How much protein should you eat to gain muscle? Is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight too much, not enough or about right? If you eat more, are you going to build muscle faster? Or will you do just as well with less?
Historically, most bodybuilders and strength athletes have claimed that extra protein over and above the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) is essential for building muscle mass, mainly because of the need to synthesize new muscle tissue and repair muscle damage.
The argument from some nutrition professionals is that the RDA provides enough protein to meet the needs of most people.
Rather than contributing to muscular gains, they say that extra protein is unnecessary and simply puts an extra burden on the kidneys.
Since you’re reading an article about how much protein you need to gain muscle mass, I’m going to assume a few things are true about you.
First, you’re lifting weights 2-4 days a week, and maybe doing a bit of cardio on top of that as well.
You’ve heard that protein provides your body with the building blocks necessary to build muscle mass, and more muscle mass is exactly what you want.
What’s more, you want those gains to be made as fast as humanly possible, without wasting any time or effort in the process.
However, while you don’t want to miss out on any gains because you’re not eating enough protein, you don’t want to eat more than is strictly necessary.
Eating large amounts of protein can be expensive, as well as impractical. If you weigh 180 pounds, trying to eat 180 grams of protein each and every day isn’t easy.
How Much Protein to Gain Muscle?
So, with all that in mind, what are your daily protein needs if you want to maximize muscle growth?
If you want a simple number to aim for, one that doesn’t involve trying to estimate your body fat percentage or decide on a target bodyweight, go for 0.7 grams per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight.
That’s the number pulled from a “study of studies” — called a meta-analysis — that looked at the effect of protein intake and weight training on muscle growth .
The researchers pooled the results of 49 trials, covering a total of 1,863 people.
After crunching the numbers, they came to the conclusion that eating more than 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (roughly 0.7 grams per pound) isn’t going to help you build muscle any faster.
Researchers from Iran came to similar conclusions when they compared two levels of protein intake — 0.7 and 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day — on gains in muscle size and strength in a group of resistance-trained men .
After four months of training, there was no significant difference in results. Men eating 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day gained no more muscle than those eating half that amount.
A Quick and Simple Way to Calculate Your Protein Needs
To calculate the amount of protein you need to maximize muscle growth, multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 0.7. If you prefer metric, multiply your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.6.
|130 lb (59 kg)||95g|
|140 lb (64 kg)||102g|
|150 lb (68 kg)||109g|
|160 lb (73 kg)||116g|
|170 lb (77 kg)||124g|
|180 lb (82 kg)||131g|
|190 lb (86 kg)||138g|
|200 lb (91 kg)||145g|
|210 lb (95 kg)||153g|
|220 lb (100 kg)||160g|
|230 lb (105 kg)||167g|
It is worth pointing out that the researchers don’t rule out the possibility that a higher protein intake may be beneficial.
“Given that the confidence interval of this estimate spanned from 1.03 to 2.20, it may be prudent to recommend approximately 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (1 gram per pound) per day for those seeking to maximise resistance training-induced gains in fat-free mass.”
In other words, they think that the muscle-building benefits of protein plateau at around 0.7 grams per pound of body weight per day.
But, they acknowledge that there may be a small benefit to eating more – around 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day, or 2.2 grams per kilogram.
You’re also better off spreading your protein intake across 3-4 smaller meals, rather than one or two big ones.
Distributing protein intake evenly throughout the day does a better job at increasing muscle protein synthesis (MPS) – a key driving force behind muscle growth – compared to the same amount of protein squeezed into a smaller number of larger meals [2, 3].
Ideally, you’ll eat some protein within the first few hours after getting out of bed, before a workout, after a workout, and before going to bed.
Where Do Protein Powders and Supplements Fit In?
Protein shakes are a quick and easy way to increase the amount of protein in your diet. But how many should you actually be drinking? And how many is too many?
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There are no rigid rules that dictate exactly how many protein shakes you should have each day. But for most people looking to build muscle, it’s probably going to be somewhere between 1 and 3 protein shakes per day.
Having more in a single day isn’t necessarily going to have any detrimental effects on your health. But you don’t want to get into the habit of living off protein supplements, not for any great length of time anyway.
The amount of protein you get from protein powders, drinks and bars depends on two things:
- Your daily protein needs.
- The amount of protein you get from other sources.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re getting all the protein you need from the food you eat.
And let’s also assume some of that comes from whole food sources like fish, eggs or milk, which are all sources of high-quality protein and rich in essential amino acids.
Do you need more on top of that? Not really.
As long as your protein intake is distributed throughout the day (as opposed to eaten in one or two large meals), adding shakes to a diet that’s already providing an optimal protein intake isn’t going to help.
