It’s dinnertime. What’s on the menu? Whether your goal is to lose weight, improve overall health or strengthen your bones, a meal with a balance of macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates and fats—is what you’re aiming for.

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Protein has been receiving a lot of attention recently. High-protein diets are touted for their ability to help with satiety and weight loss. Getting enough protein in your post-workout meal (and the whole day) can promote better muscle repair and recovery. Higher-protein intake has also been shown to preserve muscle strength as you age. But does this mean you need to become a full-time carnivore?

How much protein do you really need?
How much protein do you really need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for daily protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36). This modest amount is the minimum a person needs to meet the basic nutritional requirements to prevent deficiency. Using this calculation, a 140-pound woman would need 50.9 grams of protein per day. However, there is ample evidence that this recommended level is too low and that protein needs are actually much higher. Research suggests that most people need 1.0 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on their health goals. For weight loss, a diet that is 30% protein helps with satiety and decreased caloric intake. For muscle growth, 1.5 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended.

Protein needs also depend on:

Age – You need more protein as you age to help prevent age-related muscle loss.
Gender – Men need more protein than women due to their greater muscle mass.
Activity level – The more active you are, the more protein your body needs. If you lift weights or do any form of resistance training, you need more protein for repair and recovery.
Weight goals – Protein helps with satiety and staying fuller for longer, which results in an overall decrease in calorie intake.
Women – Both pregnancy and lactation increase protein needs.
Injuries – Recovering from an injury increases protein needs for repair.

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