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If there’s one thing you learn once you step into the world of fitness, it’s that protein is king.
Whether you’re into low-impact pilates or are competing to be the next Mr. or Ms. Olympia, you need a healthy, balanced diet packed with protein.
And it’s not just for building visible muscle––protein is essential for increasing strength, improving bone health, regulating metabolism, and maintaining weight loss.
Following a high-protein diet isn’t always easy, though. To see the benefits of this amazing macronutrient, you need to eat enough of it, which can be hard to achieve solely from whole food sources of protein.
One way to ensure you’re eating enough protein on a daily basis is to use protein supplements in the form of protein powder and protein shakes. But how much protein powder per day do you need? In this article, we’ll explain how to figure out the total amount of protein you need per day to reach your goals. This will help inform how much protein powder you need to reach your total protein intake.
How Much Protein You Need Per Day
According to the FDA, the average person should consume at least 50g of protein per day, based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day.
This is the bare minimum amount of protein you need to get all your essential amino acids and avoid malnutrition. However, if you’re regularly doing any kind of physical activity, you should prioritize protein consumption and eat much more than this minimum recommended intake. For many people, making it to these higher tiers of daily protein intake comfortably requires supplementation.
How Much Protein You Need According to Researchers
The general scientific consensus is that people should eat between 1.6 to 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.7 to 1g per pound).
While this recommendation is geared towards those who specifically do resistance training (lifting weights or using cable machines), this can apply to anyone who does regular physical activity.
So, to figure out the grams of protein you need, you need to consider your body weight, activity levels, and fitness goals (weight loss, weight gain, or maintenance).
For example, if you’re lightly active (doing light exercise 1 to 3 days a week), you can aim for the lower end of the range, between 1.6 to 1.8g of protein per kilogram per day.
If you’re moderately active (doing moderate intensity exercise 3-4 days a week) and want to lose weight and maintain your muscle or stimulate muscle protein synthesis, you can use the middle of the range, between 1.8 to 2g.
If you’re intensely active (doing intense exercise 4 or more days a week), aim for the higher end of the range, between 2 to 2.2g.
Can High Protein Diets Help With Weight Loss?
If you’re looking to lose weight, studies show a high-protein diet is very effective at helping to reduce body weight.
Just make sure your protein intake makes up between 20-30% of your total daily calories.
How many calories do you need? You can use this TDEE calculator to determine your ideal caloric intake depending on your goals, and it also provides an estimate of how much protein you need.
Their estimations tend towards the higher end of the protein range, so we recommend using this as a guide rather than following it to a T.
How Much Protein Powder You Need Per Day
Now that you know approximately how much protein you need daily, we can determine how much protein powder you should take.
According to this meta-analysis of other research studies, in general, it’s recommended to lean towards a more varied and healthy diet and to get most of your protein from whole foods since these unprocessed sources have tons of micronutrients that support protein synthesis and offer other health benefits.
However, it is well-known that animal sources of protein are typically higher in saturated fats, which can cause other health issues.
Eating lean protein like chicken breast, lean beef, and fish can help curb this issue.
On the other hand, whey and casein protein powder does not contain these saturated fats.
Similar to animal proteins, these are also complete proteins and are more easily and quickly synthesized by the body than nearly every other source of protein.
This means that whey and casein protein may more effectively stimulate muscle growth and preserve lean muscle mass than other protein sources.
As a result, balancing a combination of whey or casein protein alongside animal and plant protein sources can have significant benefits, especially for athletes.
Though this analysis does not provide a recommendation for a particular ratio of protein powder to animal or plant sources of protein, we can surmise that one to two protein shakes alongside protein-rich meals spread throughout the day could satisfy most people’s protein requirements while still allowing you to reap the benefits of both the shakes and the whole food sources of protein.
How Much Protein Is Too Much Protein?
The risks of consuming “too much protein” are a bit overstated, or at least misunderstood.
However, it’s not the high-protein diet but the sources of your protein and lifestyle choices that matter more.
People with pre-existing kidney disease can indeed have issues with excess protein.
This is because their bodies cannot process the additional protein, causing a build-up of waste in the blood, which can further damage the kidneys.
But for people in average to good health, eating a high-protein diet poses few potential health risks and can even lead to better health outcomes, especially concerning body weight and fat loss.
That said, a high-protein diet (like any diet) is only healthy if you are properly hydrating, exercising regularly, eating a varied diet complete with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, and getting protein from multiple sources.
However, you need to eat a combination of legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds to ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids required for muscle protein synthesis.
If you prefer animal protein sources, skinless chicken breast, turkey, lean beef, white fish, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, and low-fat Greek yogurt are great protein sources with low or no saturated fat.
Combined with protein shakes, this varied diet can help avoid the problems associated with high-protein diets as long as you don’t have other preexisting health issues.
That said, there are diminishing returns when consuming more than 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight, and the tolerable upper limit is 3.5g/kg.
So, make it easier on yourself, and don’t overdo it by consuming more protein than necessary.
Protein Powder FAQs
Is it OK to drink 2 protein shakes a day?
Yes, it’s completely fine to drink two protein shakes a day, especially if you’re on a particularly high-protein diet or didn’t get enough protein from the rest of your diet that day. Just don’t rely on protein shakes as a total meal replacement. You also need other nutrients from other foods to complement your protein intake.
How many scoops of protein powder a day is OK?
One to two scoops of protein per day is perfectly fine. You could even take three scoops of protein as long as you’re keeping track of your protein intake from other sources that day and aren’t overeating above your caloric needs.
Is 1 cup of protein powder too much?
One cup of protein powder is approximately 120 to 130g. Considering one scoop of protein powder is about 25-30g, this would be about 4 to 5 times the suggested serving for one sitting. While the current literature suggests that protein absorption is unlimited, consuming protein in 20 to 25g servings throughout the day is better. Consuming this much protein powder in one sitting could cause digestive issues, including bloating, diarrhea, nausea, etc., and is not recommended.
What are the signs of too much protein?
If you are not consuming protein from a variety of sources (e.g., lean meat, fish, low-fat dairy, plant, whey, or casein), eating enough complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, exercising, and adequately hydrating, you can start to experience negative effects of a high protein diet such as weight gain, heart disease and cardiovascular problems from excess saturated fats, as well as digestive issues. Additionally, if you have pre existing kidney disease, a high-protein diet can cause damage to your kidneys since they are not able to filter out the excess protein.
What kind of protein powder should I drink?
There are a variety of protein powders to choose from, including whey, whey isolate, casein, egg white, soy, pea, and hemp. If you are lactose intolerant, whey protein powders and casein may not bother you since they have very little lactose. However, if you are extremely sensitive or have a dairy allergy, it is better to stick to plant-based protein powders. Otherwise, it’s up to personal preference. Regardless of whether they are from plant or animal sources, most protein powders are effective for weight loss (if that’s your goal) and muscle protein synthesis. For plant-based protein powders, you’ll want to ensure they have all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein.
Which protein powders are the best?
Whey and casein protein powders are among the most studied protein powders. This study indicates that whey protein is more easily absorbed by the body, but because of this, a significant percentage may be oxidized and used as fuel for the body instead of for muscle protein synthesis. However, casein protein powders are absorbed more slowly, allowing for greater protein synthesis over a longer period of time, which can lead to improved gains in strength and lean muscle mass.