Your body uses protein to make bones, muscles, hair and skin; it’s also a building block for enzymes and hormones. According to Nutrisystem Corporate Dietitian Courtney McCormick, protein is especially important when you are trying to lose weight. “Protein helps with satiety–by including some protein at each meal and snack occasion, it can help you to stay full longer and may help prevent hunger and cravings,” she explains.
So you know to include protein in your diet. But exactly how much do you need? The answer is not totally cut and dry. According to the Institutes of Medicine, adults should get at least 10 percent of their daily calories, but no more than 35 percent, from protein. So for a 1,800-calorie diet, that’s 45 grams of protein minimum, and a max of 157 grams, per day; for a 2,000-calories diet, between 50 grams to 175 grams. It’s a pretty big range, and one that your age, sex, weight and activity level (and for women, pregnancy) all factor into to determine where your ideal protein intake falls.
To help make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet, without having to crunch numbers, here are two strategies:
Vary your protein foods. Include both animal sources (such as meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs) and plant-based protein (from beans, peas, soy products, nuts and seeds). Some good options include: three ounces of tuna or salmon provides 21 grams of protein; the same amount of cooked chicken or turkey has 19 grams. Plain Greek yogurt packs 17 grams in a six-ounce container and a half cup cottage cheese has 14 grams. Cooked beans contain seven to eight grams in a half cup, nuts have seven grams in a quarter cup and you get six grams of protein per egg.
Get some at every meal. It does more for your muscles, than if you skimp on protein during the day and overload at night, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. Researchers found people who ate about 30 grams of protein at each meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—had a 25 percent boost in muscle building, compared with those who ate the same total amount but mostly at dinnertime.