How Much Protein Should I Eat on a Low Carb Diet?
Max Carmody, MSc
On a low carb diet, depending on if it is keto or just general low carb, you should be eating anywhere from 10-35% of protein as your macronutrient ratio. Some sources suggest eating as much as 50% protein, but the general consensus, including the National Academy of Medicine, seems to cap protein at around 35%.
Protein and Diet
Protein is an essential macronutrient. Protein “is found throughout the body, in muscle, skin, bone, hair, and virtually every other part or tissue. It makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. As least 10,000 different proteins make you what you are and keep you that way.”
Protein is essential to building muscle mass. It is often found in animal products, and also things like nuts or legumes. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. Protein is 15% of a person’s body weight. When protein is broken down in the body it fuels muscle mass, which fuels metabolism. It helps you to stay full, and for the immune system to stay strong.
The National Academy of Medicine in the U.S. recommends that you get at least .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of your body weight every day. However, much higher than this is ok too.
There is not one exact consensus on how much protein people should be eating a day. Even within low carb diets, there are different types of low carb diets. Two of them are high protein, low carb, moderate fat, and high fat, moderate protein, low carb. According to healthline, actually, many popular branded low carb diets are not considered high protein, but are high fat, and low carb and moderate protein. If you are curious about reading what is a good macronutrient ratio (how many carbs, how much fat, and how much protein to eat) on a low carb diet, here is an article that I wrote on the topic.
Standard Low Carb
A low carb diet limits carbohydrates. These include those found in starchy vegetables, grains, and fruit. These are replaced by protein and fat, especially protein. Many different types of low carb diets exist. People often choose low carb diets for weight loss. Carbohydrates are grouped as “simple natural (lactose in milk and fructose in fruit), simple refined (table sugar) complex natural (whole grains or beans) and complex refined (white flour)
Zone Perfect recommends a ratio for your low carb diet of 15-25% carbs, 40-50% protein, and 30-35% fat. This is a pretty high amount of protein for a low carb diet. Many low carb diets have higher fat, and lower protein than this. But according to zone perfect, this blend helps to give you consistent energy, fight hunger, and nourish your body so you can tone up. Official recommendations for protein, however, from the National Academy of medicine, are that protein should make up a max of 35% of daily nutrients.
The Atkins 100 diet is pretty moderate protein. It recommends 3 servings of protein a day. It allows 100 carbs, so is not as restrictive as many low carb diets, it is verging on a moderate carb diet. “According to some scientists, a well formulated low carb diet should be high in fat and moderate in protein”. A good range to shoot for should be between 1.5-2 grams of protein per kg of your weight, or .7-.9 grams of protein per pound of your weight. If you are trying to gain more muscle, you will want to eat at the top of this range.
How much protein to eat on a low carb diet also depends on your exact goals and situation. For some people, eating more than 2 grams per kg may be ideal. This would be people who are healing from illness or surgery, or people who are underweight. Some experts believe that older people may need to eat a minimum of 1.2 grams of protein per kg just to counteract muscle loss. According to diet doctor, you will want to eat at least 20 grams of protein at each meal, if not more. This is to adequately stimulate protein synthesis. If you would like to find out how many grams of carbs to eat per meal, you can find an article here that I wrote about it.
Within low-carb diets, falls the keto diet. The keto diet is a very low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet. The goal is to reduce carb intake drastically and replace it with fat. When your body’s carbs are reduced enough, it puts your body into a state called Ketosis. When you get into ketosis, your body becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy. Your body turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply brain energy. Keto diets can cause big reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Keto diets usually reduce carb intake to under 50 carbs a day, sometimes even as low as 20 carbs per day. “Generally, popular ketogenic resources suggest an average of 70-80% fat from total daily calories, 5-10% carbohydrate, and 10-20% protein. For a 2000 calorie diet, this translates to about 165 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrate, and 75 grams protein”. The protein amount on a keto diet is kept moderate in comparison with some other diets, because eating too much protein may prevent ketosis. A keto diet calls for enough protein to preserve muscle and lean body mass, that will still cause ketosis.
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