Protein to build muscleWhen it comes to building some serious muscle, all the 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’ll have a tough time getting 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 incredibly important to maintaining lean mass and supporting muscle growth, eating the right amount of protein can be the tricky part.

I‘ve seen recommendations that range from as low as 50 grams of protein 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?

Common Daily Protein Recommendations

The American Dietetic Association’s RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is 0.36g per pound of bodyweight. This means that as a bare minimum, a 180lb male only needs 65 grams of protein per day to meet his daily requirements. It’s important to note that the ADA’s recommendations are based on 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 aim to consume between 0.4g to 0.6g of protein per pound of bodyweight, and as much as 0.8g for competitive athletes. In general, the higher your overall activity level, the more your protein requirement increases.1

I think it is safe to say that if you are trying to build muscle, you will want to be on the higher end of the spectrum.1

How Much Protein 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. That might seem high to some of you, and for others it might seem too low. So, how much protein should you eat per day to build muscle? Really, it depends.

Research shows that the average trainee looking to build muscle can benefit from getting between 0.6g to 1.1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. The exact amount that’s right for you will depend on your goals, genetics, and the rest of your diet, but aiming to hit between those targets should be sufficient for most people.2

For example, a relatively fit 180lb man should aim to consume between 108g and 198g of protein daily for muscle gain.2

If you are overweight and trying to reduce your body fat, I recommend that you aim to consume your target bodyweight in grams of protein. For instance, if a 225lb man wants to reduce his bodyweight to 180lbs through proper training and nutrition, he should consume a base of 180g of protein per day.3 At the same time, lowering your carbohydrate and fat intake is 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 fats and carbohydrates) to get your calories up.4 You may have heard that consuming extra protein is a waste, and that your body stores as fat or excretes what it doesn’t use, 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!

Not All Protein Is Created Equal

One question that I get asked frequently is “What is are the best sources of protein?” To answer that, you should understand that there are two types of protein that occur in nature: complete proteins (which contain all of the essential amino acids) and incomplete proteins (which only have some of the essential amino acids). Very simply, complete proteins are most commonly found in animal sources (as well as quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, chia, spirulina, and soy) and incomplete proteins are primarily found in plant sources.

Getting enough protein to build muscle is often considered easier if you eat animal sources, but you can absolutely meet your protein needs as a vegetarian or vegan too. Just be sure that you’re eating enough calories and getting a variety of foods throughout the day. Be sure to include legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy products in your diet, as well as eggs and dairy if you’re vegetarian.5

You might have heard that you need to combine different plants foods, like beans and rice, to get all of the necessary amino acids to form a complete protein. There’s actually no need to consciously combine different foods at each meal as long as you’re eating a variety of foods from day-to-day. Reason being, your body maintains a pool of amino acids that it uses to complement dietary proteins.6

That being said, if you are vegan or vegetarian and you want to build muscle, you should consider using a high-quality plant protein supplement. Including a plant-based protein powder can help ensure that you’re getting enough protein to support muscle growth. A few great brands include: Vega Sport Performance Protein, PlantFusion, and Sunwarrior Warrior Blend.

Here are some of the best sources of protein:

Complete Proteins Incomplete Proteins
Whey Beans
Dairy Legumes
Eggs Nuts
Fish & Seafood Seeds
Chicken & Turkey Grains
Pork Cereals
Beef Vegetables
Soy Fruits
Quinoa Coconut Flour
Hemp Seeds Nutritional Yeast
Chia Seeds Plant-Based Protein Powders

Are You Eating Enough Protein: 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 to help with workout recovery, muscle growth, and satiety.78

If you’re looking for a program that takes the guesswork out of nutrition and exercise, so you get lean and strong, check out BuiltLean’s 12-Week Body Transformation Program.

Show 8 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.
  5. Available at: http://www.jssm.org/vol3/n3/2/v3n3-2pdf.pdf. Accessed September 9, 2016.
  6. Marsh KA, Munn EA, Baines SK. Protein and vegetarian diets. Med J Aust. 2013;199(4 Suppl):S7-S10.
  7. Antonio J, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, Vargas L, Peacock C. The effects of a high protein diet on indices of health and body composition–a crossover trial in resistance-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;13:3.
  8. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):53.
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22 Comments

  1. profile avatar
    Alex Dec 24, 2012 - 17:25 #

    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. profile avatar
    Darren Moore Dec 25, 2012 - 09:53 #

    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. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Mar 24, 2013 - 20:59 #

      @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. profile avatar
    Arman Dec 25, 2012 - 14:41 #

    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. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Mar 24, 2013 - 21:00 #

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

  4. profile avatar
    Tom Dec 26, 2012 - 10:59 #

    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. profile avatar
    Eric Dec 29, 2012 - 06:54 #

    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. profile avatar
      Ehsan Jan 05, 2013 - 07:42 #

      the same question as above I have

    2. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jan 07, 2013 - 23:01 #

      @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. profile avatar
    CU Dec 29, 2012 - 09:33 #

    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. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Dec 29, 2012 - 19:16 #

      @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. profile avatar
    Nikki Dec 30, 2012 - 02:38 #

    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. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jan 07, 2013 - 22:56 #

      @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. profile avatar
    CU Dec 30, 2012 - 04:17 #

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

  9. profile avatar
    Haydn Dec 31, 2012 - 16:31 #

    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. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jan 07, 2013 - 22:47 #

      @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. profile avatar
    Eric Jan 08, 2013 - 11:21 #

    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. profile avatar
    Elli Vizcaino Jan 18, 2013 - 09:59 #

    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. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Jan 18, 2013 - 19:48 #

      @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. profile avatar
        Elli Vizcaino Jan 18, 2013 - 23:22 #

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

  12. profile avatar
    Alam villalva Aug 19, 2016 - 18:29 #

    Hi Marc,

    I’m 5’7 and weighing around 134-135 I’m trying to build muscle mass and I’m not sure how much protien I need to consume to gain and or keep the mass I have on me already

    1. profile avatar
      Kristin Aug 22, 2016 - 09:59 #

      Hi Alam,

      In general, we recommend eating between 60-80% on your bodyweight in grams of protein per day. As your weight changes, you can increase (or decrease) the amount of protein you’re eating on a daily basis. If you want to build muscle, or gain weight, we would recommend eating closer to 80% of your bodyweight in protein.

      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

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