how much do you actually need

+ tips to meet your daily needs

Written by: Olivia Barone, Nutrition Coach

In the world of wellness, protein is a topic of much debate. It’s true that protein is essential

for many fundamental processes in your body: muscle repair, metabolism, hormone health,

and skin health, to name a few. It’s also true that protein is often under-consumed, especially

among women. However, the recent obsession over protein may be an over-correction, and

we’re starting to see the pendulum swing a little too far in the other direction. I can’t help but

worry when I see people promoting insanely high daily protein levels, most of which is

coming from highly processed sources like powders, bars and packaged goods. There’s

nothing wrong with a good protein bar and processed/packaged proteins definitely have their

time and place. However, when it comes to gut and hormone health, protein quality does

matter. Let’s explore natural vs. processed proteins and break down how much you really

need to feel your best from the inside out.

Natural vs. Processed Proteins

Natural proteins like meat, legumes, poultry, and fish provide a wide array of nutritional

benefits: essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other crucial nutrients. Ideally, you’d

get all of your protein from natural sources because they are the most bio-available, but

Sometimes this isn’t realistic, and that’s okay.

Below are just a few of the key benefits of natural proteins:

.Natural proteins have a richer amino acid profile: (particularly animal proteins)

contain all nine essential amino acids. “Essential” amino acids are those that the body

cannot produce on its own and therefore must be absorbed through food, It’s very

important that we get all 9 of them, because amino acids are essential for many key

functions in the body: tissue growth & repair, hormone health, muscle Growth/preservation, immunity, digestion, and energy production.

.Natural proteins contain many other key nutrients: Whole foods containing natural

protein are typically rich in other essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals,

healthy fats, and fiber. For instance, wild-caught salmon not only provides protein but

also omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium, supporting heart health and brain


. Natural proteins are more gut-friendly: The body tends to digest natural protein

sources much more efficiently than processed alternatives, because whole sources of

proteins contain enzymes that aid in the digestive process. This makes the absorption

process much smoother, leading to less bloating, gas and general GI discomfort.

. Natural proteins contribute to satiety and fullness: Natural protein sources are often

more satiating than processed counterparts due to their higher fiber and nutrient

content. Incorporating lean protein sources like chicken breast or tofu into meals can

help regulate appetite, reduce cravings, and prevent overeating or excessive hunger.

Processed protein products, on the other hand, undergo many manufacturing processes

to extract the protein content from its original source. Common examples of processed

proteins include protein powders, bars, shakes, and fortified cereals. Many (not all)

packaged and processed proteins contain sneaky additives, so it’s important to check

the ingredient list here. High protein snacks and bars are also synonymous with the “low

carb” craze and therefore contain loads of artificial sweeteners to lower the calories and

carbohydrates. Those “0g carbs, 0g sugar, 20g protein” bars might seem like the

healthier choice at first glance, but the truth is, if they’re taking out the sugar, they’re

replacing it with something else. When it comes to sugar, I recommend moderate levels

of the real stuff before ever reaching for artificial sweeteners, because fake sugars like

sucralose have been shown to damage gut health, compromise hormones, spike blood

sugar (yes, artificial sweeteners contribute to insulin resistance) and keep you addicted

to high levels of sweetness.

Of course, there are some benefits to processed proteins. For one thing, cooking

natural proteins from scratch might not be realistic for busy people that are on-the-go.

Supplementing with bars or powders might be the only way to realistically meet your

daily needs, and that’s okay – as long as there is enough natural protein sources to

balance it out. However, the recent obsession with protein in the wellness world might

have you thinking you need more than you actually do, so let’s explore how much

protein you actually need to feel your best.

How much protein do you actually need?

There are a few schools of thought on this, so let’s dive in.

Currently, the national recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is .36 grams per

pound of body weight. To put that into perspective, that’s about 55 grams per day for

someone who weighs 150 lbs.

However, many nutrition experts would argue that number is far too low, and that

women in particular should aim closer to .8 grams per pound of body weight (that’s

about 120g per day for someone who weighs 150 lbs).

This can seem like a lot at first, and whether or not you need this much protein really

depends on your unique goals and bio-individuality. For example, those on a hormone

healing journey would benefit from this level of protein, since protein is an essential part

of healthy hormone production. Additionally, those looking to build and preserve lean

muscle mass will also benefit from a high protein diet. Protein is also essential for

optimal fetal growth, so pregnant women are advised to consume higher amounts of


With that being said, if your goal is simply to be happy, healthy and energized, maybe a

high protein diet isn’t necessary. In today’s protein-obsessed culture, it’s not abnormal to

see people eating up to 1.5g protein per pound of body weight (that would be 225g per

day for someone who is 150 lbs.) which is not only extremely difficult to achieve from

whole sources alone, but also puts a strain on gut health, as diets this high in protein

usually “crowd out” fiber, a key nutrient for gut and hormone health.

In my experience, most women feel their best when they get somewhere between

80-110g per day, so if you’re looking for a place to start, aim for 80g as a daily goal

(that’s about 25-30g at each meal) and see how you feel. Read on for a few tips to

make sure you’re meeting your daily protein needs.

Tips to meet your daily protein needs

. Start with 20-30g per meal: in the beginning, it might help to measure or weigh

your protein just to get a feel for how much is on your plate. If that feels tedious,

use this visual guide to estimate your portion size, or aim for 1/4 of your plate to

have protein on it. Remember, meals that contain the big 3 — fat, quality protein,

and a fiber-rich carb — contribute to a happy, healthy gut.

Balanced Body Foods is a meal prep service that provides a variety of protein

sources. Utilizing their meals allows you to hit your daily protein goals without the

hassle of cooking, prepping, and cleaning.

. Prioritize natural protein sources: Aim to obtain the majority of your daily protein

from whole food sources such as meat, fish, eggs, and legumes. These sources

are easier on the gut and contain many micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)

that processed proteins simply can’t provide.

. Observe your bio-markers (aka listen to your body!): If you’re not getting enough

protein, your body will usually tell you with symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog,

restless sleep, moodiness, brittle nails/hair, excessive hunger/cravings, and

getting sick a lot. If you aren’t experiencing any of these, you’re probably getting

enough protein to get by, and if you decide to increase your protein intake, take

note of any changes you feel in your skin, energy levels, satiety/fullness, sleep,

PMS, and mood.

Plant Protein vs. Animal Protein

It wouldn’t be a protein discussion without mentioning the debate between animal vs.

plant-based proteins, so let’s break it down.

Animal-based proteins include foods like beef, chicken, pork and all their bi-products

(eggs, collagen, bone broth etc.). Plant-based proteins include foods like tofu, tempeh,

edamame, whole grains, nuts, seeds and even vegetables like broccoli and potatoes

(although their protein content is quite small). The key difference in animal vs plant-based protein is their amino acid profile. Animal proteins provide all 9 essential amino acids that our body needs to survive and thrive in a single serving, whereas plant protein sources do not. As we discussed earlier on, it’s very important that we receive all 9 of those essential amino acids from our food, and this tends to be easier to do with animal protein. However, by combining different sources of plant protein in your diet, you can easily get all 9 essential amino acids without a problem, so those following a plant-based diet don’t have anything to worry about as long as they are eating a diverse range of plant-based proteins.

As is the case with most things, remember that balance and moderation are key when it

comes to prioritizing protein. Yes, protein is important, but if you’re not experiencing

signs of protein deficiency, you’re probably okay. Yes, increasing protein can have many

benefits, but if you can only get there by loading up on processed powders and bars, it’s

probably not worth it. At the end of the day, it’s about listening to your body, observing

its signals, and using that to inform how much protein feels good for you and your