Our bodies are made up mostly of water…and protein. Proteins are in every cell of the body and are considered the “building blocks of life.”
They are important for building healthy muscle mass, supporting the immune system and supporting the nutritional needs of those with wounds.
If you’re not getting plenty of this powerhouse nutrient, your body can’t be at its best.
But while the case for preventing protein deficiency is simple, determining how much you need is a little more complicated.
Preventing Protein Deficiency: How Much Do I Need?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein for healthy adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. That translates to about 55 grams per day for a 150-pound person.
The thing about the RDA is that older people were rarely included in the studies used to establish the target amounts of protein. That’s why newer research is showing that as we age, we probably need to aim higher.
In other words, the RDA calculation is fine for younger adults, but international expert groups recommend different calculations with higher protein intake for adults 65 years and older.
How to Calculate Your Protein Needs
Time to take out your calculators! For older adults, if you are:
- Healthy, aim for 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight – or 1 gram of protein for every 2 pounds you weigh. For a 150-lb older person, that would be 75 grams each day.
- Sick, with either a chronic disease such as heart disease, or with an acute illness such as the flu, you need 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. For a 150-lb older person, that would be about 90 grams per day.
- Malnourished, or if you’re in the hospital with a severe illness or injury, you may need up to 2 grams of protein per kg body weight, or about 130 grams for a 150-lb person.
You can also put down your calculator and use this handy online tool to figure out estimated protein needs for healthy adults.
What is Protein Deficiency?
Protein deficiency is when your protein intake isn't able to meet your body's protein requirements.
The good news is that a true protein deficiency is rare – most people get some of the nutrient every day. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, though!
Approximately half of women and 42% of men over age 70 are not meeting minimum protein requirements.
Luckily, simply incorporating high protein drinks and foods at each meal and snack can help you avoid protein deficiency and support your health for years to come.
Plan For Protein Drinks and Foods Throughout the Day
Once you know how much protein you need, consider spacing out your sources throughout the day.
You should aim for about 20 to 35 grams at each meal and snack to avoid protein deficiency and support your health and well-being. That could look like:
- Breakfast: 2 eggs with 2 slices whole wheat toast, 1 lean pork sausage link, with coffee or tea
- Lunch: Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread or roll + a glass of milk
- Dinner: 4 oz grilled salmon with sauteed vegetables and brown rice
- Snack: Protein drink + banana
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are some plant-based sources of protein you can include in your diet, such as quinoa, beans, soy (such as tofu or tempeh), nuts and seeds.
If your meals are lacking in protein, keeping high protein drinks on hand is an easy way to make sure you’re meeting your daily needs.
And if you’re really having a hard time meeting your protein goals, talk with a dietitian or your healthcare provider to map out a plan that works best for you.