Here’s How Much Protein People Actually Need (And How To Get It)

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In many ways, protein feels like one of the original healthy lifestyle trends. Our culture’s current obsession with wellness means obscure new superfoods and products pop up every day. But even before the wellness craze really kicked in, incorporating protein into one’s food for the day has long been a relatively well-known nutrition maxim. From protein shakes to eating plans full of legumes, nuts, and eggs, ensuring that you’re getting enough protein is achievable from both plant and animal-based sources. Eating the right amount of protein is necessary in order to maintain muscle, bone and strength, which becomes especially important as people age. According to new research, though, more than one in three Americans over age 51 aren't taking in the recommended amount of protein.

The new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, examined dietary data from 11,680 adults who participated the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2014. The researchers looked at diet patterns, protein intake, and outcomes in the participants, and they found that people's protein intake was linked to overall well-being.

''As the building blocks of our muscles, protein plays a role in every aspect of our lives — from providing energy to run 5 km, to giving us strength to get out of a hospital bed. There are simple steps adults can take — like including protein at each meal — that will have a long-lasting impact on overall health,” said Abby Sauer, M.P.H., R.D. at Abbott, the healthcare company that sponsored the study, in a statement.

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While this study looked at older adults, younger people — especially those on vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based eating plans — also need to be mindful of their protein consumption. Certain studies have claimed that Americans eat far too much protein, but researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that even if someone gets 16 percent of their nutrients from protein — above the 10 percent recommended — that still isn't enough, the Harvard Health Blog reported. Harvard Health wrote that a general rule of thumb is planning to eat around .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and a little more if you work out a lot.

The USDA's Dietary Health Guidelines for 2015 to 2020 show that women between the ages of 19 to 30 are recommended to eat around 6 ounces of protein per day, but on average are eating less than that. (For what it's worth, SELF points out, that table doesn't take into account protein that comes from sources like grains or legumes.) And though SELF wrote in 2016 that there's no one size fits all approach to protein, it's important to get enough to support muscle growth, cell recovery, and more essential body processes.

Luckily, there are tons of delicious ways to up your protein intake. Hummus, Greek yogurt, string cheese, or a handful of nuts are all snacks that are chock full of protein. Some research also suggests that spacing out your protein throughout the course of the day may be beneficial, rather than loading up a day’s worth of protein in one meal. Regardless of age, protein is a key component of every person’s food plan — and by eating enough food from varied sources, you'll probably get enough just fine.