A macronutrient essential to the muscle-building process, protein molecules are made up of amino acids, several of which are considered “essential”. This means that they cannot be synthesized naturally and have to be sourced from your diet.
Because protein not only helps us build muscle, but is also stored in tissue and bone and used to fight off disease, repair injuries, and regulate hormones, it’s crucial to maintain an optimal protein intake. So what does “optimal” look like? The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults should get 10 to 35 percent of their calories from protein or .36 grams per pound of body weight. However, certain environmental and genetic factors influence the total amount of calories you should be eating in the first place.
According to official dietary guidelines released by Health.gov, the following reflects how many calories you should be consuming:
The recommended daily calorie intake ranges from 1,600-2,400 calories for women, and 2,000-3,000 for men. Keep in mind, though- this is at a very basic level, assuming a sedentary lifestyle- see the sections below for additional factors that can cause this benchmark to fluctuate.
As our bodies age, recommended calorie needs change to reflect a slowing metabolism. Men change from an average calorie need of 2,400 from ages 18-30 down to 2,000 by around age 60 and beyond (reflecting a sedentary lifestyle as indicated above). Women in the same two age brackets, comparatively, go from a need of about 1,800 to 1,600.
A moderately active man between the ages of 21-30 should be consuming on average 2,700 calories, and a moderately active woman in the same age range should be consuming about 2,100. Those of us who know about the calorie-burning efforts of exercises like high intensity interval training (or HIIT) know that means we have to boost our calorie intake, and thereby protein intake, accordingly.
In short, proper protein intake is essential to maintaining functionality, especially as our age and activity needs change. Sometimes, all the numbers and percentages can get confusing to those of us who aren’t naturally nutrition-inclined. If you’re struggling with calculating the proper calorie to protein ratio, you can always use an online calculator, and make sure to consult a physician or registered dietitian.