Protein (aka protein) is an essential macronutrient that plays an important role in the production of enzymes, hormones and antibodies, for building and repairing cells, for storing certain nutrients (e.g. iron), and even for muscle contraction plays. Without proteins, we couldn’t even move.
In order to produce the body’s own proteins, we depend on a protein intake from food. But how much protein do we actually need?
This question is of particular interest to athletes who perform, get leaner or want to build muscles. But meanwhile she employs almost all people who want to live healthy and fit.
I’m not kidding you: It’s a controversial question that has produced a wide variety of answers over the years – with almost no discernible consensus. In this article, however, we will find clear answers step by step,
- how much protein you need to build muscle.
- how much protein you need to burn body fat.
- how much protein you need without exercise.
- What’s really true about the myth “too much protein is bad for the kidneys”.
- how the daily protein requirement can be met.
I can anticipate that some of the answers will surprise you. Some things will already be known to you. However, you will now finally find out the exact relationships between daily protein intake depending on your situation and goals and a whole series of scientific arguments that lead into a practical concept be integrated.
Above all, you will see that in the end very simple and clear principles will emerge that you can use to orient your diet without any major headaches.
I already lost a few words in the introduction about the function of proteins. Since they ultimately have their fingers in the game everywhere in the body, it is of course no wonder that science is very interested in the relationship between protein intake and health / aesthetics.
Let’s first acquire a scientific foundation for protein intake in terms of body composition , before we derive practical guidelines:
- Protein intake during fat loss: A comparative study for adults, , carried out in 2014 at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand trained people (at least 6 months experience in strength training) in a calorie deficit came to the conclusion that a protein intake of 2.3 – 3.1g per kg lean mass (= body weight – body fat (a 100 kg person with 10% body fat has 90 kg lean mass)) is ideal for losing weight effectively and protecting the muscles.
- Increased satiety, better fat burning: In 2005, scientists from the University of Washington examined the effects of increased protein intake on 19 test subjects. They could eat freely for 12 weeks , but had to adhere to the macronutrient ratio of 30% protein, 20% fat and 50% carbohydrates of the daily energy intake. Compared to the previously determined Reference at 15% protein, 35% fat and 50% carbohydrates, at which the weight could be maintained , the increased protein intake led to a greater satiety. As a result, daily Consumed an average of 441 kcal less. The test subjects lost an average of 4.9 kg body weight in the 12 weeks, of which an average of 3.7 kg was fat loss.
- More protein in the calorie deficit: A research team from McMaster University in Canada compared the effects of high and low protein intake in a calorie deficit on body composition in a study published in 2016.
40 young men were divided into two groups: One group consumed 2.4 g protein per kg body weight , the other (control group) only 1.2 g. The trial period was four weeks. Both groups completed a training program consisting of strength training and HIIT , which provided a total of 6 units per week.
The higher protein intake led to a significantly higher fat loss (on average 4.8 kg compared to 3.5 kg in the control group). At the same time, the lean mass with the high protein intake could be increased by an average of 1.2 kg (in just 4 weeks!) , while in the control group only an increase of 0.1 kg was recorded (i.e. no significant muscle growth took place).
- Protein intake in excess calories: A study published in the USA in 2012 examined the effects of different amounts of protein in excess calories on body composition. 25 young people were divided into three groups for 8 weeks: low protein (5% of daily energy, about 0.68 g per kg of body weight), normal protein (15% of daily energy, about 1.79 g per kg of body weight) and high protein (25% of daily energy, about 3.0 g per kg of body weight). The carbohydrate intake remained constant (the fat intake was consequently regulated accordingly) and the energy intake corresponded to about 140% of the daily consumption ( almost 1000 kcal more than necessary ).
The low protein group recorded the lowest weight gain (3.16 kg). However, this group did not build lean mass (muscles). In comparison, of the average weight gain of 6.51 kg in the high protein group, a whopping 3.18 kg was lean mass. With normal protein intake, the weight gain of around 6.05 kg resulted in at least 2.87 kg on lean mass.
The bottom line is: With the same calories intake, there was no significant difference in the build-up of body fat between the individual groups. However, only led a normal and high protein intake to build muscle , with the g greater muscle build-up with the high protein intake.
The researchers came to the following conclusion: An increased protein intake showed no effects with the same calorie intake on body fat build-up.
Before we talk about the exact daily protein intake, I would like you to first draw two very simple and fundamental findings about the effect of protein from this scientific foundation.
Two fundamental mechanisms of action of protein
- Protein doesn’t make you fat.
- Protein is more filling than carbohydrates and fats.
Please keep these two in mind as we will come back to that.
With the scientific foundation now acquired, the picture of protein intake becomes a little clearer. But how much protein do we need exactly?
