How Much Protein Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
Protein recommendations are all over the map. Is it the most annoying thing in life?
It’s a toss up between that and the “close door” button that doesn’t actually do anything on elevators. Between those two things, it’s enough to drive a person crazy.
I can help you out with one of them (hint: I’m not an elevator mechanic).
Successful Weight Loss
Long before I ever learned about proper nutrition, I remember protein advice being particularly frustrating because everyone has a different idea of how much you should eat.
There was a time when I was chugging whey protein shakes twice a day just because that’s what the fit people I followed were doing. As a person whose stomach doesn’t tolerate a lot of dairy, it made for some unpleasant experiences (I’ll spare you the details).
One reason protein recommendations vary so much is just because there’s a lot of bad advice out there.
The other reason is because even good, practical protein advice can change depending on the context. That’s why I’ve pared this article down to one specific protein recommendation.
This isn’t advice for an athlete who works out twice a day and is trying to get swole.
It’s also not “the” protein advice you have to follow in all circumstances for the rest of your life.
This is for the normal, everyday person who actively wants to lose weight.
It’s a simple math equation, and it will give you a reliable guideline to set you up for success. First though, what is success?
When it comes to losing weight, success is:
Actual fat loss, not lean mass loss (e.g. muscle, bone)
Sustainable fat loss, not short lived results
Weight loss promoting health, not at its expense
Getting enough protein is a major part of all of that. We’ve written about this in other articles, so I won’t go into the details as to why, but I encourage you to do your homework.
Read this article to understand how protein prioritizes fat loss (rather than the loss of lean mass).
And read this article to see the other considerations necessary for weight loss, because perfecting your protein intake alone won’t do it.
Then come back here for a more specific protein recommendation for losing weight.
If you’ve ever figured out the price of a discounted item on a shopping trip, you can do this math. Simply take your weight, and “discount it” by whatever percentage of body fat you carry (I’ll explain how to estimate body fat in a sec).
For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, and you think you’re at 25% body fat, take your weight and multiply it by .75 (because if your body is 25% fat, there is 75% left over that’s lean mass).
The answer (150), is approximately how many grams of protein you should aim for on a daily basis. Written out:
200 X .75 = 150 or…
your weight X your lean mass = daily grams of protein
As for determining your body fat percentage/lean mass, there’s a simple solution. Do a google image search for “estimating body fat percentage” and pick any one of the images you see, then take a guess at where you’re at.
(Find one that’s gender specific to you.)
Is that accurate? Not especially. But it’ll get you close enough.
Even the best body fat measurements aren’t much more accurate, and at-home devices (like your scale) are extremely unreliable. This approach will get the job done just fine.
If, after looking at the images, you still can’t decide, go with the more conservative estimate (e.g. if you’re 25-30% body fat, go with 25.)
Now that you know the math, let’s be real… tracking literal grams of protein every day is awful. You shouldn’t do it.
Don’t worry though, this entire blog post hasn’t been for nothing. You can still use the simple math, but there’s an easier way to hit your target.
For our clients, rather than tracking grams and calories, we take a more relaxed approach — but just as accurate — and track palm sized servings of protein (as you can see in the pic below, and in the blog “Stop Counting Calories”).
Depending on the size of your hand and the specific food you eat, a palm sized portion averages out to 20-30 grams of protein. So if you need 150g, you’ll want to aim for around 5-7 palm sized servings every day.
You can split that up into however many meals or snacks you want, and it’s way more convenient than weighing your food and tracking grams precisely (especially since your results will be the same).
Make It Your Own
Most people struggle with getting this much protein, which I understand. It took me a while to figure out how to do it without destroying my insides (and my bathroom) with protein shakes.
Now I tend to eat slightly more protein than I even need without even trying (and without protein shakes), all because I’ve created habits that have made it easier.
But I don’t expect you to master this right out of the gate.
What I recommend is that you track what you eat for a week or two without attempting to make any changes and see how close you are to your goal.
If you already eat enough protein, good job! However, odds are good that you won’t even be close.
At that point, you’ll have to decide if losing weight successfully (as defined earlier) is important to you. If it is, you can work on it slowly.
Add in one extra serving of protein to your routine, week by week, or even month by month, until you hit your mark. You may need to adjust your eating strategies a bit (e.g. eating more regularly, having less carbs and fats), but eventually it WILL be easier.
If this is something you’d like help with, click here to check out how our private, online coaching works.