What does 20 grams of protein look like?

type of proteinGirls asking me questions about weight loss on tumblr often fail to eat adequate amounts of protein. Protein is vital when your calories are restricted. Protein protects you from losing muscle and makes you feel fuller.

Protein is not only important for muscle growth and maintenance, but it is the primary building block for the health and strength of your hair, skin and nails.

How much protein do you need?

The official daily intake recommendation for an adult woman is 1 gram per kilogram (about 0.4 grams per pound of body weight).

If you’re exercising and very active, though, you need more: most fitness gurus usually recommend 1.7-2.2 grams of protein per kg (0.8-1.0 grams per pound). Example: if you weigh 59 kg (130 pounds) you need 100 grams to 130 grams of protein a day.

Where can you get your protein?

People who aren’t used to read food labels usually have no idea how many grams of protein they’re getting. The following list of foods can help eyeball protein portions. Building every meal around a portion of at least 20 g of protein is good place to start for women trying to “shape up”.

20 grams of protein =

Protein powder (whey) 21 grams protein powder (whey isolate)
83 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.2 g carbs, 0.2 g sugar, 0.2 fat
Egg whites 182 grams egg whites (5 egg whites)
94 kcal, 20 g protein, 1.3 g carbs, 1.3 g sugar, 0.3 g fat
Tuna 80 grams canned tuna (packed in water)
84 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.0 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 0.4 fat
Turkey 80 grams turkey
88 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.0 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 0.8 g fat
Scallops 118 grams scallops
91 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.7 g carbs, 0.4 g sugar, 0.8 g fat
Chicken breast 87 grams chicken breast
91 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.0 carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 1.3 g fat
Shrimps 75 grams shrimps
99 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.9 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 1.7 g fat
White fish 143 grams codfish
101 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.4 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar,  2.1 g fat
Seitan 76 grams seitan
110 kcal, 20 g protein, 6.1 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 0.6 g fat
(Seitan is a vegetarian meat-subtitute made from gluten, the main protein of wheat.)
Fat free Greek yogurt 194 grams fat-free Greek yogurt
111 kcal, 20 g protein, 7.8 g carbs, 7.8 sugar, 0.0 fat
Spirulina 33 grams spirulina
123 kcal, 20 g protein, 6.3 g carbs, 0.0 sugar, 2.0 fat
Spirulina is a kind of sea weed rich in protein. However, eating 33 grams of spirulina powder in one go is too much and above the recommended serving size.
Ham 125 grams ham
125 kcal, 20 g protein, 2.5 g carbs, 2.5 g sugar, 3.8 g fat
(but careful: high in sodium)
Quorn 138 grams Quorn – meat substitute made of mycoprotein (mushroom protein)
130 kcal, 20 g protein, 6.2 g carbs, 0.8 g sugar, 2.8 g fat
Red meat 105 grams lean beef
131 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.8 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 5.3 g fat
Mussels 182 grams mussels
131 kcal, 20 g protein, 4.5 g carbs, 0.9 g sugar, 3.6 g fat
Fat free yogurt 400 grams fat-free yogurt
144 kcal, 20 g protein, 16 g carbs, 16 g sugar, 0 g fat
NB: although fat-free yogurt contain protein, it is not a good food to rely on for your protein intake if you’re looking to lose weight as you’re also getting 16 g of milk sugar (lactose) along with the 20 g of protein.
Cottage cheese 179 grams cottage cheese
159 kcal, 20 g protein, 4.1 carbs, 4.1 sugar, 7 g fat
Sardines 88 grams sardines
174 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.1 carbs, 0.0 sugar, 10.4 g fat
Mushrooms 667 grams mushrooms (uncooked) (I put the cooked mushrooms in the picture because the 667 g of raw mushrooms were taking too much volume for the plate)
180 kcal, 20 g protein, 20 g carbs, 10 g sugar, 2 g fat
Tofu 167 grams tofu
192 kcal, 20 g protein, 1.7 g carbs, 0.7 g sugar, 11.7 g fat
Feta cheese 121 grams feta cheese (10% fat)
194 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.1 g carbs, 0.1 g sugar, 12.5 g fat
(but careful: high in sodium)
Ground beef 105 grams ground beef
196 kcal, 20 g protein, 0.5 g carbs, 0.4 g sugar, 12.6 g fat
Edamame 185 grams edamame (soy beans)
204 kcal, 20 g protein, 4.4 g carbs, 1.9 g sugar, 11.9 g fat
Tempeh 103 grams tempeh (fermented soy product)
207 kcal, 20 g protein, 13.3 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 8.2 g fat
Eggs 159 grams eggs (3 whole eggs)
225 kcal, 20 g protein, 1.1 g carbs, 1.1 g sugar, 15.7 g fat
Lentils 235 grams lentils
228 kcal, 20 g protein, 33.2 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 1.6 g fat
Red kidney beans 250 grams red kidney beans
240 kcal, 20 g protein, 37.5 g carbs, 1.3 g sugar, 1.3 g fat
Salmon 105 grams salmon
245 kcal, 20 g protein, 1.1 g carbs, 1.1 g sugar, 17.9 g fat
Chick peas 313 grams chick peas
325 kcal, 20 g protein, 45.9 g carbs, 0.0 g sugar, 6.9 g fat
Surimi 222 grams surimi
278 kcal, 20 g protein, 26.7 g carbs, 10 g sugar, 10 g fat
Surimi is fish-based food product. It is a processed food and not the healthiest choice but it is a cheap source of protein.


