Calculating Ideal Daily Protein Intake

While it is not impossible to meet daily protein requirements through a typical “whole food” diet; some individuals, such as athletes find it hard to consume the 0.45-0.90 grams per pound body weight daily needed to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, optimize muscle growth, and assist recovery efforts. This is the primary reason they supplement as an easy way to meet their protein needs. Furthermore, total daily protein amounts can vary dramatically depending on goals and what sport or activity an individual participates in. A person trying to develop lean muscle for aesthetic or performance reasons will require more protein than a person whose primary purpose is to promote recovery between training sessions. The International Society of Sports Nutrition gives the following guidelines on protein requirements as it relates to different activities and sports. The recommended amounts can be consumed through whole foods sources or in combination with a high-quality protein supplement such as whey.

Protein Requirements for Inactive, Healthy Adults

Recommended Amount: 0.36 grams of protein per pound body weight daily

Inactive, otherwise healthy adults need this amount of protein due to the constant turnover of cells in the human body and to maintain nitrogen balance.  However, consuming higher amounts on a daily basis may confer some benefits. Higher protein consumption has been shown to produce a satiating effect (feeling of fullness).  This may lead to decreases in appetite, more stable blood sugar levels, and less total calories eaten daily. Over time this may lead to weight and/or fat loss. Protein also has a higher thermic effect compared to the other macronutrients. This means it takes more energy to digest and absorb which burns additional calories.

Protein Requirements for Weight Training/Strength Athletes

Recommended Amount: 0.72 – 0.9 grams of protein per pound body weight daily

Example Sports: Bodybuilding, weight training, and sports that require power/strength

Maintaining a positive nitrogen balance is a key factor in athletes whose sport benefits from having more lean mass while also being able to recover from exercise-induced muscle damage. To maintain this anabolic bodily environment more protein needs to be consumed daily than is broken down.  For this reason, athletes whose sports require maximal size, strength and power have the highest protein requirements compared to other individuals. These large amounts are needed to maximize tissue repair, maintain a positive nitrogen balance, promote recovery and optimize the hypertrophic response. Bigger muscles are not only aesthetically pleasing but are also advantageous for athletes who participate in sports such as football.  Muscles with greater cross-sectional area can produce stronger and more powerful motions such as pushing, pulling, and sprinting which can directly enhance performance. All in all, individuals who are trying to put on more lean muscle mass should stick to the higher range of this protein recommendation while those trying to maintain can get by with less.

Protein Requirements for Aerobic/Endurance Athletes

Recommended Amount: 0.45 – 0.72 grams of protein per pound body weight daily

Example Sports: Distance running and cycling

Unlike strength athletes, having more lean mass does not typically benefit aerobic athletes. Additional weight requires more energy to move when efficiency and an ideal strength to weight ratio is key to endurance performance success. Muscle repair and recovery, not growth, are the primary reasons endurance athletes need more protein than inactive individuals but less than strength athletes. In addition to tissue repair, the BCAAs derived from protein consumption can be used as a fuel source during prolonged aerobic activity.

Per the International Society of Sports Nutrition, “where the endurance athlete falls within this recommended range depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise, as well as the training status of the individual. For example, an elite endurance athlete requires a greater level of protein intake approaching the higher end of the range. Additionally, as endurance exercise increases in intensity and duration, there is an increased oxidation of branched-chain amino acids, which creates a demand within the body for protein intakes at the upper end of this range.”  Practically speaking when endurance training volume is high and intense more protein is required. During lower volume training (such as base training) fewer grams of protein are needed.

Protein Requirements for Stop and Go Sport Athletes

Recommended Amount: 0.63 – 0.77 grams of protein per pound body weight daily

Example Sports: CrossFit, MMA, Soccer

Compared to the number of studies that have investigated the protein requirements of strength and endurance athletes, little research exists in regards to the unique protein needs of individuals whose sport requires a combination of strength, endurance and stop and go play. However, the ISSN recommendation of 0.63 – 0.77 grams per pound bodyweight is more than likely sufficient to promote recovery, maintain lean muscle mass, and in some cases, build additional muscle.

Protein Requirements for Individuals Restricting Calories and Vegetarians

On a gram for gram basis, plant-based proteins yield less total protein and essential amino acids compared to sources such as milk or meat. For this reason, it is recommended athletes who follow a vegetarian/vegan diet consume ~0.90 grams of protein per pound body weight daily to aid muscle growth and repair. Similarly, those on a calorie-restricted diet should also up protein intake to ~0.90 grams per pound body weight to preserve lean muscle mass.

