How Many Calories in a Gram of Protein? By a Nutritionist

You hear so much about "watching your calories" when focused on your health and wellness. There's also tons of talk about protein, but how many calories are in each gram of protein? Is it any different from carbohydrates or fats?

It's no secret that to make progress at the gym or on the scale - you have to know the differences in macros and the importance of where your calories come from. 

But don't worry; we will unravel the mysteries of protein, macros, and overall nutrition for different fitness and health goals.

Key Takeaways About Calories in a Gram of Protein

  • Protein contains approximately 4 calories per gram, making it a nutrient-dense component of your diet.
  • Digesting protein requires energy expenditure, with around 1-1.5 calories needed to digest 1 gram of protein.
  • Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fats, meaning your body burns more calories breaking down protein.
  • Tracking your macros, including protein, carbohydrates, and fat, can be beneficial for body recomposition, muscle gain, and weight maintenance goals.
  • Accurately reading food labels helps you understand serving sizes, calories, and nutrient composition, which will help you make informed dietary choices.

How Many Calories are in a Gram of Protein?

If you've ever been curious about how many calories of chicken breast you eat, you'd need to know the amount of protein first. 

Each gram of protein has four calories - so, for example, if you ate 3 ounces of chicken - that would be around 21-28 grams of protein which is about 100 calories. 

Carbs or Protein: Which Has More Calories Per Gram?

While both carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram, each has its role and purpose for your body and overall health. 

On one hand, carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy and play a vital role in fueling your workouts and daily activities. 

On the other hand, protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, supporting muscle growth, and maintaining a healthy immune system. 

So, even though they have the same calorie density, both are needed for optimal health and performance.

It's important to find a balance between consuming enough carbs for energy and also incorporating sufficient protein to support your body's repair and growth processes. 

Remember, it's about finding the best combination for you and your goals.

How Many Grams of Protein Do I Need? 

The amount of protein you need is going to depend on your goals and lifestyle. So, you'll start by defining your goals and recognizing what's realistic for where you currently are. 

A daily protein intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is adequate for general health and overall well-being. This could also be a good starting point if this is the first time you've focused on protein. 

If you are working out or want to improve your performance, you'll want to increase your protein intake. Research suggests that consuming 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight may benefit athletes (1)

Higher protein intake becomes even more crucial if you want to focus on building lean muscle mass. Aim for approximately 1.8 to 2.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to support muscle repair and growth (2).

Chatting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian is always a good idea to dial in your protein needs. 

How Many Calories Should I Eat Each Day

When it comes to figuring out how many calories to eat each day, finding the right balance is key for optimal performance and body composition. 

The number of calories you should eat daily depends on various factors such as age, sex, weight, activity level, and goals. Plenty of calculators you can use online can help calculate this for you. 

To maintain your current weight, you will want to eat around the same amount of calories as the amount of energy you use daily. 

However, to achieve specific body composition goals, like losing body fat or gaining muscle, you must manipulate your calorie intake to reflect those goals. 

The general rule of thumb is that a moderate calorie deficit (typically 500-1000 calories below maintenance) is recommended for healthy and sustainable weight loss, while a slight calorie surplus can support muscle growth. Remember this calorie deficit can come from food or movement during the day. 

Food Labels and Calories

Reading food labels should be learned early on when focusing on nutrition. Marketing can lead to confusion, and it's not unlikely that you eat an entire "protein cookie" and later realize the little package was four servings. Whoops!

So, be sure to note the serving size before diving in or trying a new product at the store. Reviewing the serving size will help you determine the number of calories you'll consume and consider how it fits into your daily intake goals. 

Remember to consider other key information on the label, such as the macronutrient breakdown (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), as this can help you understand the nutritional composition of the food. 

Being mindful of food labels empowers you to make choices aligned with your health and wellness goals.

Tracking Macros: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat

Alright, let's talk about tracking macros, my friend! It's all about keeping an eye on your protein, carbs, and fat intake to achieve different goals.  

For Body Recomposition 

If you're looking to recomp your body, that means shedding some fat while building muscle. You'll want a balanced approach—enough protein to support those gains, carbs for energy, and some healthy fats in the mix. 

Start by calculating your fat intake from the calories needed, which typically ranges from 15-20% for physique-focused individuals and 30% for athletes. 

Then, calculate your protein needs from the 1.8-2.7 grams/kg shared above (1)

The remainder of your calories will be from your carbohydrates to recover properly and keep your energy levels high. You may find that you need fewer or more calories - this will take time to figure out what works best. 

For Muscle Gain 

If you're on a mission to gain some serious muscle mass, protein becomes your best friend, providing the building blocks for growth, while carbs fuel those intense workouts. The remainder of your calories will be from fats. 

Using the same protocol as above with slightly more calories will be best. Then, you can make adjustments based on how your body responds. 

To Maintain Weight

If you feel like you are at a healthy weight and want to maintain it, you'll benefit from a balanced approach. This could be something as simple as around 20-30% protein, 45-60% carbohydrates, and the remainder from healthy fats. 

FAQs About Protein and Calories 

How Many Calories are in 100g of Protein?

In 100g of protein, there are approximately 400 calories. Remember, there are 4 calories per gram of protein. 

Now, when it comes to digesting protein, your body actually burns calories in the process. Cool, right?

How Many Calories Does it Take to Digest 1 Gram of Protein?

It takes about 1-2 calories to digest 1 gram of protein. This is known as the thermic effect of food, where your body uses energy to break down and process nutrients. 

Does Your Body Burn More Calories Breaking Down Protein?

Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fats, meaning your body burns more calories breaking down protein.

The diet-induced thermogenesis is about 20 to 30% for protein - this means when you eat 200 calories of protein, it's only about 140 calories of usable energy (3)!

So, incorporating protein into your meals provides essential building blocks for your body and gives your metabolism a little boost.