Protein for Weight Loss: How Much Protein Should You Eat?

Craig Primack MD

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 01/04/2024

What does protein make you think of? Muscles? Bodybuilders? The food pyramid?

We’d like to add another thing to your list: weight loss.

That’s right. Protein is good for more than just “gains”. It can help you lose weight — you just need to eat enough of it.

So, now you’re probably wondering: How much protein should I eat to lose weight?

Read on to find out how this macronutrient can help you lose weight and how much of it you should be eating.

Protein for weight loss sounds too good to be true, right? Greek yogurt for breakfast, eggs at lunch, chicken with dinner, a protein bar for dessert — boom, weight loss! 

It doesn’t work quite like that, but the science is there. 

Higher protein intake has been linked to:

  • Reduced body weight

  • Reduced fat mass

  • Retaining fat-free mass (like muscle)

  • Reduced belly fat

Protein doesn’t just help you lose weight, either. It may also help you keep the pounds off once you’ve lost them.

How does protein work its magic? Here’s a quick biology lesson. 

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Protein Helps You Feel Fuller 

A high-protein diet increases your levels of the hormones glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin(CCK) and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (PYY). These hormones reduce your appetite.

At the same time, a high-protein diet decreases levels of the hormone ghrelin, which is known for increasing appetite.

This combo means you’ll feel fuller. Loading up on protein can stop you from overeating, leading to eating less food and losing weight.

That’s not all, though. 

Protein May Reduce Cravings 

Cravings are the enemy of anyone trying to lose weight, and protein may be your secret weapon to stop them.

One small study looked at teenage girls with overweight BMIs (body mass indexes) and obesity who usually skipped breakfast. For six days, they ate either a high-protein breakfast, a normal-protein breakfast or no breakfast at all. **stomach rumbles.** 

At the end of the experiment, the results showed that eating breakfast — any breakfast — reduced post-meal food cravings for sweet and savory foods. But the high-protein breakfast led to a larger reduction in savory food cravings compared to the normal-protein breakfast.

Your Body Burns More Calories Digesting Protein 

A high-protein diet also helps you burn more calories. That’s because protein has a higher diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) than carbohydrates and fats. In simple terms, this means your body burns more energy digesting protein than carbs and fats. 

It’s not a small amount, either. DIT is 20 to 30 percent for protein, five to 10 percent for carbs and zero to three percent for fats. So, if we take those upper limits, your body could burn three times as many calories metabolizing and storing protein than it does when you eat carbs — and 10 times more than fats. 

Protein Helps You Keep Fat-Free Mass, Which Burns More Calories

Fat-free mass, which includes muscle, burns more calories at rest than fat mass. And protein helps you retain fat-free mass, even as you lose weight. 

Increased protein intake can help you retain muscle when you’re eating in a calorie deficit. It comes with other health benefits, too, like limiting age-related muscle loss. When coupled with resistance training, eating lots of protein can boost strength and muscle mass gains.

So beyond keeping the muscle you already have, high protein intake can help you build more muscle. And more muscle is good news when it comes to losing weight.

High-Protein Diets Are Thought to Be Safe 

There are a few fears around whether high-protein diets can mess with your kidneys. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

According to a 2020 review, a high-protein diet hasn’t been linked to health problems relating to bone density and kidney function in healthy adults. It’s thought to be an effective and safe way to lose weight, prevent obesity and avoid all the nasty problems obesity can cause.

Buuut, while promising, the review noted that more research needs to be done. Ideally, we’d have studies spanning more than 12 months to back up these findings.

A 2016 study found that diets higher in animal and plant protein were linked to cardiometabolic benefits, especially improved belly fat. Both body mass index and waist circumference were inversely linked to animal and plant protein intake — i.e., the higher the protein, the lower the BMI and waist measurements.

More good news? There didn’t seem to be any impairment in kidney function. 

One thing to be aware of is this study relied on self-reported data to determine protein intake. So, while promising, we’ve got to take the results with a pinch of salt. 

After all, we all know how hard it can be to remember what you had for lunch yesterday.

You May Need to Cut Your Calories and Eat More Protein 

Unfortunately, you can’t just add an extra egg to your breakfast and expect dramatic weight loss. To lose weight, you may need to up your protein intake while reducing your overall calorie intake.

A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis looked at 18 studies on protein and weight loss. It showed that eating more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein was more beneficial for lean mass compared to eating the RDA of protein. 

Eating more than the RDA of protein was found to: 

  • Decrease how much lean mass is lost after energy restriction (a cut in calories)

  • Increase lean mass after resistance training 

But eating more than the RDA of protein didn’t affect lean mass when participants weren’t cutting calories or doing strength training. So to get some of protein’s weight-loss effects, you may have to be in a caloric deficit (aka burning more calories than you eat).

