Are You Eating Enough Protein To Build Muscle?

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Protein to build muscleWhen it comes to building some serious muscle, all that work you do in the gym is only half of the battle. The other half takes place in the kitchen. Diet is extremely important when trying to improve your body composition. Without proper nutrients, no matter how much time you spend weight training, you won’t get the results you’re looking for.

Your muscles are made up of over 25% protein (a very significant amount!) along with up to 75% water and stored glycogen (carbohydrates). While people generally understand that consuming adequate protein is very important to support muscle growth and maintain lean mass, the amount of protein to consume becomes the tricky part.

I ‘ve seen recommendations that range from as low as 50 grams per day to as much as 3 times your bodyweight. Although it sounds good in theory, the traditional ‘more is better’ approach doesn’t necessarily work here. So how much protein do you need when trying to get huge?

Protein To Build Muscle | Common Recommendations

The American Dietetic Association’s RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is 0.36g per pound of bodyweight. This would mean that as a bare minimum, a 180lb male only needs 65 grams of protein per day to meet requirements. One thing to note is that these requirements are based off of sedentary individuals and those that are more active will have a slightly higher RDA.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (N.S.C.A.) recommends that active people consume 0.4g to 0.6g per pound of bodyweight with as much as 0.8g for a competitive athlete. What is important to note is that with a higher overall activity level the requirement goes up. I think it is safe to say that if you are trying to build muscle you will be on the higher end of the spectrum.1

Protein To Build Muscle | How Much Is Really Enough?

Popular belief is that in order to build muscle you must consume up to 1.0g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For some of you that might seem high and for others it might seem too low. The answer to that is really, it depends.

Research shows that the average trainee looking to build muscle can benefit anywhere from .6g to around 1.1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. It all really depends on your goals, genetics, and the rest of your diet, but aiming to hit between those targets should be sufficient for most people. For example, a relatively fit 180lb man should aim to consume between 108g and 198g of protein daily for muscle gain.2

What I recommend if you are overweight and trying to reduce your body fat is to aim to consume your target bodyweight in grams. For instance, if a 225lb man wants to reduce his bodyweight to 180lbs through proper training and nutrition he would consume a base of 180g of protein per day.3 It is also important to note that lowering your carbohydrate and fat intake as extremely important as well!

On the other hand, if you are trying to gain weight it might not be a bad idea to eat a few extra grams of protein (along with fat and carbohydrate) to get your calories up.4 You may have heard that consuming extra protein is a waste and that what your body doesn’t use will be excreted, but I beg to differ. Although this is partially true, if you are trying to put on size and weight, you need to consume extra calories so now is not the time to nitpick nutrients – just eat!

Protein To Build Muscle | Not All Protein Is Created Equal

One question that I get asked frequently is “What is are good sources of protein?” To answer that you have to first understand that there are two types of protein that occur in nature: complete proteins (all of the amino acids) and incomplete proteins (some of the amino acids). Very simply, complete proteins come from animal source and incomplete proteins come from plant sources.

What’s more is animal proteins have a higher biological value (BV) which means they are more readily used by your body for cellular repair and muscle growth. To set a standard, eggs are given a BV of 100%, beef 80% and beans are less than 50%. What this means for you is the higher quality of protein you consume the more efficiently your body will utilize it.

Speaking of BV, whey protein can have a value of 90% all the way up to 104% depending on the quality of processing. For those of you who have trouble eating enough steak and eggs, this is an easy way to increase your daily protein intake. The only down side is you may get a little stronger. Wink, wink.

Protein To Build Muscle | The Bottom Line

Whether your goal is to build muscle, burn fat, or train like an athlete, you should aim to consume roughly your bodyweight in grams of protein daily to cover all your bases. Since this isn’t an exact science, going a little over or a little under shouldn’t be detrimental to your results or health. I will, however, argue that it may be better to err on the side of eating a little more rather than eating too little as the drawbacks of undershooting far outweigh the effects of overdoing it.

References

  1. Brooks, G.A., Fahey, T.D., & Baldwin, K.M. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and It’s Applications. 2005 Boston, MA: Mcgraw-Hill.
  2. Bilsborough S, Mann N. A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2006 Apr; 16 (2): 129-52.
  3. Wilson, J., & Wilson, G.J. (2006). Contemporary issues in protein requirements and consumption for resistance trained athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 3(1), 7-27.
  4. Tipton K.D., Wolfe R.R. Protein and amino acids for athletes. Journal of Sports Science. 2004 Jan; 22 (1): 65-79.
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20 Comments on “Are You Eating Enough Protein To Build Muscle?

  1. Alex
    December 24, 2012 #

    Hi, Marc! Merry Christmas! Excelent article, it’s a question that I usually ask myself, specially when considering the carb/protein/fat balance.

    One thing that concerns me about consuming more than 0.6 g per pound is if it might put my kidneys at risk. I have to seriously take enough water during the day, specially to avoid high creatinine levels.

  2. Darren Moore
    December 25, 2012 #

    Hi Stephen.

    Thanks for the great information. Good to know! What would you recommend for a serving size per meal? Is there an amount your body can digest per serving and how should you space out your protein intake?

    Thanks

    1. March 24, 2013 #

      @Darren – Thanks for this question and apologize we didn’t respond to it way earlier. Nutrition scientists used to believe that protein could only be absorbed in small quantities, but now there is evidence that protein can slowly release for a long time and your body can absorb larger quantities. So the answer is you can likely use all of it depending on if your body needs it or not. In terms of serving size per meal, a serving size of meat around the size of your palm can suffice if on a fat loss, or maintenance program. That will be around 40-50 grams of protein. In terms of spacing out protein intake, that’s a matter of what works with your schedule. I think 3 meals and possibly 1-2 snacks can do the trick, with all meals having at least some protein. So that’s every 4-6 hours or so.

