How much protein do you need to build muscle?
Is one gram per pound of bodyweight 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?
Let’s find out.
Since you’re reading an article about how much protein you need to build muscle, I’m going to assume a few things are true about you.
First, you’re lifting weights 3-4 days a week, and maybe doing a bit of cardio on top of that as well.
You’ve heard that more protein means more muscle, and more muscle is what you want.
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 Should You Eat to Build Muscle?
So, with all that in mind, how much protein should you eat if you want to build muscle?
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.
So, if you want to work out how much protein you need to build muscle, multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 0.7. If you prefer kilograms, multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 1.6.
For someone weighing 180 pounds (82 kilograms), that gives you a daily protein intake of around 126 grams per day.
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 bodyweight 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.
Can You Build Muscle Without Protein Supplements?
As long as you’re getting enough high-quality protein each day, you can build muscle without protein supplements. Supplements are a quick and easy way to boost your protein intake if you’re not getting enough. But there is an upper limit, over and above which additional protein isn’t going to help much.
This study, for example, shows that increasing protein intake from 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound (1.3 to 2 grams per kilogram) of bodyweight had no effect on muscle growth in a group of untrained men.
The men trained three days a week on alternate days, using the squat, bench press, deadlift, and bent-over-row. They varied their sets and reps, doing 4 sets of 10 reps on day one (Monday or Tuesday), 6 sets of 4 reps on day two (Wednesday or Thursday), and 5 sets of 6 reps on day three (Friday or Sunday).
After 12 weeks, subjects using whey or soy to bump up their protein intake to around 160 grams per day had gained no more muscle than subjects eating an average of 106 grams of protein per day.
It’s worth mentioning that the placebo group did eat more carbs than subjects taking protein supplements, which could have affected the results via changes in glycogen/water levels.
What’s more, the combination of whey protein and resistance training did lead to an increase in satellite cell number, an effect that wasn’t seen in the other groups.
Why does that matter?
Satellite cells surround your muscle fibers, and play a key role in the synthesis of new muscle tissue. Over a longer period, those additional satellite cells may well have led to bigger, stronger muscles.
Another study, this time in a group of resistance-trained men, compared the effects of three different protein supplements – whey protein concentrate, a whey protein concentrate high in lactoferrin, and hydrolyzed whey. There was also a control group that didn’t take any protein.
Protein intake in the three supplement groups was around 0.9 grams per pound (2 grams per kilogram) of bodyweight. In the placebo group, it was 0.7 grams per pound (1.6 grams per kilogram) of bodyweight.
For eight weeks, lifters in all four groups trained four days a week, using an upper-lower split routine.
The researchers thought that subjects given whey protein would gain the most muscle.
But, they didn’t.
Whey protein, irrespective of whether it was a concentrate or a hydrolysate, was no more effective than a placebo for increasing muscle mass in previously trained young men.
Here’s how the researchers sum up their findings.
“Contrary to our hypotheses, we report that 8 weeks of heavy resistance training plus supplementation with whey protein twice daily, regardless of whey protein form or molecular weight distribution, was no more effective than placebo at increasing total body skeletal muscle mass in previously trained young men when total protein intake is removed as a potential confounding variable.”
To repeat, protein supplements are not necessary for building muscle. They do make hitting your protein targets for the day convenient and easy, which is why I use them myself. But think of them as an optional extra, rather than a strict requirement.
How Much Protein Should You Eat Each Day to Build Muscle?
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.
Is this the absolute maximum for every human being that has, or ever will, set foot on this planet?
But, if you’re training without the benefits of pharmaceutical assistance, it is going to be there or thereabouts.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you're fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a "cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.