Bottom Line on Protein Requirements

General protein recommendations for inactive individuals are 10-15% of total daily calories or 0.36 grams per pound bodyweight. This amount, however, differs for people who participate in strength, endurance, or intermittent sports. As a general guideline, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends “that exercising individuals ingest protein ranging from 0.63 to 0.90 grams per pound body weight daily. People engaging in endurance exercise should ingest levels at the lower end of this range, individuals engaging in intermittent activities should ingest levels in the middle of this range, and those engaging in strength/power exercise should ingest levels at the upper end of this range.”

Daily Protein Requirements

Weight in Pounds Sedentary Adults Strength Athletes Endurance Athletes Intermittent Sport Athletes
100 36 grams 72 – 90 grams 45 – 72 grams 63 – 77 grams
110 40 grams 80 – 100 grams 50 – 80 grams 70 – 85 grams
120 44 grams 86 – 108 grams 54 – 86 grams 76 – 92 grams
130 48 grams 95 -118 grams 59 – 95 grams 83 –100 grams
140 52 grams 102 – 128 grams 64 – 102 grams 90 – 109 grams
150 56 grams 109 – 136 grams 68 – 109 grams 95 – 116 grams
160 58 grams 117 – 146 grams 73 – 117 grams 102–124 grams
170 62 grams 123 – 154 grams 77 – 123 grams 108-131 grams
180 66 grams 131 – 164 grams 82 – 131 grams 115-140 grams
190 69 grams 138 – 172 grams 86 – 138 grams 120-146 grams
200 73 grams 145 – 182 grams 91 – 145 grams 127-154 grams
210 76 grams 152 – 190 grams 95 – 152 grams 133-162 grams
220 80 grams 160 – 200 grams 100 – 160 grams 140-170 grams

Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez H, Antonio J: International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007, 4: 8-10.1186/1550-2783-4-8.

2 thoughts on “Calculating Ideal Daily Protein Intake

  1. Hi MATT: I will like to comment on your post.
    Your information is generally correct in term of percentages, As a general guideline, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends However this “Rule’s of thumbs” are a hit and miss if you want to maximize your supplements. Let me explain. Is my understanding that when you said for “general guidelines” as an example you have presented for the MMA, CROSS FIT ATHLETE, the 0.63 – 0.77 grams per pound bodyweight I understand you meant or infer to as total body weight, if my assumption is correct you’re adding fat weight the the equation and fat doesn’t need protein for support. am I correct? or that I owe you and apology!.I understand that adding excess of protein to the body will cause two things One it taxes the liver unnecessarily and second the excess of protein turn into ammonia which is toxic to the body and then the body need to neutralize it by using calcium from your bones to get ready of it. Is that true? Is my understanding that a better approach to be certain of how much protein an individual requirement will need, will be to take a body composition analysis due protein requirement is base on Lean body mass(muscle) ligament, and tendons but not fat. for support. Your post was informative Thanks.

  2. Hi Juan,

    Thank you for the questions. Let me answer them one by one:

    1. The recommendations are based on total body weight. Not just lean mass. Why? The majority of the studies that have determined protein requirements for strength, endurance, etc…athletes are based on total body weight. I am not aware (not that they do not exist) of any studies that have determined protein requirements based on lean mass only. Without multiple clinical studies/data in regards to calculating protein requirements based on lean mass the calculation to determine this would be invalid. At the end of the day protein requirements will vary. The guidelines above serve as a starting point and can be adjusted by trial and error as it relates to muscle growth, recovery, etc….

    2. The notion of excess protein taxing the kidneys (I think this is what you meant instead of liver) is a complete myth. No piece of scientific literature written in the past 100 years has demonstrated that a diet high in protein has any adverse effects on kidney health in normal, healthy individuals. To further discredit this myth, a 2015 study conducted at Nova Southeastern University found no harmful effects on kidney function when researchers had subjects consume three times the suggested RDA for protein on a daily basis for six months (over 3 grams per kilogram body weight).

    3. High protein diets were once thought to increase calcium excretion and be detrimental to bone health. Fortunately, this is not the case. In fact, diets high in protein have been shown to increase calcium absorption and have no negative impact on bone calcium stores. On the contrary not getting enough protein can be deleterious to bone health. Case in point a 2003 study found people with chronic low protein intake were at a greater risk for lower bone density and more bone loss.

    I hope this answers your questions Juan

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