When 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|
|Fish & Seafood||Seeds|
|Chicken & Turkey||Grains|
|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.
- Brooks, G.A., Fahey, T.D., & Baldwin, K.M. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and It’s Applications. 2005 Boston, MA: Mcgraw-Hill. ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Tipton K.D., Wolfe R.R. Protein and amino acids for athletes. Journal of Sports Science. 2004 Jan; 22 (1): 65-79. ↩
- Available at: http://www.jssm.org/vol3/n3/2/v3n3-2pdf.pdf. Accessed September 9, 2016. ↩
- Marsh KA, Munn EA, Baines SK. Protein and vegetarian diets. Med J Aust. 2013;199(4 Suppl):S7-S10. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Pesta DH, Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):53. ↩