Is Protein Intake Important During Lung Cancer Treatment?

Kylie Buchan RDN, CSO, Author at Savor Health
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Adequate nutrition is an important factor in lung cancer treatment, and a major player in adequate nutrition is protein. Whether you are undergoing treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and immunotherapy or are a lung cancer survivor, protein can help you in multiple ways.  In this article, we will review why protein is important, what foods are high in protein, and tips to getting enough protein while undergoing treatment.

Why is Protein Important?

Protein is essential to daily living whether you have lung cancer or not.  Protein is responsible for building and repairing muscle, tissues, and every cell in your body.  It can also help strengthen your immune system, making you less susceptible to sickness and infection.1 During lung cancer treatment, you need your cells to build and regenerate quickly to promote healing, which is why protein is so important during this time.  If you are not getting adequate protein, you may experience weight loss and fatigue.

Food Sources of Protein

  • Poultry, beef, fish, and pork
  • Legumes such as beans, lentils, peas
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Tofu, soy milk, soybeans, tempeh
  • Whole grains such as quinoa, farro, brown rice, whole wheat pasta

How Much Protein Do You Need?

During lung cancer treatment, your protein needs may be increased.1 It is important to talk to an oncology dietitian to help you determine how much protein you need to eat daily. 

Tips on How to Get Adequate Protein

  • Eat 5-6 small meals daily. Make sure you eat protein every time you are eating.
    Examples include:
    • Peanut butter and crackers
    • Handful of nuts or trail mix
    • Apple with string cheese
    • Greek yogurt with berries
    • Sandwich with hummus and vegetables
    • Baked potato with cottage cheese
    • Hard boiled egg with whole grain toast
    • Bean burrito
  • Make a smoothie with protein powder, fruit, and milk.You can also add peanut or almond butter for an extra serving of protein. If you use unflavored protein powder, you can add it into any liquid or semi-liquid food or drink you are regularly consuming.
    • Choose whey, pea, or bean protein for best quality.
    • Look at the ingredient list to make sure protein is the main ingredient.
    • Avoid protein powders that have herbs or other foreign or unrecognizable ingredients.
  • Plan your meals and snacks in advance. This will help if you tend to forget to eat or avoid eating because nothing sounds good.
  • Eat a protein-rich bedtime snack, such as a protein shake or Greek yogurt parfait, to ensure you are meeting your daily protein needs.
  • Add dry milk powder, or powdered milk, into milk, yogurt, oatmeal, and pudding, to increase the protein intake of foods you are regularly eating.

Getting adequate protein during lung cancer treatment is crucial to promote healing and help you function with daily tasks.  Staying on a schedule and planning your meals can make a difference in your quality of life and also help you to maintain your muscle mass. Speak with your healthcare team and your oncology dietitian if you are having difficulty getting adequate protein or losing weight.

*Of course, too much protein may not be good for you, especially if you are undergoing certain treatments or have kidney disease. Speak to your registered dietitian and healthcare team about your individual protein needs. Do not make major changes to your diet before consulting your healthcare team.


Looking for instant and personalized nutrition advice? Check out Ina®, Your Personal Intelligent Nutrition Assistant. You can communicate with Ina® 24/7 to receive clinically appropriate and “on demand” nutrition support and guidance. She’ll respond with personalized nutrition tips, recipe, and answers to your questions—no phone calls or appointments necessary.

Visit LUNGevity’s website to learn more about Ina®. Click here to sign-up for Ina®.

Savor Health LogoSavor Health is a provider of personalized nutrition solutions designed exclusively for cancer patients based on evidence-based science and clinical best practices and provided by a team of oncology-credentialed registered dietitians.

Submit your questions here and the experts at Savor Health may answer it in an upcoming blog!


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