The Benefits of Protein

LAST UPDATED: March 24, 2023

​​Performance benefits of protein

  • Builds and repairs muscles and connective tissue
  • Builds red blood cells
  • Builds hormones and enzymes
  • Is a back-up source of energy

Protein is essential for performance. When you are physically active, you work your muscles and connective tissues hard. You need protein to build and repair injuries to those tissues. In addition, when you run out of carbohydrate stores, your body burns protein for energy. Those who are physically active need more protein than those who are more sedentary.

As mentioned before, protein is a backup energy source, but do not rely on protein for energy. When you burn protein, it is because you are low on carbohydrates. Too few carbohydrates and calories cause you to burn valuable lean tissue, which weakens your muscles and can decrease overall strength.

How much protein do I need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound body weight. Highly active individuals may need 1.5–2 times the RDA to repair tissues and build the muscle strength and size required for top performance. This does not necessarily mean that when you are in training you need to eat twice the amount of protein that you do when you are not in training. Most people eat this amount and more without even trying.

Activity levels and protein needs
Activity Level Protein Range (grams/lb)
Sedentary adult 0.4
Physical activity 3-5 x per week 0.5–0.7
Physical activity + strength athlete 0.7–0.8
Physical activity + endurance athlete 0.8

Protein calculator

Enter the following information into the calculator to compute your daily protein needs.

Step 1: Choose your Daily Activity Level from the drop-down list.

Step 2: Enter your Weight in pounds.

Step 3: Your Protein Range and Daily Protein Needs will be displayed on the corresponding lines.


My Protein Needs Calculator

Daily Activity Level:
My Weight (in lbs):
Protein Range (based on activity): _________ to _________
Daily Protein Needs (grams): _________ to _________


Protein Sources

You can get all the protein you need from food. Protein is found in foods like beef, pork, poultry, fish, beans (such as pinto or black), dairy products, soy, and nuts/seeds. You do not need protein supplements to get enough protein for top performance. In fact, too much protein can hurt performance. It can dehydrate you, put a strain on your kidneys, and cause a loss of calcium. To maximize the benefits of protein, include a small serving (no more than 20–30 grams) in your daily meals and planned snacks.

Portion size and protein content for specific foods
Serving Size Protein (in grams)
Meat (beef, poultry, fish) 3 oz. cooked (size of a deck of cards) 21–25 g
Milk or Yogurt 1 cup 8 g
Soy Milk 1 cup 10 g
Cheese 1 oz. 7 g
Egg (white) 1 medium 6 g
Beans 1 cup cooked 12 g
Peanut Butter 2 tablespoons 8 g
Nuts or Seeds ¼ cup 5 g
Tofu 3 oz. (1/5 block) 10 g
Grains (pasta, rice) 1 cup cooked 6 g
Vegetables ½ cup cooked 2 g

In celebration for National Seafood Month – Here is a highlight for adding more seafood into your diet.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for American recommend 8 ounces of seafood a week for a Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern at the 2,000-Calorie Level. Seafood, which includes fish and shellfish, is a protein foods subgroup that provides beneficial fatty acids (e.g., eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]). In addition, mercury, in the form of methylmercury, is found in seafood in varying levels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide joint advice regarding seafood consumption to limit methylmercury exposure for women who might become or are pregnant or lactating and young children.

Fish and seafood are the richest natural sources of DHA and EPA omega-3s. In addition to valuable omega-3s, fish is a great source of lean protein and trace minerals, such as selenium. 

Seafood choices higher in EPA and DHA and lower in methylmercury are encouraged. Seafood examples that are lower in methylmercury include: anchovy, black sea bass, catfish, clams, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, hake, herring, lobster, mullet, oyster, perch, pollock, salmon, sardine, scallop, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, freshwater trout, light tuna, and whiting. About 90 percent of Americans do not meet the target for eating the recommended amounts of seafood weekly. Maybe a simple place to start is adding one more meal of seafood into your week such as baked salmon or baked tilapia. Be creative about incorporating fish into weekly meals, such as casseroles (tuna noodle), soups or salads with shrimp or crab. Serving fresh fish off the grill makes a great evening meal.  Both canned tuna and salmon work in many dishes such as meat substitutes. Try a new recipe this month!

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of. Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
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