Do you ever wonder how much protein you should be eating? Or if you’re eating enough, or too much, protein?
Getting enough protein helps you maintain your muscle mass and bone density, both of which tend to decline as we age. And a loss of muscle and bone leads to loss of ability to do stuff, which is a key factor in aging – feeling un-able is a big part of what makes us feel older.
Now, unlike with carbs, our bodies do a pretty good job of telling us when we need more protein, and when we’ve had enough. So if you are craving protein, in most cases, you should eat more protein! And if you don’t want any more, you probably don’t need to eat any more.
However, sometimes it’s helpful (or maybe just interesting, if you’re a nerd like me) to see how your consumption compares to what’s recommended.
One of the ways to calculate protein need is to estimate your lean body mass (LBM).
LBM is the amount of your body weight that is everything but fat – your muscles and bones and tendons and blood and water and all the rest of the stuff that make up you, except for fat.
So, the first thing to do in calculating your LBM is to estimate your body fat percentage (BF%). If you have a scale that does this for you, great, use that number.
If you don’t have one of those, refer to this series of images to estimate which fat percentage bracket you think you are in. This won’t be precise, obviously, but that’s ok.
Now take your calculated or estimated BF% number, and multiply your total body weight by that percentage.
So let’s say you weigh 160 pounds, and you estimate that you have 40% body fat. Calculate your total pounds of body fat, and subtract that from your total weight, and that’s your LBM:
- 160 pounds x 40% = 60 pounds of body fat
- 160 pounds (total) – 60 pounds (fat) = 100 pounds LBM
Now, to check this number another way, you can roughly estimate your ideal body weight (IBW):
- For women, start with 100 pounds, and for men, start with 110.
- Add 5 pounds for each inch of height above 5 feet, or subtract 2 pounds for each inch under 5 feet.
Then adjust for your body frame size:
- Circle your thumb and middle finger around your wrist.
- If your fingers just touch, you have a medium frame, and the calculated weight is correct for you.
- If your fingers can’t touch, you have a large frame – add 10%.
- If they overlap, you have a small frame – subtract 10%.
So, let’s assume a woman with a medium frame and a height of 5’5″:
- IBW @ 5’5″ medium frame = 100 + (5″ x 5) = 125 pounds
Ideal body fat for healthy, fit women (not extreme athletes) is between 21-24%, so let’s say we’re aiming for 23%.
- 125 pounds x 23% = 29 pounds of body fat
- 126 total pounds – 29 pounds body fat = 96 pounds LBM
So our earlier calculation of 100 pounds LBM was pretty similar.
With LBM estimated, we can now determine protein needs. For a sedentary to moderately active person (1), 1g per kg of LBM is considered by many to be optimal and is what I recommend for most of my patients. For an active (2) to very active (3) person, 1.25 to 1.5g per kg of LBM is recommended. Convert your LBM to kilograms by dividing by 2.2, and then multiply using the appropriate activity level factor:
- 100 # LBM / 2.2 = 45 kg x 1g = 45 grams of protein daily
- 100 # LBM / 2.2 = 45 kg x 1.25g = 56 grams of protein daily
- 100 # LBM / 2.2 = 45 kg x 1.5g = 68 grams of protein daily
To get an idea of what that looks like on your plate, here are a few protein sources with their protein content:
- 1 egg 6g
- chicken drumstick 13g
- 4 oz hamburger 16g
- 3 oz chicken thigh 21g
- 3 oz fish 22g
- 5 oz pork chop 41g
- 6 oz steak 52g
What amount of protein did you come up with as your ideal?
How does your typical protein consumption compare with that?
If you change how much protein you’re eating, up or down, I’d love to hear how that goes for you, if you feel any different, and in what way.