How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

I have a great article for you today by my colleague, Brad Pilon. Brad is a super smart dude who knows more about nutrition than most people have forgotten. He’s also one of the few guys I rely on for dietary advice. Check it out…

How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?
By Brad Pilon

You’d think by now we’d have a clear-cut answer to this question, but to tell you the truth, ‘how much protein’ is a question we’ve been trying to answer for over 200 years.

In fact, protein has played a central role in nutrition since the mid 1800’s. Luckily, we’ve refined our approach to studying protein over the years.

As an example, in 1865 scientists generally believed that the energy needed for muscular contraction came from the breakdown of proteins…in other words they thought that the major fuel of muscles was dietary protein (we did not know that muscles used sugars and fats for energy).

Even though this was proven wrong by a scientist named Fick in 1866, it was still the prevailing belief for another half century.

Back in the 1890’s The United states governments leading nutritionist was Dr. Wilbur Atwater. Atwater followed the general idea that when people had sufficient means to make a free choice of diet, their intakes would match their needs…for protein as well as for calories (back in the 1890’s ‘nutrition’ was simply protein and calories).

It was assumed that people who had money and access to food were automatically eating “Just the right amounts’. It was then assumed that all you had to do was measure how much the affluent people were eating and we would know how much EVERYONE should be eating. – This was kind of like an early version of ‘set point theory.’

At the time it worked well, mostly because it was a simple way of studying optimal nutrition – eat like a rich person.
So Atwater studied the diets of undergraduate boat crews (I.E. young, athletic rich guys) and showed that during intensive training they had high intakes of protein, – about 155 grams per day.

Atwater turned these findings into the ‘Atwater standards’, a set of protein recommendations based on degree of daily muscular work.

Degree of Muscular work:                           Daily Protein Intake:
Light                                                                                          112
Moderate                                                                                125
Heavy                                                                                       150

As you might have noticed, these numbers weren’t based on any measure of nitrogen balance, protein synthesis or muscle growth, but rather were based on the measurement of what healthy active men happened to be eating at the time.  Despite this rather limited scientific approach, these numbers helped shape the USDA recommendations for protein intake.

Based on these numbers nutritionists were primarily concerned with providing people with enough protein and calories, and how to do so in a way that was cheap and inexpensive.

The interesting fall out from this was that fruits and vegetables, being low in protein, low in calories and n

ot overly cheap, became viewed as ‘secondary’ in the diet. (At this time we only had a basic understanding of the importance of vitamins and minerals, let alone phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber and the many other beneficial components of fruits and veggies that we are still discovering to this day).

This created some extreme opposition from ‘fringe’ groups of people that argued that a diet rich in calories

and protein would lead to obesity and that meat and animal fat intake should be greatly reduced, and that consumption of fruit and vegetables should be encouraged.

These recommendations were typically viewed as lunacy at the time.

1901 – now that’s OLD SCHOOL nutrition

But then along came a researcher from Yale named Russell Henry Chittenden, who after a year long experiment at Yale demonstrated that men could maintain their health, muscularity and ‘sporting prowess’ with one half of Wilbur Atwater’s standard intake of protein.

This was the breaking point in protein’s early glory and it created enough controversy and buzz that the protein popularity pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.

By the 1920’s the new lower standard of protein intake (roughly 60-66 grams per day) had been accepted and was even thought to contain a considerable safety margin.

From the 1920’s to the 1950’s protein was not a high priority among nutrition professionals. But in 1950 things changed again…dramatically.

From 1950 to 1975 protein was now back in the spot light. The rallying cry of nutritionists around the world was:

“Deficiency of protein in the diet is the most serious and widespread problem in the world!”

Since then we’ve settled down a bit, but still argue over what is an optimal daily protein intake.

Most of the world’s governing bodies agree with a protein intake that averages around 60-66 grams per day. However many researchers still argue the original much higher amounts suggested by Atwater to be correct.

So what gives?

For starters, Atwaters original numbers were based on the theory that the muscles could only use protein as a fuel. So while the theory was wrong, it doesn’t necessarily mean the number is wrong. (Kind of like getting the right answer using the wrong equation in a math test).

Secondly, Chittenden’s work was based on finding the minimal amount of protein needed to MAINTAIN muscle mass.

My findings have basically married these two century old recommendations. It seems that 60ish grams of protein per day is enough to maintain muscularity in most people, while higher amounts up to 120 gram per day may increase the speed of muscle gain during periods of muscle hypertrophy.

At this point it seems that all protein recommendations may be correct in the right circumstances with the right people.

For more information on exactly how much protein you should eat to build muscle, please check out my NEW and Expanded book,  How Much Protein.


Hey guys, Jay back here. I had the chance to read Brad’s newly updated and expanded version of How Much Protein last week and thought it was awesome. It’s packed full of great info and he breaks it all down really well so that anyone can easily understand the science. Definitely a very interesting eye opener (some of you will even find it mind blowing) and WELL worth the read.

It will also save you some money on your butcher and protein powder bills each month.

Check it out HERE.

Also, let me know what you think of this article and what your opinion of high protein intake is and what experiences you have had.



Share your thoughts in the comments section below.