The short answer: Probably more than you’re eating right now. Here’s why, plus how to meet your daily needs.
If nutrition were a popularity contest, protein would win running away—and for good reason. Not only does this macronutrient help you feel fuller longer, but it’s crucial to every cell in your body. You need it to build and maintain your bones, muscles, skin, and more.
Protein is even more important as you age, says Sonya Angelone, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s because as you get older, you don’t absorb or metabolize amino acids—the building blocks of protein—as well as you did when you were younger, she explains.
Another reason to prioritize protein: “You lose muscle mass with age, and that’s associated with a higher risk of falls and, as a result, fractures,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., author of The Six Pillars of Nutrition. “When you optimize your protein intake, you are better able to maintain your lean body mass, which then reduces your risk of falls.”
So How Much Protein Should You Eat Daily?
According to the National Academy of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults in their 50s and older is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. To see your RDA for protein, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36, or use this online calculator.
For an adult who weighs 130 pounds, that’s about 47 grams of protein per day. For one who weighs 150 pounds, 55 grams. And for one who weighs 170 pounds, 62 grams.
But here’s where things can get confusing: The RDA is the minimum amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements, says Brady Hurst, clinical director for True Health Center for Functional Medicine in Atlanta.
In other words, if your goals are merely to live and not get sick, the RDA is enough—you won’t be deficient in protein. This does not mean it’s optimal.
What’s the Optimal Amount of Protein?
The exact amount of protein you need for optimal health is debatable, as it depends on your weight, activity level, and any health conditions you have.
That said, many experts believe that to maintain muscle mass and proper functioning, older adults need to eat double the amount of protein they needed in their younger years, says Abby Sauer, M.P.H., R.D., a dietitian specializing in adult and geriatric nutrition. That’s right, double!
In one American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism study, adults ages 52 to 75 improved their muscle health by following a diet containing 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. That’s roughly twice the current RDA.
If that seems like a lofty goal, take it one meal at a time: Aim to eat 25 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What Are the Best Sources of Protein?
More protein doesn’t necessarily mean more burgers, sausages, and steaks. The overall nutritional quality of a food matters.
Angelone recommends limiting red meat, which can be high in saturated fat, and instead building each meal around high-quality proteins like:
- Lean poultry
- Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
“These foods are good protein sources and provide many other nutrients for good health,” Angelone says.
An Important Reminder
Guidelines are just that: guidelines. “They’re a good place to start,” Angelone says.
If you have a hard time meeting your daily protein requirement, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian for guidance. They can help you with meal planning or may recommend complete nutrition supplements.
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