- Brian Bender, PhD
How to Track Protein Intake - The Definitive Step by Step Guide
Knowing how to track protein intake is important for eating a well-balanced diet and hitting your specific dietary goals.
See our post on 51 Facts About Your Dietary Protein Intake
But how do you track protein intake? Especially for home-cooked meals? And how do you track protein intake over time?
This step-by-step guide walks you through this process to show you how to track protein intake from your diet. It essentially comes down to two primary questions: What is the quantity of protein in the food you ate? And, how much of it did you eat?
Step 1: Identify the individual food items in your meal.
If the food is pre-packaged, with a nutrition label, skip this step. But, if you prepared your meal from a recipe (like the ingredients below from a delicious recipe for Sardinian gnocchi with meat sauce), make note of each food item in the meal. Either on paper, or using a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, list each item in the first column under the heading title like, Ingredients.
Identify all food items in your meal - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 2: Calculate the quantity of each serving of foods with nutrition labels.
If the food is pre-packaged, look at the nutrition label. You will see “serving size,” and “servings per container.” Take the quantity of each ingredient in your recipe and divide that by the serving size. Save that answer. You will multiply the amount of protein by this answer to determine how much protein is in your meal from that particular ingredient. Although olive oil has zero grams of protein, the following image demonstrates how you would calculate this value for each pre-packaged item.
Calculate serving sizes using nutrition labels - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 3: Navigate to the USDA Food Search tool for fresh food item.
For fresh foods without a nutrition label, navigate to the USDA Food Search tool at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list.
Navigate to USDA Food Search tool - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 4: Search for each food item.
Edit Select Source for Standard Reference, and enter the name of a food item into Enter one or more terms**.
Find the food item description that best fits your food. For fresh fruits and vegetables, often the term includes “, raw.” Click on that food item.
Search for each food item - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 5: Search for and modify the quantity of the item to match your recipe.
Scroll horizontally in the table to find the quantity that best matches your recipe. To modify the column, enter a value into the serving size box and hit Enter.
Search and modify food item quantity - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 6: Identify the Quantity of Protein.
Match the value in the column for your desired quantity with the row for protein.
Identify protein content - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 7: Record this value for each food item in the recipe.
Record this value for each food item in the recipe, and repeat this cycle for each food item.
Record the protein content for each food item - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 8: Sum the protein value for each food item to obtain a total of all protein in the recipe.
Sum each protein column by adding together the values for each food item. In my example, the sum of all protein in this recipe is equal to 63.53 + 0 + 3.23 + 1.21 + 3.31 + 29.27 + 29.12 + 0.03 + 0.06 + 12.38 + 7.22 + 0 = 149.36 grams of protein.
Sum protein value for each food item - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 9: Convert total protein quantity into calories.
To convert proteins into calories, multiply the sum by 4. This is the amount of calories in a gram of protein. This product equals the total amount of calories in the recipe derived from protein. In this case, the total caloric content in this dish derived from protein is roughly 597.44 calories.
Convert total grams of protein into calories - or - Skip this Step with Intake
Step 10: Estimate your consumption.
Next, estimate how much you consumed as a decimal. If you ate the entire dish, it is an easy 1. If you ate half, you would have consumed 0.5 of the dish. One quarter? 0.25. And so on.
Multiply this decimal by total grams, and total calories, of protein. These values provide the total amount of protein, and calories derived from protein, you consumed from this meal.
Estimate your consumption - or - Skip this Step with Intake
And That’s It!
You now know how to track protein intake and understand how to monitor and gauge your eating habits.
"How to Track your Protein Intake: The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide."
If you want to track your protein intake over time, repeat this process for each snack and meal you consume throughout the day. This technique can help you lose weight, it can help you ensure you are eating a balanced diet, and it can help you meet your athletic goals.
If you are interested in how to track your protein and other nutrients using a simpler method, signup to learn more about Intake!