■ The fork on the pictures is just meant to give you an idea of the size of the foods. Many foods are raw / uncooked on the pictures because the nutrition facts I found on the foods’ packages were mostly based on the uncooked weigh of these foods.

■ The 8 first foods on the list (protein powder, egg whites, canned tuna, turkey, chicken breast, white fish and seafood like scallops or shrimps) are the best sources of protein for weight loss as they provide the “leanest” sources of protein with the fewest carbs and calories. However, other foods at the end of the list (like salmon or chickpeas for example) can be very beneficial too as they provide combinations of protein with other macronutrients (fats or carbs) making you feel even fuller.

■ I didn’t put any foods like nuts, nut butters, quinoa or falafels in the list. Although these foods contain protein, the amount of calories you’d have to eat to get to 20 grams of protein from these foods alone is very high. For example, you’d have to eat 5 tablespoons of peanut butter (470 kcal) to get 20 grams of protein.



  1. Joana says

    Great post Elise! I try to eat protein in every meal. But tell me something.. some of those proteins above are not complete proteins right? We should always try to eat proteins that contain an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids. That’s the tricky part to me… most of the protein that comes from vegetables like beans are incomplete. Can we mix diferent vegetables proteins in order to intake all the nine essential amino acids?

    Love your blog. Keep posting girl! :)


    • Elise says

      Hi Joana, yes, you’re right, all the protein above are not complete proteins. The complete proteins are all the animal proteins as well as soy and spirulina. Beans need to be combined with rice, corn, seeds, nuts, or grains to form complete proteins. Studies show that the beans and the grains don’t even need to be eaten at the same meal. But in my experience when it comes to building muscle and getting stronger animal proteins are the best way to go to see noticeable results for women who weight-train. The big advantage of the incomplete proteins is that they’re way cheaper, better for the planet and allow for more diversity in your diet.

  2. says

    Great work you are doing! Thanks so much for sharing
    Please tell me, If I take for example turkey in your above text, Is it Turkey raw before cooking.
    Is 100 gr of turkey raw & cooked are the same value

    Thanks a lot for your great work!

    • Elise says

      Hi Chanel, thank you! Yes, this is a raw piece of turkey on the picture. I use the raw value that was listed on the package. The same piece of turkey will shrink and weigh less after it’s cooked because it will lose a bit of water. But the number of calories in that piece of turkey won’t change that much after it’s cooked (unless you use a method of cooking that increases fat content due to use of oil).

