This free protein calculator for weight loss is meant to provide you with a healthy protein intake range and serve as a resource you can bookmark for future reference, share with others, or backlink from your website.
Protein intake for weight loss and building muscle is a contentious topic these days with many camps espousing different views. However, protein ranges should not be viewed as an absolute written-in-stone “target,” but more so as a starting point that you can adjust and fine tune depending on your particular needs or situation.
After using the protein intake calculator, please read the free resource article that follows which provides more context and discusses the role protein plays in weight loss, appetite control, and supporting muscle growth for sport and exercise.
Also be sure to check out the other health calculators on this site which you can use in conjunction with this protein calculator:
- Macronutrient percentage calculator
- Total daily energy expenditure calculator
- Basal metabolic rate calculator
- Lean body mass calculator
Protein calculator for weight loss
Disclaimer: No conflicts of interest. This protein calculator is 100% independent and has no affiliate links. Ads appearing on this site are autogenerated based on your individual Google search and web browsing habits and I do NOT have direct granular control over them. Any revenue generated from ads offsets website costs to keep the site free for you to use. This protein calculator is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider.
Protein is a cornerstone of a balanced diet and plays an important role maintaining overall health. It is an essential nutrient comprised of amino acids (most importantly, essential amino acids), the building blocks that comprise many bodily structures such as muscle tissue, organs, cell walls, enzymes, hemoglobin, and connective tissue.
Your body’s daily protein requirement depends on a variety of factors which may include your body weight, age, activity level and training status, physical activity plan, pregnancy or lactation status, and numerous other health factors.
While protein receives a disproportionate amount of attention over other essential nutrients like carbohydrate and fat, it’s important to remember that protein alone is not a super-nutrient. Rather, protein is just one piece of the larger nutrition puzzle.
For example, though popular high-protein diets tout the need for very high protein intakes on a daily basis for weight loss, excessive dietary protein can crowd out other valuable dietary constituents such as plant phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibre which help promote the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria that play a vital role in maintaining body weight, stabilising blood sugars, and moderating appetite.
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for protein
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) are reference values that are quantitative estimates of nutrient intakes to be used for planning and assessing diets for healthy people.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) falls under the DRI and refers to the average daily dietary intake deemed sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of most (97-98%) healthy individuals.
But there has been debate as to whether or not the RDA protein recommendations are too low and if it provides enough protein to meet the average requirement.
Nitrogen balance studies upon which the RDA for protein is based may underestimate protein metabolism and, consequently, the dietary guidelines.
Newer methodologies using the indicator amino acid oxidation (IAAO) method show that a minimum amount of protein around 1 g/kg/d may be a more optimal protein intake than the age-old recommendations of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/d) or, in imperial measure, 0.36 grams per pound of body weight per day.
The difference in daily protein intake of 0.2 g/kg/d is quite small and is unlikely to pose a safety risk in healthy adults.
Protein intake for weight loss
The high protein, low carb craze in recent years has catapulted protein into the spotlight for its role in preserving muscle mass and facilitating weight loss.
But there has been fierce debate over whether or not extremely high protein intakes provide any additional benefit over a more moderate protein intake, as well as questions of increased cardiovascular risk due to excessive animal protein consumption at the expense of other health-promoting nutrients (i.e., fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals).
Controversy aside, there is evidence that 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kg per day and protein quantities of at least ~25–30 grams of protein per meal yield improvements in satiety (feeling of fullness), weight management, and cardiometabolic risk factors when compared with lower protein intakes.
However, from a practical standpoint, it’s also important to understand that despite these improvements associated with increased protein intake in controlled feeding studies, free-living adults prescribed strict diets may find it challenging to consume higher amounts of protein over the long term.
Timing of protein consumption
If you’re trying to lose weight (or, more specifically, body fat) by skipping breakfast, you may want to reconsider.
Breakfast helps reduce appetite, increase feelings of fullness, helps curb cravings, and reduces neural signals that contribute to reward-driven eating habits (ref).
In particular, protein consumption at breakfast contributes to a greater feeling of satiety, and this effect is prolonged throughout the day and into the evening, compared to eating higher protein at lunch or dinner.
Moreover, reducing your total daily calories (i.e., calorie deficit) in tandem with increased energy expenditure (i.e., exercise) and a protein-induced feeling of satiety can all help you lose weight, maintain your current weight.
Protein threshold in a meal
Research has shown that there is a dose-response relationship to protein consumption and feelings of fullness. A systematic review of studies based on 350 calorie meals containing protein quantities ranging from 15-30g found that, while all meals resulted in an increased level of fullness, it was the 30g protein meal that produced the largest and most sustained feeling of fullness compared to meals containing 15, 20, and 25g.
Protein quality and weight management
Animal-based protein sources contain the highest protein density relative to energy content (i.e., calories) compared to plant sources. Evidence suggests that animal protein such as whey protein (a byproduct from cheese production) helps to support gains in lean tissue (i.e., muscle) and improvements in appetite control and satiety over that of plant protein.
While a high protein diet can help contribute to weight loss and reduce weight gain, it is only one aspect of a multi-pronged approach.
Other factors like your physical activity level (energy expenditure), basal metabolic rate, total calories consumed per day, and other dietary considerations like nutrient density and fiber can all affect your body composition.
And while your goal might be to reduce body fat and increase lean body mass (i.e., lean muscle mass, muscle gain), not all changes on the bathroom scale are necessarily fat loss. With increased protein intake and reduced carb intake, you may also deplete your muscle glycogen and the fluid bound to it.
