How much protein do you actually need on keto and is it possible to get too much? We break down the science behind this popular topic so you can learn exactly how to dial in your perfect ketogenic macros for results.
Keto Protein Calculator
To figure out the right amount of protein for your ketogenic diet, use this simple calculator.
How Much Protein On Keto Should You Be Eating?
Research continues to suggest that protein is one of the most beneficial macros to eat when looking to lose weight (1).
Higher intakes of protein are linked to better appetite control decreased cravings, and improved body composition (2,3). Protein also protects lean mass in a calorie deficit, keeping your metabolism running strong and assisting in better physical results overall.
But unlike many other low carb diets, keto doesn’t typically suggest high protein intake. In fact, the exact amount you need seems to be up for constant debate.
When keto was first used in the early 1920s as a way to treat seizures in children with epilepsy, the macro ratio skewed very high on the fat (90% of all calories from fat) and provided little protein.
As this popular eating style has evolved as a potential tool used for fat burning, this macronutrient balance has also shifted - today a common keto diet for fat loss provides roughly 60 to 80% of calories from fat, 5 to 10% of calories from carbs, and as much higher protein.
In fact, based on this generally accepted macronutrient range your keto protein intake would equal 20 to 30% of your total energy. With the understanding that protein supplies four calories for every gram, you can easily calculate this amount for yourself.
- For example, if you need 2,000 calories per day, your protein intake would be 100 to 150 grams of (400 - 600 calories/ four calories per gram).
However, your ideal protein requirements are more closely determined by your muscle mass than your calorie needs. This is because protein is crucial for so many vital functions and acts as a building block for nearly every cell in your body.
To support your lean mass and other essential needs, it is recommended to get roughly one gram of protein per pound of lean mass.
Don’t know your lean body mass? Consider getting a body composition test done to assess how much muscle you have.
Is It Possible To Get Too Much Protein On Keto?
Some argue that because protein can be metabolized into glucose (sugar), eating too much protein can interfere with your body’s ability to enter ketosis. However, this theory is not well supported by research (4,5).
In fact, analyzing multiple studies on the keto diet, you won’t find an association between protein intake and the ability to produce ketones or increase fat oxidation (6,7,8).
The many health benefits of eating protein for weight loss likely outweigh any impacts it may have on ketosis.
Aim to get about 30 grams of protein per meal to grab the benefits of this fat loss macro without overdoing it.
Your ability to get into ketosis and use more fatty acids for fuel is most strongly influenced by how many grams of carbs per day you consume, as well as how many grams of fat.
In other words, as long as you keep your net carbs below the right amount and eat high amounts of healthy fats, you should be able to have success on a ketogenic meal plan.
It is also important to consider that while ketosis may potentially provide unique benefits, many of which are still being discovered, it does not outweigh the need for calorie control to lose weight.
Best Keto Protein Foods
A ketogenic lifestyle can sometimes lead to high intakes of saturated fat from animal-based foods like fatty meats and dairy. While these foods can support your keto macros, they aren’t always the best quality choices to support your health.
The best sources of quality keto proteins are either nutrient-dense lean (low fat) proteins or options high in healthy fats - like unsaturated fats from plant-based foods and omega-3s from seafood - along with other important nutrients.
Learn more about the best healthy fats for keto and where to get it.
Here are some of the best keto-friendly proteins to note next time you build your keto shopping list.
Animal foods are naturally high in protein, but the best cuts are lean or come from grass-fed/free-range poultry. Lean meat simply means meat lower in fat - which is the opposite of what one might reach for on keto.
However, not all fat is created equal and the saturated fat found in certain meats is associated with high cholesterol (8,9). Moreover, processed red meat like pepperoni, sausage, and bacon has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer and is classified as a level carcinogen by the world health organization (10,11).
Grass-fed and free-range proteins, on the other hand, tend to be leaner and have a more favorable fatty acid composition - meaning less saturated fat overall(12)!
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid high fat meat altogether, but you should be mindful of your intake and choose more of the following choices when available.
- Grass-fed beef
- Pork loin
- Lamb (fat trimmed off)
- Duck Breast (skinless)
Most seafood is fairly lean, making it a nutritious, protein-dense food choice. Also, unlike some land-based proteins, high-fat fish contain higher amounts of beneficial fats.
Choosing more fatty fish can increase your intake of essential omega-3 fats that are associated with improved heart health, brain health, and improved management of type 2 diabetes (13,14,15).
Regardless, nearly all seafood proteins pack good nutrition and fit well into a healthy keto diet. Here’s a list to get you started.
- Arctic Char
- Sea Bass
Low Fat Dairy
Similar to meat, high-fat dairy can also be high in saturated fat and it is entirely possible to overdo it on the cheese and cream. However, low-fat dairy can be a great source of protein and nutrition and fits well into a keto meal plan.
For the best dairy sources of protein, stock up on these options:
- Low Fat Milk
- Low Fat Greek Yogurt
- Low Fat Cottage Cheese
- Mozzarella Cheese
- Low Fat Cheddar Cheese
- Egg whites
Plant-based proteins can be a challenge because nearly all plants contain some amount of carbs - making it harder to balance your keto macros.
The trick is to look for more high fiber plants! Fiber is a type of carb that is not absorbed by the body, helping to reduce your total carb count. This is commonly referred to net carb intake (your total carbs minus fiber intake)
The best vegan proteins that provide a decent amount of protein include:
- Soy crumbles
- Soy milk
- Pea protein crumbles
- Nutritional Yeast
- Nut butters
Keto Protein Powders
You can also supplement your protein intake with keto protein powders. The main difference between a traditional protein powder and a keto version is that keto options often include additional ingredients like exogenous ketones or MCT oil. Regardless, any low carb protein choice will help with your daily nutrition goals!
Make sure you hit your keto diet goals on the reg by learning your full keto macro breakdown! Use this simple online keto calculator to get started now.