According to the DGE (German Nutrition Society), an adult needs around 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. As a reference value, this is around 57 g of protein for men and 48 g for women per day.
That this value is far too low for athletes who want to work on their fitness, should be clear to everyone. The studies listed above as well as practical experience clearly show this. But it is intended for normal adults who do not train anyway. Is it enough for you?
Here too: a clear no. And I want to explain that to you.
Do you remember the two fundamental insights into how proteins work? Just in case: Protein doesn’t make you fat and protein is the best filler.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this:
- More protein does not harm the figure; We will come to the health aspect below!
- Too little protein has a negative effect on the feeling of satiety and leads to the fact that you consume more calories than actually necessary. A higher protein intake saturates significantly better, which is also proven by a study published in 2005.
These are two simple, logical and obvious conclusions that provide a very clear direction: Don’t be stingy with protein!
This applies to everyone, regardless of their training goal or whether they train at all. Protein is a powerful body fat regulator.
As far as the recommendations of the DGE are concerned, one can only regard them as an absolute minimum consumption recommendation with good will. However, this is not enough for a slim and healthy body. Incidentally, this does not only apply to athletes, but also to people who do not train. A study published in Italy in 2016 showed that 0.8 g protein per kg body weight is too tight, especially for older people, to maintain the muscles and their functionality.
We have to ask ourselves: Why should you underdose something that has many positive effects on the figure, the body and its functionality, and is even irreplaceable for survival? It simply doesn’t do any Sense.
Unless a high protein intake could also have negative health consequences. Often you hear the keyword kidneys ’in this context – too much protein is supposed to be bad for the kidneys. What’s up It’s the last piece of the puzzle we need to examine:
I can already anticipate that there is a lot of scare tactics here and the fear of a higher protein intake is usually unfounded. Let’s start with the most frequently asked question:
Does too much protein damage the kidneys?
Clear answer: Yes, of course. But how much protein is actually too much or what amount is safe for the kidneys?
These studies provide information:
- In 2005, scientists from the University of Connecticut (USA) published a comparative study in which they systematically examined whether high protein intake could be harmful to the kidneys. In doing so, they found that there was no scientific evidence for this that high protein intake can damage healthy kidneys. In this context, they also found that athletes who consumed 2 g protein per kg body weight per day, according to scientific data, did not have a higher risk of kidney dysfunction.
- A study carried out in the USA and published in 2011 on 17 subjects found no difference in kidney function between high and low protein intake. The group with the low protein intake averaged 1.27 g protein per day, while the high protein intake averaged 2.5 g protein per kg body weight.
- The intake of 2-3 times the protein amount of the RDA value (0.8g per kg of body weight) is according to a comparative study from 2004 that examined possible side effects of a high protein intake Safe for the kidneys.
However, it does make a difference whether the kidneys are functioning normally or whether they are already restricted, as a study published in 2003 by Harvard Medical School (USA) showed. The study carried out on 1624 women between 42 and 68 years of age found no negative effects of high protein intake on normal kidney function. In the case of existing restrictions However, a high protein intake could be associated with an increase in protein intake.
That describes the current state of scientific knowledge pretty well:
A high protein intake can be counterproductive if the kidneys are not functioning properly. However, healthy kidneys also get along well with a high protein intake.
And that is not at all surprising. After all, what happens to the kidneys when there is a high protein intake? One thing is certain: You have to go to the toilet more often. No joke, completely normal. The fluid excretion will increase. This is why the thought first came up that high protein intake could damage the kidneys. It is obvious that at some point the load limit of the kidneys will be reached, but certainly not in the range of 1.5-3 g per kg of body weight.
And what happens in this area is something completely normal for the body:
The kidneys simply have to work harder due to the increased fluid excretion (compared to a low protein intake). There is no evidence that this would be harmful. In fact, it stands to reason that the opposite is the case: the kidney gets better at what it does. This is one of the basic principles by which our body works. It improves what is used frequently and breaks down what is not needed. This is exactly what happens to your muscles as a result of strength training. And it happens to your heart as well, as a result of endurance training! Nobody would think of saying that the heart is damaged by the increased stress, right? No, it will be strengthened.
As long as you don’t overdo it, no negative effects of increased protein intake on healthy kidneys are to be expected. If you want to be on the safe side, you can have your kidney function tested by the doctor in order to rule out any existing restrictions.
On the basis of vague claims, the bones were also suspected of being damaged by excessive intake of animal protein in particular. This was the subject of a comparative study from Switzerland published in 2005.
Not only was it able to show that these claims were false, but that there is actually enough experimental and clinical evidence that low protein intake is detrimental to bone health, stability and can promote osteoporosis.
Furthermore, the study was able to show that in older people with a hip fracture, bone loss, medical complications and the length of hospital stay could be reduced and muscle strength increased by consuming additional protein supplements (here casein).
