A breakfast plate of eggs, beans, rice and cucumber rest on a banana leaf.


Protein is part of every tissue, including your organs, muscles and skin, and plays a major role in your body—from building, repairing and maintaining tissues, to making important hormones and enzymes, to transporting nutrients. Since an adequate protein intake is important throughout our lives, especially as we age, it’s smart to know about the different types of protein, how much you need to consume and what foods provide a good source of this powerful nutrient.

The Building Blocks of Protein
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine together in long chains to make proteins. Considered the building blocks of protein, there are 20 different amino acids needed by the body. Some amino acids are considered essential because the body doesn’t make them and you need to get them from food. Other amino acids are made by the body, so they’re considered nonessential.

Types of Protein
There are two types of protein: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins have the right proportions of all the essential amino acids. They come from animal sources like eggs, milk, meat, poultry and fish, as well as foods made from soy, such as tofu and tempeh. Incomplete proteins are low in one or more essential amino acids. This includes most plant proteins, such as beans, rice and nuts.  You can combine some incomplete proteins, including beans and rice, to get a protein that is considered complete.

How Much Do You Need?
The amount of protein you need each day varies based on your age, gender and activity level. For healthy adults, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends getting a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight each day.1 This is equal to about 60 grams of protein for someone who weighs 75 kilograms.

However, current research and expert opinion show that 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day may not be enough as we age. The current recommendations were made based on research in young adults and do not promote optimal health or protect older adults from sarcopenic muscle loss (loss of muscle and function with aging). Experts now estimate that older adults need 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or higher per day. Additionally, researchers recommend that adequate protein intake with each meal is important to promote protein anabolism (or protein building). These recommendations state that an intake of 25 to 30 grams of high-quality protein per meal is necessary for optimal muscle protein synthesis, which is particularly beneficial for older adults trying to maintain muscle mass.2

Good Sources of Protein3


Tuna 170 grams, packed in water   40 grams
Fish 170 grams, cod or salmon   40 grams
Chicken 113 grams, skinless   35 grams
Lean red meat 113 grams   35 grams
Lean pork 113 grams   35 grams
Tempeh 1 cup   31 grams
Tofu 1/2 cup, raw, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate   20 grams
Cottage cheese 1 cup, 1% or 2% fat   28 grams
Edamame 1 cup, frozen, prepared   17 grams
Yogurt 1 container, 170 grams, Greek, plain, nonfat   17 grams
Milk 1 cup of 1%, 2% or fat-free   8 grams
Almonds 28 grams   6 grams


1 Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies, Dietary Reference Intake for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acid. September 5, 2002.
2 Gaffney-Stomberg E, Insogna KL, Rodriguez NR, Kerstetter JE. Increasing
Dietary Protein Requirements in Elderly People for Optimal Muscle and Bone
Health. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009 Jun;57(6):1073-9.
3 United States Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. December 7, 2011. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov

Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your physician about any healthcare questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to healthcare issues.
  • share Share
  • print Print
  • download Download

You are about to exit for another Abbott country or region specific website

Please be aware that the website you have requested is intended for the residents of a particular country or region, as noted on that site. As a result, the site may contain information on pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other products or uses of those products that are not approved in other countries or regions.

The website you have requested also may not be optimized for your specific screen size.

Do you wish to continue and exit this website?


You are about to exit the Abbott family of websites for a 3rd party website

Links which take you out of Abbott worldwide websites are not under the control of Abbott, and Abbott is not responsible for the contents of any such site or any further links from such site. Abbott is providing these links to you only as a convenience, and the inclusion of any link does not imply endorsement of the linked site by Abbott.

The website that you have requested also may not be optimized for your screen size.

Do you wish to continue and exit this website?