Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for building and maintaining our muscles. Because protein makes up enzymes that help control the chemical processes that keep us alive, it’s imperative that we get the appropriate amount of protein every day.
But exactly how much protein should we be eating per day?
The National Academy of Medicine released a general recommendation that adults should get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight; however, protein requirements can change as a person ages. As people grow older, their daily protein intake may need to be adjusted — especially when trying to prevent muscle loss.
So just how much protein should you consume based on your age? Are you getting enough protein in your diet? Read below to find out more about the protein requirements by age and see how your protein consumption measures up to the recommended guidelines (and learn how to get in more protein if your intake falls short of the requirements for your age).
The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight a day for adults over 18. So according to this formula, a person who weighs 150 pounds requires at least 55 grams of protein each day.
As you may have noticed, 18 through 65 is a pretty large age-range. (It spans nearly five decades!) During these years of your life, age doesn’t have as much to do with your protein requirements as your weight and overall fitness goals do. So when it comes to figuring out your body’s protein needs during this portion of your adult life, you should use your weight as the determining factor.
Using the formula above, plug in your weight to determine your general protein recommendation, then make any necessary adjustments based on your lifestyle or health goals. For example, adults who stay active and prioritize protein as part of their diet might want to have closer to 2.2 grams per kilogram, or around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, instead of the generally recommended 0.8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight per day.
Age becomes more important to protein intake as you hit 65+. Once you reach your 60s, you might want to begin upping the amount of protein you consume per day in an effort to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health and other essential physiological functions.
In 2013, an international group of physicians and nutrition experts recommended that healthy older adults should consume 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which is a 25-50 percent increase over the RDA. This formula translates to 69 to 81 grams for a 150-pound woman, and 81 to 98 grams for a 180-pound man.
This team of experts found an increase in protein to be necessary because older bodies process protein less efficiently, so even healthy adults in their 60s need more protein than when they were younger to help preserve muscle mass. By the time people reach age 65, they become at greater risk of sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, strength and function. The essential amino acids in protein are key nutrients for muscle health, but compared to younger people, older adults are less responsive to low doses of amino acid intake. Fortunately,
researchers at the departments of Food Science and Geriatrics at the University of Arkansas found that this lack of responsiveness can be overcome when older people increase their protein consumption, making protein 30 to 35 percent of their total calorie intake. People with sarcopenia may need 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg of protein a day. (That’s 3.5 to 4.3 ounces for a 180-pound adult.) While it may seem difficult to drastically increase your protein intake and make significant changes to the sources of your daily calories, it’s key for preventing muscle loss.
It’s also important to note that simply moving your body can be just as crucial as protein intake when it comes to maintaining muscle, especially at age 65+. A lack of protein combined with a more sedentary lifestyle further increases the risk of deteriorating muscles, compromised mobility and slower recovery from illness. Interestingly enough, recent research found that older adults who consume more protein-rich foods also tend to move more in general. In a 2018 study that followed more than 2,900 seniors over 23 years, researchers found that those who ate the most protein were 30 percent less likely to become functionally impaired than those who ate the least amount. So if you’re upping your protein intake as you age, you’ll probably have to worry less about maintaining your mobility.
For children, dietary needs are often broken down by age. In terms of protein, children ages 4 to 9 need around 19 grams of protein each day, while children between ages 9 and 13 need 34 grams. For adolescents ages 14 to 18, it can vary by sex: Boys typically need around 52 grams and girls need 46 grams. (P.S. It’s a myth that children who are more active need excessively more protein to fuel their bodies. They do burn more protein with increased physical activity, but only elite athletes closer to age 18 should consider making significant changes to the amount of protein in their diets.)
Healthy eating habits are easier to adopt when learned as a child, so if your child starts eating mindfully now, chances are they’ll adopt a healthy diet — and thus get adequate amounts of protein through healthy sources — on their own when they’re older.
Children should get enough protein every day if they’re eating two servings of dairy, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, and one or two servings of lean protein, such as lean beef, pork, poultry and fish. But if there are any concerns about a child’s protein requirements, it’s better to consult a doctor who can best assess their specific needs rather than rely on general recommendations.
There’s protein in many of the foods that we eat every day; however, you can only find essential amino acids — the nine amino acids that your body does not produce naturally and you must get through your diet — through certain protein sources. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Most animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs. Plant-based protein sources, such as grains, beans, vegetables and nuts, on the other hand, often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal protein products to get the right amino acids — you just have to ensure your diet includes a variety of plant-based sources of dietary protein so your body can get all the essential amino acids it needs. Plant-based foods with high protein content include tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, quinoa, chia seeds, beans, potatoes, and dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables.
But if you’re someone who does consume animal products, you can also get high-quality protein through foods like white-meat poultry, eggs and egg whites, fish (especially fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna), Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and lean or extra-lean cuts of red meat, such as sirloin or round cuts, or ground beef that’s 93% lean or leaner.
If you need help meeting your age group’s recommended amount of protein, an easy way to up your intake is by adding a protein supplement to your diet. People often use protein powder to help better meet their body’s needs, as well as maximize muscle gain and fat loss with a higher protein intake.
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas. With so many different forms of protein powder out there, it can be difficult to find one that’s tailored specifically to your body type and health goals. That’s where Gainful comes in: Gainful creates a customized protein supplement based on your body type, dietary needs, activity level and fitness goals. You just take a quiz to find your personalized blend of the finest, high-quality ingredients, and Gainful takes care of the rest. Whether you’re looking to build muscle, starting a weight loss journey or just simply want to take back control of your health, it’s never been easier to integrate a personalized protein powder into your program. There’s a Gainful protein powder for everyone and every diet — gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free and anything in between.
Worried about making changes to your diet and lifestyle on your own? With Gainful, you’re never in this alone: Each subscriber has unlimited access to a personal Registered Dietitian, who’s on-call to answer your questions whenever they pop up. (And the questions don’t have to specifically pertain to products. You can ask your R.D. anything about fitness and nutrition. They’re there to help guide you through every step of your wellness journey.)
As you know from the information above, muscle mass naturally declines with age, leading to possible fat gain and risk of many chronic diseases. But thoughtful protein intake can help prevent the adverse effects of aging. By eating healthfully and using supplementation when necessary, you can successfully meet the protein requirements for your age.