Finally, it was found that a high protein intake can prevent osteoporosis and improve bone density. This was due, among other things, to the increase in IGF-1 , the so-called insulin-like growth factor, which has a positive influence on bone development, due to the high protein intake. The study concluded that proteins are just as important a factor as calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.
These results were confirmed by a subsequent study from 2011, in which, however, it was additionally noted that a high protein intake ( more than 2 g per kg of body weight & day) should be avoided if only a small amount of calcium
For comparison, here is a small list with the calcium content of selected foods.
It is not surprising, however, that nutrients can be harmful if taken in isolation. The body basically needs a wide range of micronutrients, in order to function properly and to be able to properly utilize macronutrients, which is why nutritional methods such as “If it fits your macros” are nonsense. A healthy protein intake is therefore only possible in combination with a balanced diet – this of course also applies to fats and carbohydrates.
Finally, a 2016 study from Texas found that inadequate protein intake can cause a variety of health problems (including: physical weakness, anemia & dysfunction of the vascular system) and a protein intake of up to 2 g per kg body weight per day is safe. According to this study, the upper limit of protein intake is 3.5 g per kg body weight.
From all of the studies cited so far, the following can be clearly seen:
A daily intake of 2 g protein per kg body weight contributes to a lean, strong and healthy body and is completely safe, excluding previous restrictions (especially with regard to the kidneys).
This applies regardless of what training goal you are pursuing or whether you are training at all. This amount, 2 g of protein per kg of body weight per day, is actually to be classified as a kind of optimal level. It has therefore been clearly shown that it is precisely this amount that nutrition experts recommend very often for no reason it is not without reason that it is a guide value in my books such as Project Body and Sustainable Slim.
It has been clearly shown that this amount is both safe and beneficial and therefore represents a very good guide value .
This word is crucial, because so far it is only a theoretical value and, as so often, there are differences between theory and practice, which I will show you at the end.
How do you best cover your daily protein intake?
It is hardly practical to calculate the daily amount of protein exactly and to try to keep it exactly every day.
Counting calories and nutrients is simply associated with too much effort and too little yield to be really suitable for everyday use!
So you have to develop and cultivate what I call nutritional intuition . We want to get to the point where we put our meals together very intuitively and automatically comply with important nutritional principles and ensure an adequate supply of proteins and micronutrients.
And that’s not that complicated at all! It only takes two simple steps.
Step # 1: Understand which foods are high in protein
Of course, you first have to know where high-quality proteins can be found in the largest possible amount. All natural foods contain a certain amount of protein, but while that is only around 0.3% in an apple, we find around 20% protein in a salmon.
In the ebook “The best foods for athletes” you will find a large list of all the important foods, divided into micronutrient, energy and protein sources. You will receive this free of charge when you register for the Athletic Way of Life newsletter.
Let’s look at two practical examples.
Example 1: For a man who weighs 80 kg, the optimal protein supply is around 160 g of protein per day. That would correspond to around 2 chicken breast fillets (around 350 g), 1 salmon fillet (around 300 g) and 3-4 eggs (around 150 g).
Example 2: For a 60 kg woman, the optimal protein supply is around 120 g of protein per day. That would correspond to around 100 g cheese, 1 cod fillet (around 200 g) and 300 g tofu.
Of course you shouldn’t forget that other foods like vegetables also contain a certain amount of protein. But it’s not about precision landings anyway, as the second step shows.
Step # 2: Make sure you have a high-quality source of protein with every main meal
Practical implementation is about making sure your meals always have a good source of protein.
That is the characteristic of a balanced meal: It provides micronutrients, proteins and energy (mostly from carbohydrates / fats).
So you don’t have to weigh or count, you should just make sure that these three end up in roughly equal parts on the plate. In this way, one eats an intuitively balanced diet and also provides an adequate supply safe with high quality proteins.
This approach is above all one thing: practical. Because in reality you not eat exactly the same amount every day. Sometimes you eat a little more and sometimes a little less – and that of course also affects the protein supply. Let’s be honest: do you really think it makes a big difference whether you eat 2 g, 1.91 g, 1.74 g or 2.19 g protein?
The value will fluctuate, just as the daily energy intake fluctuates and just like the intake of micronutrients fluctuates – this is completely natural and also obvious! Because you don’t consume or need the same amount of nutrients and energy every day.
That is the reason why it makes no sense to focus on exact numerical values. 2 g per kg of body weight is therefore actually only a guideline. A good orientation!
If you roughly know how much protein is in which foods and also roughly the amount you have consumed (can be easily estimated from the information on the packaging), you can also quickly check whether your daily protein intake is roughly in this zone or if you should do better.
What should you watch out for if you want to burn body fat?
Those who increase their protein intake support the burning of fat because protein is better filling.