We don’t want to cause any beef, but not all research agrees with these findings.

The other 2020 review mentioned earlier stated that clinical trials have found that consuming more protein than the recommended amount can help reduce body weight and decrease fat mass while preserving fat-free mass — both when people eat a low-calorie diet and when they eat a standard-calorie diet. 

The part we can all agree on: Protein looks good for weight loss. 

Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) state that adult women should eat 46 grams of protein daily, and adult men should eat 56 grams of protein per day.

But don’t be fooled. The current RDA of dietary protein is the minimum amount of protein you should eat to not lose lean body mass. To lose weight, your protein needs will be higher.

So how much protein should you be eating for weight loss, exactly? The answer isn’t straightforward.

In general, a high-protein diet is defined as getting 30 percent of your daily calories from protein. So if you eat 2,000 calories a day, 600 of those calories should be from protein sources.

High-protein diets are also defined as eating 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight per day. But some experts suggest aiming for even more than this. 

Some research has shown that 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day and at least 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal can improve your appetite, body weight management and cardiometabolic risk factors.

Another paper said that a whopping 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day is advocated for those in energy restriction. Researchers noted that this may help you retain lean body mass during weight loss.

And a 2022 paper highlighted that we should be thinking about protein at every meal, not just across the day as a whole. Our bodies may not be able to use protein as well if we eat loads of it at dinner but get hardly any with our breakfast cereal. Still, there are no guidelines on how much exactly.

The exact amount of protein you need to eat to lose weight will depend on factors such as your: 

  • Age

  • Sex 

  • Goal weight 

Consider speaking with a registered dietitian or a healthcare provider to get a personalized recommendation for how much protein you need to lose weight.

To increase your protein for weight loss, you need to…eat more protein

Sounds simple, but many of us struggle to eat enough protein-rich foods. 

To increase your daily protein intake, start by thinking about protein at every meal. Include at least one protein source every time you eat, instead of leaving it until the end of the day and trying to cram all your daily protein needs into dinner. 

You can also keep a food diary or use a nutrition tracker to work out how much protein you’re eating each day. Even if you don’t keep it up, tracking your protein intake for a few days can give you an idea of what you should aim for and what high-protein meals look like.

Here are a few protein sources to add to your grocery list. 

Animal-Based Protein Sources

Animal-based protein sources include: 

  • Meat. Meat can be anything from chicken and turkey to beef and pork. 

  • Fish. Salmon, tuna, haddock and shellfish are all great options.

  • Dairy. Think milk, cheese and yogurt. 

  • Eggs. Self-explanatory.

There may be some health risks linked to getting all your protein from animal sources, as these foods are often high in saturated fat and cholesterol. 

Meat contains all the essential amino acids needed for various bodily functions. If you’re getting protein from meat, go for lean meat — like chicken breast or ground turkey — over processed meat — like hot dogs and ham. 

Plant-Based Protein Sources 

Shout-out to the vegans — you can get protein from plants. Even for meat eaters, plants can be a great way to eat healthier sources of protein.

Plant-based sources of protein include: 

  • Nuts. Almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and cashews are all rich in protein.

  • Seeds. We’re talking sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa and flax seeds.

  • Legumes. Go for lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas.

  • Soy products. Tofu and tempeh are great sources of soy-based protein.

Protein Supplements

If you can’t get enough protein from your diet, protein supplements can help you hit your target.

There are many different types of supplements. 

Protein supplements include:

  • Whey protein

  • Casein

  • Pea protein  

You can get supplements in the form of protein powders, shakes, gummies and bars.

Want the science? A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis found that whey protein supplementation can increase lean mass, especially when combined with cutting calories.

And one small study found that when participants had 20 grams of casein or pea protein before a meal, they ate less compared to those who just had water before the meal. Consuming casein or pea protein before a meal helped increase satiety — aka the feeling of fullness — compared to whey protein.

Swapping soft drinks for salads, hitting the gym and getting eight hours of sleep — it can all help you lose fat. And from what we know so far, upping your protein can help you shed the pounds, too.

Here’s how:

  • Protein is good for weight loss and fat loss. Protein can help you feel fuller, eat less and burn more calories. For your body composition, it can help you lose body fat while holding onto lean muscle and even building muscle.  

  • There’s no ideal amount of protein to lose weight. We can’t give you an exact amount of protein you should be eating per pound of body weight. But you should probably be eating more protein than the generic daily recommendation. 

  • You can get protein from animals, plant sources and supplements. Add high-protein foods like chicken, eggs, milk, soy, nuts and seeds to your grocery list. And consider supplements (like protein shakes, powders and bars) if needed.

Move over low-carb and low-fat diets, the high-protein diet has entered the chat.

Worried about weight loss? There are plenty of weight loss treatment options for every type of person and every type of body. All you have to do is look.  

13 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.