Why is Protein Important and How Much Should You Eat Per Day?

Proteins are famous for their importance in building muscle; however, proteins play various roles within your body. They are referred to as the building blocks of life for a reason: every cell in your body contains proteins, making them essential for life. 
Why is Protein Important and How Much Should You Eat Per Day?

Eating optimal amounts of protein daily is very important to ensure optimal hormone, energy, muscle, and immune health. If you are eating adequate amounts, you will only get adequate results. Let's talk about how much protein you should eat daily, whether double scooping your protein powder gets you better results, and why eating 30 grams of protein each meal is on your health gurus' New Year to-do list. We will also share our top 3 tips to help ensure you get enough protein across your day.

What is Protein and Why Is it Important?

Proteins carry out a variety of essential tasks within your body. To simplify the role of proteins, you could consider them to be the diligent workers living within your body to ensure EVERYTHING is running smoothly. The different jobs these workers have are:

  • Construction workers: building and repairing tissues such as muscle, skin, nails, and organs.
  • Messengers and Regulators: Transmit signals within cells and between different body parts, regulating gene expression, hormone secretion, and nerve transmission.
  • Defenders: Act as part of the immune system, serving as antibodies recognising and neutralising foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

Structurally, proteins are large complex molecules created by linking smaller units called amino acids. 20 amino acids are needed to make the many different types of proteins within your body, and 9 of these are essential. Your body cannot make these 9 essential amino acids, so getting them through food is necessary. Whereas the other 11 can be produced within your body. In times of illness or stress, some of the non-essential amino acids may become conditionally essential, meaning dietary intake becomes more important to compensate for the extra amounts the body uses to recover.

How much protein should you eat per day?

How much protein should you eat, and are you getting enough? Some people might be getting more than enough, while others might struggle to meet optimal daily requirements.

Why do we keep putting the word optimal in bold?

You may or may not have heard at some point that approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the recommended daily intake (RDI) to meet adequate requirements for most of the population with low physical activity levels (1). This amount will vary depending on your activity level, age and phase of life (infant, child, adult, elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding). Also, notice the word adequate – recent research indicates that the below amounts would be a better goal when aiming for optimal health:

  • Adults and Older Adults: To support anabolic resistance, sedentary lifestyles, common illnesses, appetite control, satiety and weight management, 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kg (2).
  • Athletes/high physical activity level: could benefit from 1.6 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram daily (2).

Experts agree that regardless of age and activity level, spacing out your protein intake across the day to include approximately 30 grams per main meal and a protein source with snacks is a great way to ensure optimal absorption and utilisation (2). This amount ensures your body can build and maintain muscle and bones, regulate hormones, and increase satiety (feeling satisfied and full after eating), which can positively affect weight loss or management goals. That is why you might see health gurus' New Year's goals, including – “eat more protein” or “eat 30 grams of protein a day.”

The reality is that overall, you might meet adequate requirements through the food you eat, but the time of day you eat your protein could be skewed and cause issues. Breakfast is a typical meal that is often skipped or had on the go with little thought to protein content (2). Protein at breakfast is vital to ensure that when your body is moving from a catabolic (breakdown state after fasting overnight) into an anabolic state (building), it has the amino acids it needs available for building and maintaining muscle as well as hormone regulation and satiety which could also work towards preventing the mid-morning or afternoon burnout feeling. When your energy levels are lacking, you will be more tempted to grab for less ideal pick-me-up options for that sugar or caffeine rush, which, funnily enough, can cause the same issue once they wear off.

New research published in December 2023 has revealed that consuming up to 100 grams of wholefood protein in a meal can increase muscle protein synthesis over 12+ hours (3). When protein is eaten in a whole food source, digestion Is slowed, which can mean that absorption and utilisation can be extended, maximising benefits over many hours. Not many people will be sitting down to eat this much protein in one hit, so the standard 30-gram aim for each meal might still be best under normal circumstances.

Dietary Sources


Food should always be the number one source of protein within your diet. A balanced diet containing a variety of either meat or plant-based protein sources is essential for optimal health, the type and quality of protein you eat as a critical factor (4). An example would be meeting your protein requirements by eating ultra-processed, non-organic, or heavily industrialised farmed meats. In this situation, your overall health could be less than ideal due to the other components in these foods, such as high amounts of nitrates, hormones, and antibiotics. However, if you are eating organic or antibiotic-free range and grass-fed unprocessed meats as part of a balanced diet, you have quality covered.
As for plant-based sources vs meat sources, it is possible to obtain adequate protein from plant-based foods. You may have to ensure you are eating enough and a large variety. Some plant-based sources lack optimal amounts of specific essential amino acids, and absorption can also be impacted due to the fibrous components of plant-based foods. A combination of plant-based and animal protein sources would be ideal (4). However, everybody's preferences and values are different, and we understand that animal products may be off the menu for some people for environmental or animal welfare reasons. From a health-only perspective, organic or free-range, grass-fed, antibiotic-free meats can be a great way to meet daily protein requirements.

