Official protein recommendations are too low for most Americans

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.36 g/lb. For a 70 kg (154 pound) person, that equals just 56 grams of protein per day.

A new analysis of these protein recommendations indicates this level of protein intake is too low for many people. First, here’s a little background on the protein RDA. It is based on the minimum level of protein required to maintain nitrogen balance in a group of people. Because there is variation from person to person, the RDA is extrapolated so it covers 97.5% of the population. A key limitation of the RDA is that it reflects the minimum as opposed to the optimum level of protein for a person.

Using modern techniques that examine essential amino acid oxidation relative to intake, it has been determined that minimum protein requirements may have been underestimated by as much as 50% and optimal intakes maybe 2-3 times the RDA in the range of 1.5 to 2.2 g/kg of body weight or 105 to 154 grams of protein for a 154-pound person. For the hypothetical 70 kg (154 pound) person consuming adequate energy to maintain weight (2940 kcal/day), this translates into 14 to 21% of total calories. 

Besides just looking at total protein levels, it’s best to focus on high-quality sources of protein that provide all the essential amino acids which include those from animal sources. If you have trouble getting enough protein from food sources, protein supplements are a good choice. Whey protein is ideal, but milk protein (casein) and egg white protein powder are excellent sources of quality, complete protein too. Plant proteins such as soy, pea or rice proteins have lower levels of certain amino acids and may require higher intake levels to compensate for their lower protein efficiency rating scores compared to animal-sourced proteins. 

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