinkle raw nuts and seeds on other foods or eat a handful as a snack. 
  12. Add beans or lentils to soups or pasta dishes. (Swap half the meat for lentils to make a hearty bolognese sauce!)
  13. Experiment with ancient grains like teff, spelt, and amaranth. 
  14. Add peas to meals. One cup provides eight grams of protein. 
  15. Add protein powder to pancakes or baked goods. 
  16. Use nutritional yeast for a plant-based cheesy flavor. Two tablespoons provide five grams of protein. 

Sample protein-packed meal plan:

Here is three days’ worth of nutritious, protein-rich meals for inspiration, including an entirely plant-based day (day 3) to accommodate different preferences:

Day 1: 

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs (with diced tomato, onion, and peppers), sprouted grain toast, and orange slices 
  • Lunch: Tuna salad wrap with raw veggies and hummus 
  • Dinner: Chickpea pasta with a ground chicken meat sauce and Greek salad 
  • Snack 1: Greek yogurt with berries, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and a drizzle of pure maple syrup or honey 
  • Snack 2: Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and glass of milk  

Day 2: 

Day 3 (plant-based): 

  • Breakfast: Overnight oats with chia seeds, hemp hearts, and fruit 
  • Lunch: Lentil soup and a garden salad 
  • Dinner: Buddha bowl (quinoa, chickpeas, sweet potato, and broccoli with a tahini dressing) 
  • Snack 1: Pita bread and hummus
  • Snack 2: Trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips 

Side effects.

Healthy people without pre-existing kidney or liver damage or dysfunction don’t need to worry too much about overeating protein. 

What you need to watch for is an excessive intake of protein primarily from animal products. “High protein foods may be higher in total fat and saturated fat, which can lead to high blood cholesterol lipids and heart disease,” advises Larson. 

A high-protein diet can also crowd out essential nutrients from carbohydrates and fats, like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. 

Consult with your physician or a registered dietitian if you have any questions about your personal protein needs. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you eat more protein as a vegetarian? 

Add a variety of plant-based protein sources to your plate to create a balanced amino acid profile. Sprinkle nuts, seeds, or nutritional yeast onto meals for an extra protein boost. 

What foods are highest in protein?

Chicken, steak, turkey, lamb, pork, and salmon are at the top of the protein foods list. Plant-based foods like tempeh, lentils, black beans, and edamame are also good sources of protein. 

How do I eat 100 grams of protein a day?

Eat every three to four hours and include a protein-rich food with every meal and snack. Aim for 20 to 40 grams of protein per meal. Use our strategies above to get more protein into your diet. 

The takeaway.

The RDA for protein is just the bare minimum you need to eat to avoid deficiency. Many studies have shown that even sedentary people would benefit from eating more protein daily—and it’s not all that hard to do. By making a few simple swaps, you can incorporate more protein-rich ingredients into your diet to maximize your muscle strength, athletic performance, and overall health.