Protein Animal Sources:

  • Beef, pork, lamb, and poultry are rich sources of protein: approximately 20- 30 grams of protein per 85-gram serving.
  • Wild-caught fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines: approximately 25-35 grams of protein, depending on serving size.
  • Pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, free-range eggs: approximately 6 grams of protein per regular-sized egg.
  • Milk, yoghurt, and cheese: approximately 7-10grams per 200-gram serving

Protein Plant Sources:

Combining legumes and whole grains over a day of eating is best to ensure you get all nine essential amino acids. Legumes are typically lower in the amino acids cysteine and methionine, and some whole grains are generally lower in the amino acid lysine.

  • Legumes: Beans (e.g., black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans), lentils: approximately 17-20 grams per cup.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds: approximately 3 grams per tablespoon.
  • Soy Products: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk are plant-based sources of complete protein: approximately 12g per 100-gram serving of tofu or 23 grams per 100-gram serving for the less processed tempeh.
  • Whole Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, barley, and oats: approximately 5 grams per ½ cup.
  • Vegetables: vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus: approximately 6 grams.
Data used for grams per serving from the AUSNUT 2013 database (5)

Protein Supplements

When it comes to protein supplements, are they necessary? Most of the time, No!
Can protein supplements be helpful if you are struggling to meet your daily needs or have an intense exercise schedule? Yes!

The type of protein supplement you choose will depend on your dietary preferences and health goals; more on that here.

However, most protein supplements contain 15g-30g of protein per serving, which is enough to have in one serving if you use it as a post-exercise booster. Double scooping your protein serving will not get you better results for muscle protein synthesis; the absorption rate needs to be considered here, and research shows that more than 25 grams is not beneficial.

If you are using different types of protein, such as collagen, to supplement your diet, one 15-gram serving combined as part of a smoothie or overnight oats will give you an adequate amount of protein for that meal. As we have already discussed, for most people, spacing out protein to approximately 30 grams for each meal can be beneficial for preventing and supporting muscle breakdown and synthesis and supporting your other protein “workers” to carry out essential tasks within your body.

Top 3 tips to ensure you consume enough protein daily

Focus on Breakfast

As we mentioned earlier, it is common for breakfast to be relatively low in protein, which could be for various reasons. Perhaps you are busy getting the day started and don’t have time for a hearty meal, or maybe it is because simple, common breakfast foods don’t cater to protein needs.

What does an optimal-protein breakfast look like?

When you have no time:

  • Egg and vegetable cups, three eggs per serving.
  • Protein-boosted overnight oats.
  • Eat together: Protein-boosted smoothie and breakfast bar. A pro tip is to add some zucchini and a tablespoon of nut butter to elevate your smoothie and maximise creaminess while making it more balanced.
  • If you have leftovers from dinner, don’t be afraid to eat outside the standard breakfast menu. Use your leftover chicken/sausages, vegetables, and rice to make a frittata.

If time is on your side:

  • one-pot dish of beans, eggs and herbs.
  • Protein pancakes.
  • Tofu scramble with spinach, mushrooms and bone broth-enhanced rice.
  • 2-3 eggs and avocado on toast or grains with sauteed vegetables and a sprinkle of chickpeas (optional goat fetta) and lemon.

Enhance your grains!

Think about the grains you cook using the absorption method; grains already contain protein, but why not up their game and flavour using bone broth instead of water? This can result in 1 cup of rice containing anywhere from 10-15 grams of protein, depending on the type, amount and ratio of bone broth used.

Use pulse pasta (lentil/chickpea) to increase a meal's protein content. If you find the texture slightly off-putting a pasta bake can be a great way to use pulse pasta to keep it from drying out, especially if you like to eat leftovers the next day.

Balance Snacks

Balancing snacks to include carbohydrates, fat, and protein sources will make them much more satisfying. This will help boost your protein intake and maintain energy and hormone levels.

Take Away

Ensuring you eat optimal amounts of protein throughout the day is important to keep your body functioning efficiently, regardless of your muscle-building goals. Proteins come in various forms within your body. They are necessary for immune function, nerve transmission and communication, hormone secretion and regulation, and building and maintaining muscle and bones. Everyone in any phase of life and every activity level will benefit from eating optimal protein amounts across the day, and although this amount may vary depending on your circumstances, aiming for 30 grams of protein at each meal accompanied by balanced snacks is a great baseline goal. Focus on eating quality protein sources to enable you to thrive and let your body use the building blocks of life to keep you feeling strong, happy, satisfied and full of energy all day long.

Want to dive into this topic even more with our expert naturopath team? Watch the podcast here.

Two adults discussing protein powder in a podcast setting


1. Council NH and MR. Protein [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 9]. Available from: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/nutrient-reference-values/nutrients/protein

2. Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 9]. Available from: https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/full/10.1139/apnm-2015-0550?rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org

3. Trommelen J, Van Lieshout GAA, Nyakayiru J, Holwerda AM, Smeets JSJ, Hendriks FK, et al. The anabolic response to protein ingestion during recovery from exercise has no upper limit in magnitude and duration in vivo in humans. Cell Rep Med. 2023 Dec;4(12):101324.

4. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? J Sports Sci Med. 2004 Sep 1;3(3):118–30.

5. AUSNUT 2011-13 food nutrient database | Food Standards Australia New Zealand [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 9]. Available from: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science-data/monitoringnutrients/ausnut-2011-13/foodnutrient