How Much Protein Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

Grilled chicken with rice and veggies

If you're a typical dieter, you've probably wondered, "how much protein should I eat to lose weight?" The answer can be confusing because at the grocery store you see that protein is being added to many of your favorite diet foods. You might assume that eating more protein is better for weight loss. But that's not necessarily the case. Follow these guidelines to find out how much protein to lose weight and how much protein is needed reach fitness and athletic goals.

How Much Protein For Weight Loss?

Before you stock up on protein supplements and diet-friendly high protein snack bars, make sure you know your recommended daily allowance for protein. Nutrition guidelines suggest that a healthy adult should consume 10-35 percent of their calories from protein. So is more protein better? Eating too much of any nutrient isn't a good thing, especially when you're trying to lose weight.

Some scientists believe that when dieters consume more foods with protein, they see greater weight loss results. But researchers maintained protein levels within the recommended guidelines. Three recent studies have found that dieters who consumed 25-30 percent of their calories from lean protein lost more body fat and substantially increased the number of calories that their bodies burned at rest.

In one study of overweight and obese women, researchers evaluated dieters who consumed a high protein (30 percent), high dairy diet to a lower protein (15 percent), lower dairy diet.

The high protein group lost more body fat and gained more lean muscle mass than the women who consumed the low protein diet. The low protein group lost weight, but they also lost more lean muscle mass.

Study authors suggest that this loss of lean muscle may contribute to the long-term weight gain and frustrating weight loss plateaus that plague so  many dieters.

Lean muscle mass burns more calories than fat, even when the body is at rest. When the low protein group lost lean muscle mass, they may have lost the ability to burn more calories throughout the day. On the other hand, the improved body composition of the high protein group may help them burn more calories in the short and long term.

Remember that if you eat too many calories, no matter what kind of calories they are, you will gain weight. Even though some studies suggest that weight gain from lean protein is better than weight gain from fat and carbohydrates, if weight loss is your goal, eating the right number of calories is still the key to success.

How Much Protein For Exercise

If you exercise as part of your weight loss plan, you may want to include more protein in your diet. The protein needs of athletes are higher than those of typical dieters. Dieters who exercise can still use the 10-35 percent recommendation as a guideline and keep their protein intake at the higher end. Or you can calculate your protein needs using a formula.

An average dieter needs 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That's 0.8 to 1.0 grams per kilogram. Experts recommend that heavy exercisers and athletes consume 0.5 - 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram) An athlete or heavy exerciser is generally someone who exercises more than 10-12 hours per week.

Should I Supplement Protein to Lose Weight?

Many protein supplements are expensive and some may contain sugars and other ingredients that you don't need. Why waste the money and consume the extra calories? So, you probably don't need a protein supplement for weight loss.

If you include healthy protein foods during meals and snack, you can meet your daily protein needs. Many foods that are already in your kitchen can boost your intake. For example, do you know how much protein in an egg? Just a single large egg provides about 5 grams of protein. An egg white has about 4 grams of protein. If you combine a single egg with a few whites, you can make a diet-friendly scramble and consume 15 grams of protein or more - without too much added fat.

At dinner time or lunch you can include a piece of lean chicken. How much protein in a chicken breast depends on how much you eat, but a single 4-ounce serving generally provides 26 grams of protein. 

And there are other reasons to skip the supplements and include protein foods in your diet. Foods with protein are also high in other vitamins and minerals that are essential to your diet. Lean meats, dairy,​ and seafood contain iron, calcium, niacin, and thiamin. 


George A. Bray, MD; Steven R. Smith, MD; Lilian de Jonge, PhD; Hui Xie, PhD; Jennifer Rood, PhD; Corby K. Martin, PhD; Marlene Most, PhD; Courtney Brock, MS, RD; Susan Mancuso, BSN, RN; Leanne M. Redman, PhD. " Effect of Dietary Protein Content on Weight Gain, Energy Expenditure, and Body Composition During Overeating." Journal of the American Medical Association 2012;307(1):47-55.

Russell J de Souza, George A Bray,Vincent J Carey, Kevin D Hall, Meryl S LeBoff, Catherine M Loria, Nancy M Laranjo, Frank M Sacks, Steven R Smith " Effects of 4 weight-loss diets differing in fat, protein, and carbohydrate on fat mass, lean mass, visceral adipose tissue, and hepatic fat: results from the POUNDS LOST trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition January 18, 2012.

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Lisa A Te Morenga, Megan T Levers, Sheila M Williams, Rachel C Brown and Jim Mann. " Comparison of high protein and high fiber weight-loss diets in women with risk factors for the metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial." Nutrition Journal April 2011.