However, let’s say that you’re getting around 100 grams of protein each day from the food you eat. But you’ve worked out that your daily protein intake should be around 140 grams per day, and you have neither the time nor the inclination to get those missing 40 grams from food.
In this case, a couple of protein shakes can help you bridge the gap between what you are eating and what you should be eating.
Paired with an effective training program and a lot of hard work, the extra protein will make a difference to the speed at which muscle is gained.
Ultimately, protein supplements are just a convenient way to increase the amount of high-quality protein you get from your diet.
They also contain a relatively small number of calories. With whey protein, for example, you get protein and very little else in the way of fat or carbs.
Most high-protein foods will typically be higher in carbs and fat, so you end up consuming more calories to get the same amount of protein.
To repeat, the total amount of protein in your diet is important when it comes to building muscle. But the source of that protein – assuming some of it comes from high-quality sources like fish, eggs, dairy or even some plant-based proteins – is a lot less critical.
How Much Protein Do You Need for Weight Loss?
Technically, you don’t need to eat lots of protein in order to lose weight.
The only true requirement for weight loss is a calorie deficit, which can be achieved on both a high- and low-protein diet.
However, protein does have a couple of important benefits for anyone trying to shed the pounds.
Firstly, protein has a “muscle sparing” effect. If you don’t get enough protein while you’re on a diet, you’ll end up losing muscle as well as fat .
Other than lifting weights, getting a sufficient amount of protein in your diet is probably the single most important thing you can do to gain (or even just retain) muscle while losing fat.
Protein also does a better job at filling you up than carbohydrate or fat.
In one study, Italian researchers found that subjects stopped eating after consuming 50 grams of protein and 411 calories from a high-protein omelet . But with a low-protein omelet containing 25 grams of protein, they consumed 713 calories – a 73% increase.
In another trial, test subjects were fed lunch, followed four hours later by a snack high in protein, fat, or carbohydrate . On the control day, when no snack was given, subjects asked for dinner roughly six hours after starting lunch.
Dinner requests were delayed by 35 minutes following the high carbohydrate snack, and by 25 minutes after the high-fat snack was eaten.
But on the day the high-protein snack was eaten, dinner requests were delayed by a full 60 minutes.
However, there is a ceiling to the satiating effect of protein. Once you go beyond that point, simply eating more of the stuff isn’t going to help.
In one study, a protein intake of 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight per day was just as satiating as a protein intake that was 50% higher (1.3 grams per pound of bodyweight per day) .
If you want to gain muscle while losing weight at the same time, your protein intake should be somewhere in the region of 0.7 grams per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight per day.
Your goal is to get enough protein while you reduce your overall calorie intake. The reduction in calories can come from either carbohydrate, fat or a combination of the two.
To maximize your rate of muscle growth, you want to be in a calorie surplus. Weight loss, on the other hand, requires a calorie deficit.
But in both cases, your daily protein intake should remain roughly the same. It’s your intake of carbohydrate and/or fat that will need to change if weight loss is the goal.
How Much Protein Do Older Adults Need to Build Muscle?
Much has been made of a phenomenon known as anabolic resistance, which refers to the idea that older adults need more protein to generate the same level of muscle protein synthesis as younger people.
That is, when a young adult eats a protein-rich meal, you tend to see an increase in muscle protein synthesis. When an older adult eats the exact same meal, muscle protein synthesis doesn’t go up to the same extent.
However, the idea that you need more protein as you get older to offset age-related anabolic resistance comes from research on physically inactive older adults, which is of little relevance to someone lifting weights and training hard 3-4 days a week.
In fact, there’s little evidence to show that anabolic resistance exists in older, physically active adults.
Here’s what Daniel Moore, assistant Professor of muscle physiology at the University of Toronto, has to say on the subject:
“Evidence from acute dose–response studies, comparisons of trained and untrained older adults, and the general ‘young’ muscle phenotype of Master athletes would suggest they are unlikely to suffer from the typical age-related anabolic resistance, which incidentally is thought to be underpinned or exacerbated by physical inactivity.”
Daily Protein Intake: Total Calories or Weight?
You’ll often see macronutrient recommendations given in percentages, such as 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 30% fat.
The problem with this approach is they’re going to be affected in a big way by your daily calorie intake.
For example, 30% protein on a 1500 calorie diet is very different from 30% protein on a 3000 calorie diet, even though the percentages are exactly the same.
Protein intake on the 1500 calorie diet is 113 grams, compared with 225 grams on the 3000 calorie diet. That’s despite the fact both represent 30% of total calorie intake.
