Protein is necessary for many things. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, recover from a tough workout, feel more satiated at mealtime or simply maintain good health, it’s important to get adequate amounts of healthy protein.

Protein is a crucial component of every cell in our bodies. It’s used to build and repair tissues (like skeletal muscle, bone, hair, fingernails, cartilage, skin and blood), as well as make enzymes and hormones that help regulate metabolism, growth and many other things. Likecarbohydrates and fat, protein also provides energy, but because it has so many other important functions and can’t be stored, the body relies first on carbohydrates and fat for energy.

Protein gets digested into amino acids that are absorbed by the small intestine and distributed throughout the body. Cells take what they need and rearrange amino acids to make new proteins or repair older ones. Because the body doesn’t store protein, any excess amino acids are either converted into glucose and subsequently glycogen to use as energy if the body is short on carbohydrates, or converted into fatty acids and stored as fat. Getting enough protein is important so the body can perform these functions on a daily basis. But just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted into fat and stored as fat.

Protein is found in a variety of foods: most notably meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and even grains. From a dietary perspective, meats, poultry, fish, eggs and soybeans are complete proteins — that is, they provide all of the amino acids required by our body. Other protein sources like legumes, some nuts and seeds, grains and leafy greens, don’t provide adequate amounts of the essential amino acids by themselves but can when eaten in combination with other foods and as part of a balanced diet.

TARGET PROTEIN NEEDS

Our body changes every day as cells grow, divide and die — these processes depend on protein to supply vital building blocks to our cells. Because of this, you need to eat enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass and support other important body functions.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) predicts how much protein you should eat on a daily basis to guard against lean muscle loss. The RDA for protein is 0.8 gram/kilogram of body weight, but this is a minimum for the average sedentary adult, aka the “weekend warrior.” MyFitnessPal calculates protein intake to be 20% of your daily calories, which is likely more than enough to maintain muscle mass.

Here’s how to calculate the minimum amount of protein you should be eating:

If you exercise regularly — particularly if you log 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous exercise several days per week.

GOOD SOURCES OF PROTEIN

Most people can easily use real food, rather than protein powders and other supplements, to meet their protein needs. A sedentary woman weighing 127 pounds only needs a daily dose of about 46 grams of protein, which she can meet by eating 3 ounces of chicken breast, one large egg, a handful of almonds and a stick of string cheese.

Here’s a quick list of protein-rich foods, or check out our :

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