  3. Sharon says

    Thanks for including some vegan sources of protein! Did you weigh the chickpeas, lentils and beans before or after they have been hydrated? Cheers!

    • Elise says

      Hi Sharon! I weighed the chickpeas, lentils and beans after I drained and rinsed them directly from a can :)

    • Elise says

      Hi Nanda, I didn’t put any kind of cheeses besides cottage cheese because the amount of fat and sodium you’d have to eat to get 20 g of protein would be too high if you’re watching your calories. Don’t get me wrong, as a French women I love cheeses of all kinds but you can not really rely on cheese for your main protein intake if you want to control the amount of saturated fat and sodium. For example, to get 20 g of protein with parmesan cheese, you would have to eat around 1/2 cup of cheese (around 60 g), but you would also be getting 15 g of saturated fat and eating more than 30% of the daily recommended salt intake.

  4. says

    Ok, just so I know that I understand the pictures, each picture is of 20grams of protein? Then what is the bold print mean that is next to the picture, for example the egg whites says “185 grams egg whites (5 egg whites)”, or the “87 grams turkey”?

    • Elise says

      Hi Lenore, yes, each pictures represents 20 grams of protein. The bold print next to the picture represents the total weight of the food, i.e. the amount of that food you’d have to eat to get 20 g protein. For example, the total weight of egg white includes 20 g of protein + a certain amount of water, the total weight of chick peas includes 20 g of protein + a certain amount of carbs and fat + a certain amount of water, etc.

  5. Heather says

    Thank you for your post. The doctor said I’m not getting enough protein (based on blood test)–I thought it was 20 grams per day, but it looks like 20 grams each meal for three meals a day. That’s definitely way more than I’m currently eating. The photos are super helpful.

  6. Emma says

    Thanks! This is so helpful as I was struggling to find a variety in the protein I was eating. Now I can mix it up!

  7. Danielle says

    The so-called “experts” always say that you should be getting 30-35 grams of protein in your daily diet. I weigh 120 lbs so according to what you are saying, I need to take in 120 grams of protein every day? Something is very amiss here! Now I am very confused. I couldn’t possibly get 120 grams of protein in my diet every day. I’d have to be eating from sun up to sun down.

    • says

      Hi Danielle, you should get at least 0.4 x 120 = 48 grams of protein every day. If you’re weight-training and very active, going to the gym 5 to 6 days per week, you should get more, yes, even up to 120 grams of protein per day if you have muscle-building goals. But if that’s not the case you’re good to go with 48 grams of protein per day.

  8. Grace says

    Hi, thank you so much for the pictures and info, on the side, so visual the best, much appreciated. I am trying to lose weight and get healthy, going vegetarian, would this be unhealthy? how many carrots do i have to eat a day to improve my eyesight?

    • says

      Hi Grace, going vegetarian would not be unhealthy: you can see in the article that there are many vegetarian options to eat protein. Eating more carrots will not help dramatically improve your eyesight (google “carrots & eyesight” and read a couple of articles). I have myopia myself; what works for me is cutting out sugar and caffeine -but that’s just what I feel works for me.

    • says

      Hi Saje,
      You overlooked the second paragraph: in the second paragraph, I wrote “The official rate for protein for adult women is 1 gram per kilogram -about 0.4 grams per pound of body weight.”. This means that for someone who weighs 130 pounds, that would 52 grams of protein per day, around the same number as the link you put in your comment. The recommendation of 1 gram per pound of body weight (thus 130 grams for a person who weighs 130 pounds) is the recommendation you’ll find in most fitness books. This is also the usual recommendation made by various fitness gurus (Tosca Reno, Jennifer Nicole Lee, Jillian Michaels etc.)

  9. Amanda says

    Lovely article and great photos. One critique/comment: you said, “although fat-free yogurt contain protein, it is not a good food to rely on for your protein intake if you’re looking to lose weight as you’re also getting 16 g of milk sugar (lactose) along with the 20 g of protein.”

