100 Days of Fitness

Get Pumped for Protein

by Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Protein is an essential nutrient and plays many important roles in the body. Proteins are part of skin, hair, muscle, blood, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and hemoglobin too.

Protein is made of smaller building blocks called amino acids. Some amino acids are essential, which means the body cannot make adequate amounts to carry-out necessary functions.

  • Complete proteins: Foods from animal sources (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs) have all the essential amino acids and are called complete proteins.
  • Incomplete proteins: Plant foods generally lack one or more essential amino acids and are considered incomplete proteins; soy and quinoa are exceptions.
    • “Assemble” complete proteins from plants by eating a variety of foods with varying amino acids. For instance, corn tortillas and black beans complement each other’s amino acid profiles. Other examples include beans and rice, peanut butter and whole wheat bread, and tofu and rice.
    • Get beneficial fiber and phytochemicals from eating a variety of plant foods.

Protein: How do common foods measure up?

  • 35 grams – 4 ounces cooked chicken breast
  • 30 grams – 4 ounces cooked salmon
  • 16-18 grams – 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
  • 12 grams – 2 eggs
  • 9 grams – ½ cup cooked lentils
  • 8 grams – 1 cup cooked quinoa or 1 cup 2% organic milk
  • 6-7 grams – ½ cup cooked black beans or 1 ounce cheddar cheese (the size of a domino) 5-6 grams – a handful almonds
  • 3-4 grams – 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 2-3 grams – 1 cup chopped broccoli

Protein for Weight Loss

If your goal is to lose weight, specifically fat, it is important to consume adequate amounts of protein. Exercise and protein consumption have been shown to preserve lean muscle mass during a calorie deficit.[1] In addition, including lean protein at each meal helps improve meal satisfaction so you are less likely to be hungry (or hangry!) between meals. Check out the myfitnesspal Blog for six high protein breakfast ideas.


The Institute of Medicine recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight which translates to about 0.36 grams per pound. This is the minimum amount to maintain essential functions in the body. For people attempting to lose weight or build muscle, the amount needed is higher. For instance, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggest that athletes who participate in light to moderate endurance training get 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram, or about 0.55 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.[2]

A closer look at protein needs…

Let’s estimate the daily needs for a healthy, active person weighing 150 pounds using these different recommendations.

150 pounds x 0.36 grams protein/pound = 55 grams protein

150 pounds x 0.45 grams protein/pound = 67 grams protein

150 pounds x 0.55 grams protein/pound = 82.5 grams protein

150 pounds x 0.8 grams protein/pound = 120 grams protein

As a percentage of a 2,000 calorie diet, these estimates represent 11-24% calories from protein.

How much is too much?

High protein diets cause the kidneys to work harder as they have to flush nitrogen out of the body in the form of urea. Increased consumption of water and electrolytes while on a high protein diet are recommended for this reason. While 1.6 grams protein per pound body weight is considered the “Tolerable Upper Limit”, chronic high protein intake (>0.9 grams per pound body weight per day for adults) may result in digestive, renal (kidney), and blood vessel abnormalities and should be avoided.[3]

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, trained chef and owner of Culinary Enlightenment. Lauren’s nutrition background and culinary skills provide a unique blend of resources to help people plan meals, shop, cook, and eat better. For more than a decade, she has been teaching nutrition to children, adults and families through healthy cooking and eating.

Read more about Lauren here. Reach out to her via her website or better yet come to bootcamp and talk to her in person about your nutrition challenges. She has a lot of knowledge and is always ready to share it.

[1] National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28507015

[2] Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Eat Right for Endurance Sports. www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/training-and-recovery/endurance-and-cardio/eat-right-for-endurance

[3] Wu, G. Food Funct. 2016 Mar;7(3):1251-65. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26797090