  3. Arman
    December 25, 2012 #

    Informative article, thanks for that !

    Im currently following Marc’s tips to get lean and cut I’m at around 12% body fat range and aiming for 8%, after I reach my target I want to put some muscle mass on but don’t want to gain too much fat. Do you have any tips and recommendations for gaining muscle on without too much fat so i stay at around 10% or under body fat ?

    Cheers, and merry christmas !

    1. March 24, 2013 #

      Hey Arman, I do plan on creating a how to build muscle post, so stay tuned!

  4. Tom
    December 26, 2012 #

    Thank you so much for posting this article!
    I really enjoy reading your posts and guidance on fitness and building muscles.

    I definitely bookmark this site as it is my favorite one so far :-).

  5. Eric
    December 29, 2012 #

    Hi,

    Great article. What recommendations do you have for balancing the amount of protein with daily calories. I’m 5′ 5″ shooting to get under 10% BF &140# based on Calcs run that means daily cal intake of under 1500 and protein at 1G to pound = 140g/day My protein shakes are 150 cal and 23g protein and what I’ve found to be the most efficient calorie to protein ratio. This would mean 900 of my daily calories would be from protein shakes leaving me only 600 for anything else. This of course is not only very little calories left, but can get boring. I find it hard to stay under 1500 cal while maintaining my proper daily protein intake. Thoughts?

    Eric

    1. Ehsan
      January 5, 2013 #

      the same question as above I have

    2. January 7, 2013 #

      @Eric – apologize for the late reply, but as I just wrote in answering another comment, I think 0.80 to 1.0 gram per pound of lean body mass can work well for you. You certainly can eat 1 gram per pound of body weight, but I don’t think you need to in order to retain muscle mass. I also don’t love the fact that such a large portion of your calories are coming from protein powder. It should also make it easier to stay under your calorie level. Hope that helps!

  6. CU
    December 29, 2012 #

    According to research performed by Dr. Ellington Darden, going over 0.4 grams of protein per kilo of body weight is NOT going to facilitate the building of muscle.

    1. December 29, 2012 #

      @CU – would you mind linking to his research study? As Steve wrote in his article, the preponderance of research points to relatively more protein to build muscle – somewhere around 0.70 to 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight. Here’s yet another study in addition to those listed in the references => http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425

  7. Nikki
    December 30, 2012 #

    I recently have started working out again I am 100 pounds and I am looking to gain mass. I’ve read that eating more than you burn helps and heavier weights and smaller reps (8-12) and 2-3 sets. Also I am not sure weather I should do a full body workout out or split training. I read you article about that and it got me thinking. Thank you and I love your articles they are so helpful.

    1. January 7, 2013 #

      @Nikki – Happy to hear you enjoyed the article and I apologize for our late response! I got backed up answering comments. I would stick with full body workouts (or close) with an emphasis on compound exercises. You should feel some soreness in your muscles the next day after a workout. If you eat more calories than you burn, eat extra protein, and lift progressively heavier weights while staying 12 reps, or under, that’s a recipe for success. Also exercise selection is EXTREMELY important. Focus on the exercises that will have the most impact like squats, lunges, db bench press etc. Hope that’s helpful and good luck!

  8. CU
    December 30, 2012 #

    @ Perry – I provided the following links before but they vanished from my post.

  9. Haydn
    December 31, 2012 #

    I’m currently at around 195 pounds at 6 ft 2, around 20-25% BF, how much protein should I have to drop to around 15-10% BF, also any recommendations towards percentages of protein – fat – carbs in a diet.

    1. January 7, 2013 #

      @Haydn – I think somewhere around 145 grams would be fine for fat loss. My general benchmark is eat 0.80 to 1.0 grams of protien per pound of LBM. For building muscle, eating more protein should only help.

  10. Eric
    January 8, 2013 #

    Marc,

    Just to clarify almost none of my current or past daily calories come from protein powder. I average ~1 shake/day. This was an extreme example of how to balance protein and calorie intake. Protein powder being the lowest cal to protein ratio I’ve found. Thanks for the reply.

  11. January 18, 2013 #

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for another great article! What I want to know is, how do you measure how much protein you are getting in your meals, as in, a piece of chicken breast contains x amount of grams of protein? I weigh 115 lbs w around 25% body fat right now but am looking to build and drop the percentage of fat.

    TIA,
    Elli

    1. January 18, 2013 #

      @Elli – I wish I could take credit for this article, but Steve Bergeron was the author :) I think that’s a great question. Every 1 ounce of meat has around 7-9 grams protein depending on the meat, with fish and beef typically on the higher end of that range. For portions reference, I grabbed the following from our Free Printable Food Journal

      • 3 oz. of meat is as big as a deck or cards, or a blackberry
      • 1 ounce of cheese is about size of your thumb
      • 1 cup is equal to the size of a baseball
      • A teaspoon is the tip of the thumb to the first joint
      • A tablespoon is three thumb tips

      8 ounces of milk is 12 grams of protein, a cup of greek yogurt is around 22 grams or protein. For info on finding the amount of protein in various foods, try NutritionData.com. Hope that’s helpful and good luck!

      1. January 18, 2013 #

        Thanks Marc! The printable food journal will surely come in handy!

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