    Although it may say that on the nutrition label, this is not accurate. The yogurt cultures feed on the lactose which is why yogurt tastes sour and not sweet like it would if you were really getting all that sugar. Many people who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt because the end product contains only traces of lactose if any at all.

  10. Janet Smith says

    I do not understand your comments about the amount of Protein needs for someone that weighs 130 lbs as stated May 16th 2013, firstly you say a 130lb person needs 52g and then a you say 130 g. Am I missing something?

    • says

      52 grams of protein per day = official daily intake recommendation
      130 grams of protein per day = recommendation of many fitness gurus, recommendation that’s usually made in many fitness programs.

  11. Susie says

    I’m a 60 yr old Crohn’s patient..I’m on the severe end of horrific disease..my primary doc has put me on a low carb diet b/c of my tri’s are way up there..then he checks my amonia level which is high and puts me on low protein diet as well. My diets have always been a bit out there b/c of the weight issue. On a good week I’ll be 106 but then 3 days later I’d be 95. When this disease started I weighed 147 for a 4 ft 10 in small frame woman that’s heavy..but this disease took over and in about 6 months I went down to 70 lbs and I’ve been fighting my way back up and it’s a work in progress. My Crohn’s doc said my daily diet should be: 40 grams of cards and 80 grams of protein..no less that any of those. So could you please help me out with what my daily diet looks like, please?

    • says

      Hi Susie,
      To eat at least 40 g of carbs and 80 g of protein, you would have to eat at least 5 egg whites, one chicken breast (90 g of chicken), one small jar of Greek yogurt and 250 g black beans.

  12. Richard says

    Consume those high levels of animal protein and all that exercise will not slow your arteries from being blocked nor will it slow cancer growth.

    Why not just commit suicide and save all that time you pay for in the gym?

    • Danii says

      What a happy gem you are Richard. Animal proteins DO NOT clog up your arteries, nor do they give you cancer. I fear for your health if this is your viewpoint. Maybe you think the way to combat cancer is smoking cigarettes?

  13. Tania says

    This was an amazing post. I realize I`m not eating nearly enough. The visual pictures are so helpful! Keep up the awesome job!

  14. Mischa says

    Hi Elise, I have always been healthy and exercised daily but became ill with Chronic Fatigue from a virus and lost alot of weight and was unable to exercise for 18months. This has caused muscle loss which I’m finding very hard to regain. I’m recovering slowly but can relapse if I overdo it so my exercise is very slow. Any advice to help me regain muscle and health would be greatly appreciated. Regards Mischa

    • says

      Hi Mischa,
      I’d focus on weight training and body weight exercises. Group classes like Body Pump or a yoga class could be ways to get back to the gym (if you tell the instructor about your condition beforehand). I’d avoid cardio for the moment and focus only on strength training activities. Hope this helps a bit! If you need more suggestions, feel free to reach me on Twitter! (@Fitnesstreats)

  15. Christine Tokarski says

    I was wondering how much protein was too much for me to eat since I’m a protein eater: 3 eggs + 80g. tuna + 12oz.beef
    could be a daily average, it means 20+20+45=85gr protein,
    if my calculation is right. Since I am 5’6” 200 Lbs and wish to go down to 150 or less (at age 67) was wondering if you could tell me if I should maintain 85 gr protein (340 cal) or increase since I don’ t eat fruit or vegs nor bread, pasta much, but like rice and potatoes. – Thanks again – Best Regards

  16. Trudy says

    Hi l was wondering if you could do me a food plan as l need to lose 20 kgs as lm 5/6 and weigh 98 kgs and the doc is on my back lm 51 yrs old .cheers trudy :-)

  17. Ken says

    Good info.
    I’m a runner and happened to read some info from a Muscle mag my co workers left. I was shocked at their recommended amount of protein intake. Id never be able to eat all of that AND run comfortably.

    After looking at your pics its more realistic goal although, I’m only 130lbs.


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