However, if you want to insert a targeted fat loss phase with training support, then it is important to note that the calorie intake is usually gradually adjusted. So if you start with a high protein intake, you have little leeway here.
It is therefore advisable to start the diet with around 1.8-2 g protein per kg body weight and then gradually increase this amount while gradually reducing carbohydrate and fat intake. The point is simply that the reduction of carbohydrates and fats does not create a “hole” in the diet that leads to cravings. Replace instead of starvation is the motto!
What do you have to consider if you want to build muscles?
You have already seen on the basis of studies that a higher protein intake (i.e. more than 2 g) can be useful for building muscle .
However, it should be noted that the most important factor for building muscle is first of all a sufficient supply of energy. Ideally, you should have a calorie surplus, and this can be difficult to do when you consume a lot of protein.
Because, as you know, proteins are the best filler. Since proteins effectively provide the least amount of energy (because they are the most difficult to digest) and this energy is difficult to use, a very high protein intake means above all that you have to eat an incredible amount. And that in turn is a health concern, because it can damage digestion and also increase hunger – which is why many bodybuilders get fat very quickly when they do stop exercising.
That’s why I usually only recommend the specified 2 g protein for muscle building. For many people, larger amounts are difficult to reconcile with a calorie surplus and are also not necessary.
Do protein shakes make sense?
A question that I get asked a lot. If you read here a lot, you know for sure that I’m not a big fan of the supplement industry and that I strictly reject an excess of dietary supplements.
Protein shakes, however, are one of the few supplements that can actually be useful. They are by no means necessary, but they can be helpful.
Whey protein and multi-component proteins with whey, casein or milk protein have a very high biological value and can therefore help to ensure the daily protein intake. Whey and multi-component proteins are particularly useful after training, because they can be recycled quickly.
These two studies show that protein shakes are one of the few supplements that can actually work:
- Small change, big effect: A study conducted in 2008 at the University of Oklahoma in the USA on 38 adult, overweight subjects looked at a minimal nutritional intervention . 28 subjects completed strength training twice a week and endurance training 3 times a week – the remaining 10 were in the control group.
14 of these 28 subjects were additionally Consumed 2 protein shakes a day – that was the only difference. All study participants (including the 10 subjects in the control group who did not complete a training program) were otherwise allowed to eat whatever they wanted .
In the 10-week study , the participants also ate the protein shakes significantly less energy, carbohydrates and fat, but more protein and fiber and lost an average of 9.4% body fat (compared to 4.6% without the shake or 1.77% in the control group ). In addition, it was only in this group that significant increases in muscle mass (+ 2.3%), endurance (measured in the maximum oxygen uptake VO2max) and a reduction in LDL cholesterol (-13.3%) were achieved will.
- Whey vs. Natural source of protein: In 2016, a study from the USA was published in which 21 men were divided into two groups: dietary protein (12) and whey protein (9).
Both groups completed the same training program consisting of strength training, endurance training, stretching and interval sprints. Both groups ate 5-6 meals a day, each containing around 20-25 g protein. The diet protein groups ate only natural sources of protein, while the whey protein group ate whey for three of the meals -Protein.
Both groups were able to improve their performance, gain muscle mass and burn body fat. However, there was no significant difference between the two groups.
Whether you supplement with protein shakes or not is of course up to you. I only use it sporadically myself. In any case, if you choose to do this, keep in mind that this is really only a supplement. In the long term, you shouldn’t use it as a substitute for food and therefore make sure that your daily protein intake comes mostly from natural foods. Because it is difficult to predict what effects it could have on the body when nutrients are administered in a more or less isolated manner long term .
The article is a bit more detailed than normal. But we have now been able to find practical answers to a question that has preoccupied many people for many years. You now also have the scientific basis to ensure that the common recommendation of 2g protein per kg of body weight per day is a sensible and, above all, according to the current state of knowledge, a safe level for both science and practice.
We were also able to dispel common prejudices with which you will sooner or later be confronted. Because even if this recommendation applies to athletes as well as to non-athletes, in reality (unfortunately!) It is the case that only a few people who do not do sport care about their protein intake. As a result, the protein intake of many people is low or even too low.
If you now increase your protein intake to the recommended level, this will be perceived and assessed as an excessively high protein intake by these people, some of whom you certainly have in your scope. It is therefore not uncommon for you to be confronted with concerns:
“Is that really healthy?”
“I can’t imagine that that’s healthy!”
“I heard this is bad for the kidneys.”
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that one has to deal with such prejudices. But as you have learned in this article, there is nothing behind it, so you shouldn’t get confused.
And that also leads me to my final advice: When it comes to nutrition, unfortunately, the mass is a very poor advisor. So don’t let yourself be confused if you want to improve your eating habits.