How much protein should you eat to lose weight?

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

last updated: Feb 06, 2024

6 min read

Key takeaways

  • Protein helps with weight loss by promoting feelings of fullness, building and maintaining lean muscle mass, and boosting your metabolism.

  • The right amount of protein differs based on your age, sex, height, weight, level of physical activity, and any underlying health conditions you may have.

  • If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a good idea to increase your protein intake to 15%–35% of your daily calories, or around 0.81–1.23 grams of protein per pound per day.

We get 100% of our energy from three main macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. Of these, protein is famous for being the one that can help you lose weight, leading to the popularity of higher-protein diets like keto, and others.

Can eating more protein really help you lose weight? It sure can. Read on as we review the effect of protein on weight loss and how to figure out how much protein you should eat while losing weight.

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How much protein should I eat to lose weight?

Eating 0.36 grams of protein daily per pound of body weight is fine for the average adult. But for those looking to lose weight, eating between 0.81–1.23 grams of protein daily per pound of body weight is better — especially if you’re also exercising, which you’re likely doing if you’re trying to lose weight. That means that if you weigh 200 lbs, aiming for around 200 grams of protein per day makes sense. 

Following a well-balanced diet that includes enough protein is good advice in general, but eating protein is even more important while losing weight. That’s because a high protein intake helps prevent muscle loss as you shed the pounds. To encourage fat loss instead, experts suggest increasing your protein intake. 

Combining dietary changes with resistance or weight training offers an added bonus: in addition to maintaining (or even building) your muscle mass, you’ll be improving your metabolism too, increasing the amount of energy your body uses even at rest.

In fact, one weight loss study compared the effects of eating the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein vs. two and three times that amount. All the participants lost weight, but those who upped their protein intake lost more of their body weight from fat vs. muscle.

How to calculate how much protein you need 

Generally, dietary guidelines recommend that adults get about 10%–15% of their calories from protein, which averages to about 60 grams per day. When trying to lose weight, however, you can increase that percentage to as high as 35% of your daily caloric intake to encourage weight loss and muscle gain.  

Individual protein needs vary from person to person, and depend on your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level. For example, people who are more active need more calories overall from protein, carbs, and fat — but especially from protein if they are looking to build muscle. Pregnant people and older adults can also benefit from a higher protein intake. On the flip side, more protein is not always the answer for everyone. People who have kidney issues, for example, need to be careful about their protein intake. 

So, how do you know how much protein you need? Use the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) Calculator provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of course! Simply enter your age, sex, height, weight, activity level, and whether you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. Then, the calculator will tell you how many grams of protein you should eat daily, along with recommended daily amounts of other essential nutrients, including carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

How does protein help with weight loss? 

If you’re trying to lose weight, your goal is to burn more calories than you consume. This can be done through a combination of both diet and exercise, although the research suggests that diet has a larger impact. 

One first step recommended by experts is to reduce your caloric intake by 500–750 calories daily. When cutting calories, you’ll want to focus on carbs and fat, while maintaining or, ideally, increasing your protein intake. Fat contains more than double the amount of calories per gram than protein does. 

Here are three ways protein helps with weight loss.

1. Protein promotes feelings of fullness

If you’ve ever noticed you seem to get fuller quicker after eating protein, you’re on to something. Foods high in protein (as well as water and fiber) increase feelings of satiety, leading you to stop eating sooner and eat less overall. Foods high in fat and sugar tend to do the reverse, making you feel unsatisfied and still hungry.

In one small study, women were given an afternoon snack of either high-protein yogurt,  zero-protein crackers, or low-protein chocolate. The women who ate the high-protein yogurt reported less hunger in the afternoon and also delayed eating dinner by 20–30 minutes when compared with the cracker- and chocolate-eaters. Moreover, when they did eat dinner, those who ate the high-protein snack consumed roughly 100 fewer calories than those who snacked on chocolate or crackers.

The power of protein holds true even with protein supplements. In another study, participants were given either water or a drink with whey protein powder two hours before lunch. Those who had the protein beverage reported less hunger for a longer period of time than those who drank the water.

2. Protein helps you build muscle

Your skin and muscles are all made of protein, making it the building block of your body. When losing weight, the goal is to lose fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. Lean muscle mass plays an important role in metabolism and athletic performance. And, research suggests that having less muscle mass can slow down your metabolism and stymie your weight loss efforts. 

While exercise only leads to a modest amount of weight loss on its own, it works synergistically with a lower-calorie diet, leading to better results faster. Importantly, a high-protein diet helps your body retain lean muscle mass even when you are eating fewer calories, so you’re more likely to shed weight from fat instead. 

You have to look like a bodybuilder to enjoy the effects of more muscle. Simply increasing your muscle mass can speed up your metabolism. Get more from your high-protein diet by incorporating some strength training into your weight-loss journey!

3. Protein revs up your metabolism

Your body experiences a small boost in metabolism after you eat when your body works to absorb and digest the nutrients from your food. In one study, researchers found that this boost was about two times higher among people who ate a high-protein diet vs. those who ate a high-carbohydrate diet. 

The thermic effect of food describes the amount of energy your body uses to digest it after you eat. Different foods have different thermic effects. Protein has the highest thermic effect of all, well above fat and carbohydrates. In other words, your body has to work harder to digest protein.

How much protein do you need while taking weight loss medication? 

If you are taking weight loss medication like Wegovy or Zepbound, you may be wondering how much you should increase your daily protein intake. These medications are designed to work their best when combined with exercise and a lower-calorie diet. If your diet contains a lot of fatty foods, swapping these out for lower-fat, high-protein foods is a smart first step. 

Wegovy Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Zepbound Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Weight loss medications like Wegovy and Zepbound are also known as GLP-1 medications because they mimic a gut hormone called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) that gets released after you eat. Among other things, GLP-1 — and GLP-1 medications — reduce appetite. Studies have shown that high-protein meals naturally increase levels of GLP-1, so opting for a diet higher in protein may help boost the effects of your weight loss medication! Plus, eating more protein not only helps with weight loss but it can help prevent weight regain and support long-term weight maintenance.

To really supercharge your efforts, consider consulting a health professional, such as a registered dietitian. The optimal amount of protein for weight loss can depend on several factors, including your current and goal body weight, level of physical activity, and underlying health conditions.

Even the type of protein you eat can make a difference. The body absorbs more of the protein from animal sources of protein like eggs, milk, and meat than from plant-based proteins like legumes and vegetables. Different protein powders also have varying effects on feelings of fullness. If you’re trying to eat less, you might enjoy more success with a protein shake containing casein or pea protein vs. whey, according to one study.

Timing can also make a difference. For example, having a protein shake at the beginning of a meal is less likely to make an impact on how much you eat than drinking it 30 minutes earlier. 

You can find dietary protein in a variety of both animal and plant-based foods, including:

  • Eggs

  • Dairy (e.g. milk, Greek yogurt)

  • Seafood

  • Meats

  • Whole grains (e.g. quinoa)

  • Soy foods

  • Legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils)

  • Nuts and seeds 

  • Protein bars

Remember: It is possible to overdo it with protein. Studies of athletes have shown that eating too much protein was less effective in controlling cravings than a diet with the lower, recommended intake of protein. And eating more protein-rich foods for weight loss isn’t a great idea for everybody, including those with kidney disease. If you have any questions, talk to your healthcare provider.

How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

February 06, 2024

Written by

Amelia Willson

Fact checked by

Yael Cooperman, MD

About the medical reviewer

Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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