The benefits of eating protein for healthy and achievable weight loss

  • 5 Minutes Read
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Claims about protein are everywhere, but what are the benefits of eating protein as part of a healthy diet? Read about how protein is vital for weight loss. Learn how MyNetDiary calculates your protein needs and discover rich protein sources to add to your diet.

Benefits of eating protein

Want to learn about the benefits of eating protein?

Dietary protein is critical to health because of the amino acids or building blocks of proteins. We use amino acids for growth and development, cell generation, hormone and enzyme building, and other functions like supporting a healthy immune system! Eating protein daily is vital for ensuring health.

You can meet your daily protein needs from both plant and animal foods

Some animal proteins are higher in calories because of fat. Choose lean cuts, trim excess fat, and avoid deep-fat frying to ensure you reap the benefits of protein-rich foods without the extra calories.

Tip: Coldwater fish and seafood are excellent protein choices since they contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Plant-based proteins, such as dried beans and peas (legumes), soybeans, nuts, seeds, and grains, are t

Tip: Legumes support healthy gut bacteria and are blood sugar-friendly.

What does protein do for weight loss?

To achieve weight-loss success, you must meet your protein needs daily. Since protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, you may stay full longer by eating protein at each meal. Eating enough protein combined with a strength-training routine helps preserve muscle mass as you lose weight.

More protein isn’t necessarily better and excess protein won’t increase muscle growth. You may gain weight if you exceed your calorie budget by overeating protein.

Tip: Aim for at least 60g/day of protein on a reduced-calorie diet.

How much do I need to reap the benefits of eating protein?

Macronutrient target

Since many MyNetDiary members are trying to lose weight or manage blood sugar, we use a macronutrient target to encourage healthy proteins and fats while controlling carbs.

MyNetDiary’s default recommendation for protein is 20% of total daily calories, within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range of 10-35% of total calories.

If you prefer a different protein target, customize your goals with a Premium MyNetDiary membership, as seen below:

Body weight protein target

You can also plan your protein needs based on your body weight. The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or about .36 g per pound) daily.

For example, for someone weighing 180 lbs. (82 kg), their RDA for protein is 65 grams (82 kg x 0.8 g/kg).

Tip: Divide pounds by 2.2 to get kg.

The modest RDA target may be too low for some. Many reduced-calorie weight-loss plans suggest 1.2-1.5 g per kg. Athletes, older adults, and those trying to build muscle may also benefit from a higher intake than the RDA. Read here for more information on starting a higher-protein plan.

Those with certain kidney and liver conditions may need to limit protein intake. Follow the advice of your doctor or dietitian.

What about amino acids from protein?

The human body uses 20 amino acids, nine of which are considered “essential,” meaning they must come strictly from the diet. Animal proteins (meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs, and dairy) are “complete,” so they provide all the essential amino acids needed to build proteins. Since plant proteins are often low in one or more essential amino acids, eating a variety of plant proteins throughout the day will ensure you get enough of each essential amino acid.

Athletes may pay special attention to such amino acids as leucine, isoleucine, and valine (the “branch-chained amino acids”) to help in muscle recovery and repair.

You can now track amino acids with a MyNetDiary Premium membership.

Getting the most protein for the fewest calories

Healthy, protein-packed foods listed in order of the fewest calories per gram of protein:

Egg whites, ⅔ cup (164g)
Calories: 89
Protein: 18g
Calories per gram of protein: 4.9

Chicken breast, skinless, grilled, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 128
Protein: 26g
Calories per gram of protein: 4.9

Tilapia, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 109
Protein: 22g
Calories per gram of protein: 5.0

Plain Greek yogurt, nonfat, 6 oz. (170g)
Calories: 100
Protein: 17g
Calories per gram of protein: 5.9

Beef, bottom round, trimmed, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 144
Protein: 24g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.0

Seitan (wheat gluten), 3 oz. (85 g)
Calories: 134
Protein: 22g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.1

Pork tenderloin, lean, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 159
Protein: 26g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.1

Salmon, wild Coho, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 156
Protein: 23g
Calories per gram of protein: 6.8

Cottage cheese, 2%, 1/2 cup (113g)
Calories: 92
Protein: 12g
Calories per gram of protein: 7.7

Tofu, extra firm, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 71
Protein: 8g
Calories per gram of protein: 8.9

Tempeh, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 166
Protein: 17g
Calories per gram of protein: 9.8

Milk, nonfat (skim), 1 cup (245g)
Calories: 83
Protein: 8g
Calories per gram of protein: 10.4

Hamburger, ground 80/20, cooked, 3 oz. (85g)
Calories: 208
Protein: 20g
Calories per gram of protein: 10.4

Soy milk, plain, fortified, 1 cup (240 ml)
Calories: 81
Protein: 7g
Calories per gram of protein: 11.6

Lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup (100g)
Calories: 113
Protein: 9g
Calories per gram of protein: 12.6

Egg, hard-boiled, one large
Calories: 78
Protein: 6g
Calories per gram of protein: 13.0

Beyond Burger meatless patty, 4 oz. (113g)
Calories: 260
Protein: 20g
Calories per gram of protein: 13.0

Pumpkin seeds toasted, hulled, 1 oz. (28g)
Calories: 157
Protein: 8g
Calories per gram of protein: 19.6

Almonds, 1 oz (28g)
Calories: 162
Protein: 6g
Calories per gram of protein: 27

Hummus (chickpea and sesame paste), 1/3 cup (85g)
Calories: 198
Protein: 6g
Calories per gram of protein: 33

Sample day's worth of protein

Getting enough protein should be easy for both meat eaters and vegetarians. The list of protein-rich foods below provides at least a combined 60 total grams of protein in a day.

Animal proteins Plant proteins
1 hard boiled egg (6g)
1 container fruit Greek yogurt (13g)
3-ounce cooked chicken breast (26g)
3 ounces cooked salmon (20g)
1 cup cooked steel-cut oats (7g)
1 cup soy milk (7g)
3 ounces extra firm tofu (8g)
1/2 cup cooked quinoa (5g)
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds (4g)
2 corn tortillas (3g)
1/2 cup black beans (8g)
3 ounces seitan (18g)

Key takeaways

If you have questions about protein, post them under “Ask an RD” in Community.

Related Content:

Do vegetarian diets give you enough protein? Here are our favorite vegetarian protein sources that will fill and fuel you

How to meet your protein needs for muscle gain in 5 easy steps

Protein powder pros and cons: What to look for to support weight loss and overall health

What are macronutrients, and what do they have to do with weight loss?

Reviewed and updated on February 18, 2024 by Sue Heikkinen MS, RDN, CDCES

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Feb 26, 2024

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