How much protein should I eat on a ketogenic diet?

By Dr. Stephen Phinney and the Virta Team

We have performed a number of studies indicating that most healthy humans maintain lean body mass and function during a ketogenic diet providing between 1.5 and 1.75 grams of protein per kg of ‘reference body weight’* (Phinney 1983, Davis 1990).

*Reference body weight is an arbitrary value for men and women based upon the medium frame values from the 1959 Metropolitan Life Insurance ‘Ideal Body Weight’ tables. (Met Life, 1959) Using these values allows for protein intakes to be based roughly on normal lean body mass rather than total body weight. Note: ‘reference weight’ is an arbitrary value used to estimate daily protein needs – it is not a weight

But in no case should dietary protein intake be reduced below 1.2 g/kg in the context of a well-formulated ketogenic diet. This range; 1.2 g/kg at the low end and 2.0 g/kg at the upper end, with a 1.5 g/kg mid-range moderate intake target, can be translated into daily consumption of protein-rich foods in ounces in the table below. Each ounce of protein-containing food contains about 7 grams of protein.

Read more on protein requirements here:

Dr. Phinney on protein:


Davis PG, Phinney SD. Differential effects of two very low calorie diets on aerobic and anaerobic performance. Int J Obes. 1990 Sep;14(9):779-87.

Phinney SD, et al. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: physical and biochemical adaptation. Metabolism. 1983; 32:757-768.

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  1. Avatar

    I read through the post about how a ketogenic diet does not make a normal person hypothyroid. However, I was wondering about the effects of a ketogenic diet on a person who already has an underactive thyroid and has been on medication for the same for as very long time. Would you know of any ill effects of a ketogenic diet on such a person?


    1. Virta Health

      Hi Anu, thank you for your question! Here is an interested article from Dr. Phinney I think you’ll find interesting.


  2. Avatar

    Hi, I’m confused about the protein table, just wondering if you can put me right please.
    I am 5’7″ female and weigh 140lbs (64kg).
    Based on the 1.2g, 1.5g and 2g I worked out that my protein intake should be 77g/96g/129g (2.7oz/3.4oz/4.6oz) e.g. 64kg x .1.2g = 77g (2.7oz)
    Your table gives much higher amounts for my height/weight. Could you tell me where I have gone wrong with my calculations please?
    Thank you.


    1. Avatar

      Each ounce of protein-containing food contains about 7 grams of protein. So you can multiple the ounces of protein recommended by 7 to get it in grams!


  3. Avatar

    Hi, I too have a question about the amount of protein per day. I am male, 5’9″, 145lbs and according to the table, I should be consuming around 15 oz of protein or 15×7 = 105 grams of protein. This is not very much… 🙁

    But 1 oz is 28.35 gr so I am not sure how the 7 gr is derived.

    Also I use CarbManager to help me with the Macro %’s and based on the same body stats and 20% protein, I am at 115 gr, and increase to 25% of daily calories, I am at 144 gr. Which should it be? 105, 115 or 144? Or I can go to 20oz @ 7gr each to get 140 grams per day.

    There are so many “studies” out there about the amount of protein I should ingest… so confused.


    1. Virta Health

      There is no “one size fits all” response when it comes to protein needs. At Virta, we don’t use macros to calculate how much you need as this will change as your weight changes.

      As you find in the table, protein requirements are listed as a range of 12-20 oz per day or 84-140 grams protein per day for your size. Each ounce (or 28.75 g) of protein-containing food contains about 7 grams of actual protein. Another way of looking at that is that every ounce of protein-containing food is only made up of 25% actual protein because water, vitamins, minerals, fat, etc make up the remaining 75% of that food.


  4. Avatar

    Ok, this is VERY confusing. So let’s assume my protein requirements per day are 140g of protein at 1.5g/lb of lean body mass. 1.5grams of PROTEIN/lb, not 1.5grams of protein-containing food/lb???


    1. Virta Health

      I’m not sure I totally understand your question but I’m going to take a stab at it. So, if you require 140g of protein per day, that would be equivalent to 20 ounces of protein containing food per day (1 oz protein containing food = 7 g of protein). Does that help answer your question?


  5. Avatar

    You don’t explain how to find/or calculate a “reference body weight”

    There are formulas for “lean body mass” but you say this is a different calculation

    Also, mean assessments of bone are always calculated for people with “normal” bone structure, but offer no calculations for either small boned people or large boned peple


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