When it comes to protein intake, the recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound. This equates to around 56 grams of protein per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. However, many experts recommend getting more than the RDA, with common recommendations ranging from 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5-0.9 grams per pound).
Here are some quick answers to common questions about how many ounces of protein to have per meal:
- The average person needs around 20-30 grams of protein per meal.
- This typically equates to around 4-8 ounces of lean protein foods like chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or protein powder.
- Active individuals or those trying to build/maintain muscle may need up to 40 grams of protein per meal.
- Spreading protein intake evenly throughout the day helps maximize muscle protein synthesis.
- Consuming protein with each meal and snack can aid satiety and weight management.
Recommended Protein Intake Per Meal
Most experts recommend consuming 20-40 grams of protein per meal. Here is a breakdown by common populations:
For sedentary adults who exercise less than 3 times per week, aiming for around 20-30 grams of protein per meal is sufficient to meet needs.
Moderately Active Adults
Active adults who exercise 3-5 times per week should aim for 25-35 grams of protein per meal.
Athletes & Bodybuilders
Athletes, bodybuilders, and highly active individuals need about 30-40 grams of protein per meal to promote muscle growth and recovery.
Older adults should aim for 25-30 grams of protein per meal to help maintain muscle mass as they age.
How Many Ounces of Protein is 20-40 grams?
Here’s how many ounces of common protein foods provide 20-40 grams of protein:
|Food||Protein (grams)||Serving Size (ounces)|
|Chicken breast||20||4 oz|
|Ground beef (96% lean)||20||4 oz|
|Cottage cheese||20||1 cup|
|Greek yogurt||20||1 cup|
|Protein powder||20-25||1 scoop|
|Chicken breast||40||8 oz|
|Ground beef (96% lean)||40||8 oz|
|Cottage cheese||40||2 cups|
|Greek yogurt||40||2 cups|
|Protein powder||40-50||2 scoops|
As you can see, consuming 20-40 grams of protein per meal typically equates to 4-8 ounces of lean proteins like meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy. For vegetarian options like beans, tofu and nuts, the serving sizes may need to be a bit larger to provide 20-40 grams of protein.
Protein Distribution Throughout the Day
In addition to eating sufficient protein per meal, it’s important to spread out your protein intake evenly throughout the day.
Here are some general protein distribution guidelines:
- Aim for 20-40g of protein per meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
- Include a protein source with each snack, such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, or protein bar
- Consume protein both before and after exercise to support muscle recovery and growth
- Don’t go more than 4-5 hours without eating protein
Following these guidelines can help ensure your muscles have the amino acids available to continue protein synthesis throughout the day. It also promotes satiety, helping manage hunger and weight control.
The Importance of Protein at Breakfast
Many people skimp on protein at breakfast, opting for mostly carbs like cereal, toast, muffins or juice. However, getting adequate protein, around 20-40g, at breakfast is key to jumpstarting muscle growth and recovery after an overnight fast.
Protein-rich breakfast options may include:
- Eggs or Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts
- Cottage cheese and berries
- Oatmeal or granola with Greek yogurt or milk
- Nut butter on whole grain toast
- Protein smoothie or shake
People who eat higher protein breakfasts have been shown to have better appetite control throughout the day compared to those who eat high carb breakfasts.
Best Protein Sources Per Meal
To maximize muscle growth, fat loss, and overall health, it’s ideal to choose lean, whole food protein sources at each meal such as:
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Nut butter
- Protein powder
Lunch & Dinner
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Lean beef
- Fish like salmon, tuna, cod
- Tofu or tempeh
These lean proteins provide quality amino acids to enhance muscle repair and are lower in saturated fats than fattier cuts of meat.
Supplements vs. Whole Foods
While protein supplements like powders and bars can be useful for convenience or when whole food options aren’t available, research shows that consuming proteins from whole food sources has greater benefits for muscle protein synthesis.
Whole food proteins like meat, dairy, eggs, fish and legumes provide additional nutrients like iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber that are lacking in supplements.
For this reason, it’s best to get the majority of your protein from whole foods at each meal and use supplements only when needed for convenience.
Special Considerations for Vegetarians/Vegans
Vegetarians and vegans can obtain sufficient protein at meals through a variety of plant-based foods:
- Tofu, tempeh
- Legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds like hemp, chia, quinoa
- Whole grains like oats, brown rice, farro
- Non-dairy milk and yogurt
The key is to consume a variety of these foods and pay attention to proper portion sizes to meet protein needs at each mealtime.
Meal Planning Tips
Here are some tips for planning and preparing protein-rich meals:
- Choose a protein source first when meal planning.
- Prepare extra chicken, fish, hard boiled eggs to have on hand.
- Keep frozen edamame, canned beans on hand for quick additions.
- Try new proteins like tofu, tempeh, edamame instead of just chicken.
- Add nuts, seeds, nut butter to meals for extra protein boost.
- Include Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, protein powder in smoothies.
Putting it All Together
To optimize muscle growth, recovery, and health, active adults should aim for:
- 20-40g protein per meal, spaced evenly 4-5 hours apart
- Consume a protein source with each snack
- Eat protein before and after exercise
- Choose lean, whole food proteins like eggs, dairy, poultry, fish, beans, nuts
- Use variety and proper meal planning to meet needs
Consuming adequate high-quality protein per meal, along with proper exercise, provides the building blocks necessary to maintain lean muscle mass and support health goals.
Most experts recommend active adults consume 20-40 grams of protein per meal to optimize muscle growth, recovery and metabolic health. This typically equates to 4-8 ounces of lean protein foods like meats, dairy, eggs, fish, beans and nuts per meal.
It’s also important to spread out protein intake evenly throughout the day by including it with every meal and snack. Consuming whole food proteins like meat, dairy and plants provides greater benefits than supplements alone.
With proper meal planning and preparation, it’s achievable for most people to meet their protein needs through delicious whole food choices at every mealtime.