In short, losing weight/fat can be difficult but keeping it off long term can pose additional challenges for many people. Have a look at the National Weight Control Registry website for the research-based habits of people who’ve lost weight and kept it off.
Protein intake for exercisers and athletes
If you exercise or train for sport, you will require more protein than non-exercisers.
A joint position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day for athletes.
Higher protein intakes may be justified dependent upon the athlete’s individual training status, current training cycle (i.e., high training frequency, intensity, duration), or level of calorie deficit to promote fat loss and preserve lean tissue
Strength training (resistance training) is an important exercise for performance (i.e., powerlifting), aesthetic reasons (bodybuilding), training for sports (i.e., football), or just for general fitness.
But no matter what your exercise routine or fitness goals may be, the common denominator is that you will require more protein for muscle repair and recovery, particularly in the initial training stages.
As your fitness level improves and you adapt to your routine, your body becomes more efficient with managing your protein stores, enhancing muscle protein synthesis, and reducing turnover, which allows you to eat less protein with no detrimental effect on your progress.
Unlike non-exercisers, highly active individuals are not just looking to maintain nitrogen balance but are focused on protein as a tool to maximise strength training adaptations for peak performance.
Where the goal is to maximise muscle retention and enhance fat loss, protein intakes as high as 2.2 to 3.0 g/kg/d should be spread across 3 to 6 meals per day, with each meal containing approximately 0.4 to 0.55 g/kg of protein per meal, with meals eaten within 2 to 3 hours before and after training.
Endurance athletes require adequate calorie and carbohydrate intake in order to maximise muscle and liver glycogen stores and spare protein (protein is generally not a main energy source). Differences in training status can impact how protein is used in the body (i.e., efficient use of glycogen and fatty acids as fuel spares protein).
New endurance athletes in the early stages of a training regimen will require more protein but, with training adaptations over time, the body becomes more efficient with managing protein stores and reduces turnover. The end result is a lower requirement for protein.
However, during prolonged high-intensity, high-volume endurance training and competition (i.e., ultra-endurance events like Iron Man competitions), there is a greater metabolic demand for protein.
Amino acid oxidation during endurance exercise can account for 1-6% of the energy cost of exercise. Muscle protein can be broken down to its component amino acids which are then converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis to maintain blood sugar.
Unlike strength training for hypertrophy, protein requirements for endurance exercisers are comparatively lower, with protein intakes of 1.2–1.4 g/kg/d sufficient to meet metabolic needs, or slightly higher at 1.6 g/kg/d in highly trained athletes.
Protein intakes for fat loss & muscle retention
Where the goal is to maximise muscle retention and enhance fat loss, protein intakes of 2.2 to 3.0 g/kg/d should be spread across 3 to 6 meals per day, with the protein content of each meal containing approximately 0.4 to 0.55 g/kg per meal, with meals eaten within 2 to 3 hours before and after training.
Getting enough protein in your diet
If you look at any popular health magazine, website, or instagram feed, you might be fooled into thinking we don’t get enough dietary protein, only to be confronted with advertising for protein bars, shakes, and supplements.
However, if you’re concerned about getting enough protein in your daily diet, rest assured protein deficiency is rare if you live in any modern society.
If you eat a varied diet, protein derived from common food sources such as poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, or non-animal foods like nuts, seeds, vegetables and legumes that provide plant proteins.
For those on vegan or vegetarian diets, you will need to focus on plant proteins to ensure you get the minimum amount of protein for weight loss or just to simply maintain good health. A varied diet with the right complement of protein sources should give provide the right complement to get your essential amino acids (i.e., amino acids that can’t be produced in the body from other amino acids).
Protein supplements like a protein shake or whey protein powder may be a good idea in some cases, but the operative word is “supplement,” and not a “substitute” for healthy eating.
Ideally you should try to meet your protein needs through a varied diet that provides sufficient calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, phytonutrients, and fiber.
However, where life circumstances like a busy work or travel schedules interfere with meal timing, protein powders may be a convenience to help you meet your needs.
If you’re trying to lose weight (or maintain your body weight), whey protein has been shown to enhance the release of hormones that reduce appetite and increase satiety, making you feel fuller and less likely to snack.
Are high protein diets safe?
For many years, there were concerns that higher protein / meat intakes for weight loss could have negative effects on health. These include disorders of bone and calcium homeostasis, adverse effects on kidney function, elevated cancer risk, liver dysfunction, and elevated cardiovascular disease risk.
However, it’s important to put this into context. Eating excessively high amounts of protein over the long term to the exclusion of other health-promoting nutrients (namely nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can plausibly cause nutrient imbalances.
Next, it’s important to consider just how much protein is too much protein. An intake of 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day is generally deemed a safe threshold for most individuals, with an upper limit of 3.5 gram of protein per kg body weight per day in well-adapted individuals.
High protein and kidney function
A high protein diet can worsen kidney function in people with underlying kidney disease, as excessive protein loads may strain the kidneys to eliminate waste products associated with protein metabolism. Older adults with medical conditions should also be advised to consult their doctor or nutrition professional for further guidance on going on a high protein diet.
A final word of caution
No matter which protein calculator you use, watch out for websites that “put their finger on the scale” to try and fool you into buying overpriced protein supplements. In developing my protein calculator, I tried to account for the latest in protein science to keep the results within a safe/healthy range.
Take home message
If you found this protein calculator and companion article useful, please be sure to bookmark it and share with others.
Fukugawa, NK. Protein requirements: methodologic controversy amid a call for change.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 99, Issue 4, April 2014, Pages 761–762.
Morton, RW et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018 Mar; 52(6): 376–384.