A better approach is to make recommendations in terms of grams per pound (or kilogram) of bodyweight.
Expressing your protein needs in this way is far more accurate than basing it on a percentage, because it remains the same no matter how many calories you’re eating.
That is, if you eat one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (or 2.2 grams per kg), you’ll be getting the same amount of protein whether you’re eating 1500 or 3000 total daily calories.
But even this method is not without its limitations.
Let’s say you have an obese man who weighs 300 pounds. If he were to eat one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, that’s 300 grams of protein per day, far more than he actually needs.
In this case, it’s far better to base protein intake on lean body mass rather than total weight. And by lean body mass, I’m talking about everything in your body that isn’t fat (barring the small amount of essential fat in your bones and internal organs).
Will You Benefit from More than 1 Gram of Protein Per Pound?
In terms of muscle growth, there’s not much point in eating more than one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
In one study, increasing protein intake from 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day failed to increase muscle growth in a group of trained lifters during an eight-week training program .
Eating 50% more protein didn’t lead to muscle being built any faster.
Researchers from Iran came to similar conclusions when they compared two levels of protein intake — 0.7 and 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day — on gains in muscle size and strength during a concurrent training program .
After four months of combining weight training and cardio, there was no significant difference in results. Men eating 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day gained no more muscle than those eating half that amount.
While protein plays an important role in helping your muscles recover and grow, there’s an upper limit on the amount that your body can use to synthesize new muscle tissue.
And most research points to that upper limit being around 0.7 grams per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight per day.
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to any nutrient, and that includes protein.
Is Too Much Protein Bad for Your Kidneys?
The idea that a high-protein diet is “bad” for your kidneys is something that people have been arguing about for years.
It dates back to the early 1980′s when Dr Barry Brenner proposed a link between high protein diets and the progression of renal disease (renal refers to the kidneys).
It’s true that a low-protein diet helps to prevent the deterioration in renal function in patients with renal failure. That’s because one of the main jobs of the kidneys is to remove the end products of protein metabolism from your body.
They act a bit like a sieve, filtering out any unwanted substances in the blood and sending them to the bladder where they can be removed in the urine.
But the majority of scientific evidence cited by Brenner and his colleagues was generated from animal models and patients with existing renal disease.
While protein restriction may be suitable for treating someone with existing kidney disease, there is no evidence to show that high protein intakes can lead to kidney damage in healthy individuals.
A study by Belgian researchers Jacques Poortmans and Oliver Dellalieux examined the diets of young male athletes to see if their high level of protein intake had any negative impact on kidney function .
One group consisted solely of bodybuilders, while subjects in group two took part in a variety of sports, such as cycling, judo, and rowing.
On average, the bodybuilders consumed about 169 grams of protein per day (1.9 grams per kilogram of body weight). Group two consumed around 99 grams of protein daily (1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight). Some of the bodybuilders consumed up to 2.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Despite the high levels of dietary protein, blood and urine samples showed that all markers of kidney function were well within the normal range.
Researchers from Florida’s Nova Southeastern University compared two protein intakes over a 12-month period – 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram (around 1 gram per pound) versus 3.3 grams of protein per kilogram (1.5 grams per pound) of bodyweight per day .
Protein intake averaged 214 grams per day during the normal protein phase. During the high protein phase, this rose to a whopping 284 grams per day.
Despite the extremely high levels of dietary protein in both groups, markers of kidney function remained well within the normal range.
A team of Canadian scientists reached a similar conclusion when they reviewed years of research on the subject .
After looking at 28 studies on dietary protein and renal function, they found no research carried out on healthy individuals to demonstrate a clear link between increased dietary protein intake and a detrimental “strain” on the kidneys.
Here’s how they sum up their findings:
“In summary, the results of the current meta-analysis suggest a nonexistent or trivial effect of high-protein consumption on glomerular filtration rate (used to check how well the kidneys are working), in individuals with normal kidney function.
“Furthermore, there is no evidential link that shows that high protein intake somehow leads to declines in renal function in otherwise healthy persons and, as our analysis indicates, even in populations with greater risk for declines in renal function such as those with type 2 diabetes.”
To build muscle, aim for around 0.7 grams of protein per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight, each day. That will do the job for most people.
There’s no reason you can’t eat more. If anything, I’d rather err on the side of eating a little too much, rather than not enough.
It’s not going to do you any harm, and there may well be a benefit to higher protein intakes, even in areas unrelated to muscle growth, such as appetite control and food intake.
However, while protein is important, there’s an upper limit on the amount that your body can use to synthesize new muscle tissue. And the science points to that upper limit being around 0.7 grams per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of bodyweight per day.
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