Get your protein the healthy way, from the October 2015 Harvard Men's Health Watch

Protein is essential to good health. You need it to make the bricks and mortar of the body, including muscle, bone, and blood. But how much protein does the average man need in order to stay healthy?

The answer is more complicated than it might seem, according to the October 2015 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. Most Americans get about 15% of their calories from protein — well within the recommended daily requirements. However, preliminary research suggests that eating more protein — perhaps as much as 25% of daily calories or more — could help people maintain a healthy weight or preserve muscle mass and strength with aging. But anyone deciding to boost daily protein should also consider its impact on his or her whole diet, cautions a Harvard expert.

"If you are not eating much fish and you want to increase protein intake — yes, eating more fish might improve the overall nutrient profile and would subsequently improve your health," says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "But I think the evidence is pretty strong against significantly increasing red meat, and certainly processed meat, to get protein."

What kind of protein is best?

It also pays to remember that healthy diets are based on healthy foods, and some of those foods should contain protein. It's easy for men to get the message that "protein" equals "meat," but there are other foods you can and should eat that contain this key nutrient. Here are some suggestions to guide your choices:

  • Choose protein sources low in saturated fat. Also avoid highly processed carbohydrates.
  • Protein powders and shakes provide amino acids, the "building blocks" of protein, but offer limited nutritional value. Ready-to-drink shakes may also contain added sugar and other caloric sweeteners, so make sure to read the nutrition label.
  • Unless you are a bodybuilder, you don't really need an extra boost of protein before a strength-training workout. The current protein intake of the average American male (15% of daily calories), combined with regular exercise, is sufficient to maintain muscle.

Read the full-length article: "Do you eat enough protein?"