How much protein should i eat daily to gain muscle? There are different amounts of protein recommended for different people depending on a variety of factors. I’m going to share with you what some of the most popular trainers and dieticians recommend, but first let’s define some terms and set some parameters. Protein is ridiculously important to muscle growth and muscle protein synthesis. And this is why every bodybuilder needs to know how much protein to eat daily in order to gain muscle.
What Protein Is and Why It’s Important
Before we work out how much protein you need, let’s first break down exactly what it is. Put simply, protein is a macronutrient (a nutrient that we need in larger quantities) that is built from amino acids, which are stitched together into long chains. Some of these chains your body can make naturally – known as ‘non-essential’ – and some of which it can’t. These are called ‘essential’ amino acids and you need to source them from food. When you chow down on a chicken breast your body breaks proteins down into their constituent amino acids, which it then uses to build everything from new muscle to organs and hair.
Why Protein Is Important for Building Muscle
To build muscle, your body needs to synthesize more muscle protein than it breaks down, which is why anyone looking to build muscle needs to make sure they’re getting enough protein, as well as making sure the work they’re doing in the weights room is right too.
It’s not just us saying that there’s a body of research that confirms the part protein plays in building muscle. A study published in the journal Nutrients, for example, found that “protein intake was shown to promote additional gains in lean body mass beyond those observed with resistance exercise alone.”
Why Protein Is Important for Weight Loss
As well as being good for building strength, protein also plays an important role in losing weight. Evidence suggests that eating protein can both increase the number of calories you burn, by stimulating your metabolic rate, as well as reduce your appetite, meaning you’re less likely to put on pounds in the first place. What’s more, a study by researchers at Maastricht University reported that even a modest increase in protein, from 15% to 18% of calories, reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50%.
How Protein Supports Your Muscles
Protein is made up of amino acids that act as building blocks for your body’s cells and tissues, including muscle mass. Meaning, your muscle is made up of protein.
These amino acids are essential for supporting numerous bodily functions. If you aren’t getting the required (essential) nutrients – like amino acids – through food, your body doesn’t have what it needs and has to compromise. This involves stealing amino acids that are stored in your body (in your blood and muscle tissue) which can lead to muscle loss over time.
Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) vs. Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB)
Amino acids are also used for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) – the process of repairing and maintaining muscles after intense use.
When muscles are used during exercise or strenuous activity, it creates micro-tears and leads to muscle protein breakdown (MPB). Amino acids are then shuttled to your muscles to start repairing this damage and synthesizing new tissue to replace the damaged ones.
This process doesn’t automatically lead to bigger muscles (there is a little more needed for that), but it can make your muscles stronger or adapt to the type of training that caused the tears in the first place.
MPS is why protein, and strength training, in particular, are so essential for maintaining and building lean body mass.
When it comes to building muscle, the amount of protein you eat is a considerable factor. With the role of amino acids in muscle protein synthesis, maintaining a positive protein balance – in other words, eating more protein than you are breaking down or using, is one part of the muscle-building equation.
Muscle growth occurs when MPS outpaces MPB.
This can be achieved through a combination of increased protein intake, a strategic strength training routine, adequate rest (this is when MPS occurs), and often plenty of calories to support weight gain overall (bulking diet).
Depending on individual factors like fitness level and starting body composition, it is also possible to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, but this is not ideal for everyone and your rate of muscle growth is significantly less than following a standard weight gain approach.
How Much Protein Do You Need to Gain Muscle?
Your protein needs are most directly related to your muscle mass – the more you have and the more you use it, the more protein you need.
Age and fitness level can also impact how much protein is required to promote muscle growth.
Bodybuilders and weightlifters have higher protein needs because they are looking to add mass and are simultaneously using their muscles more than the average person or non-lifter.
Of course, it is entirely possible to overdo it. Eating too much protein can negatively impact your ability to build muscle by limiting your intake of other important macros for bulking (healthy fats and carbohydrates) that support your training and weight gain. So getting the right amount for your individual requirements is crucial to getting the best results.
Many fitness enthusiasts recommend about one gram of protein per pound of body weight, but this likely isn’t a perfect approach for everyone and the research varies on this topic depending on age, fitness level, and overall body composition goals
HOW DO YOU CALCULATE PROTEIN INTAKE?
Dr. Liaka gave Fit&Well her best advice for accurate protein intake calculation. “In order to estimate protein intake, you need to track what you’re eating; this can be done in several ways, and to varying degrees of accuracy,” she says. “For example, for bodybuilders who are in competition season, every gram of food is weighed for months on end. For the average fitness enthusiast looking to up their protein intake, however, estimating meals and foods on an app, or even just adding a serving of protein throughout the day, may be adequate. My main message would be the more specific the goal, the more specific the method of achieving it needs to be.”
We spoke to Dr. Brian Carson, Head of Science and Innovation at Whole Supp, who explained that weighing your food can be helpful if you want a more accurate idea of how much protein you are consuming. “The most effective way to calculate your protein intake is to weigh all your foods and establish the amount of protein per gram (or per 100 grams) as per the nutritional information,” he says. “With lots of ingredients and the inconvenience of weighing at each meal, this can obviously be quite challenging. One potential solution is to use an app like MyFitnessPal which has the nutritional and protein content for many common food products to track an estimate of your intake.”
Using an online calculator, such as the one provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, may help people establish protein requirements.
Alternatively, the following calculation can provide the proper target for protein consumption in either grams or calories.
- First, it’s important to know how many calories a person is likely to consume per day. An example is 2,300 calories.
- A person should choose the percentage of the diet that will be protein. In this example, it will be 20%.
- Multiply the total calories by the percentage of protein to get the number of calories from protein. 2300 x .20 = 460.
- Divide the calories from protein by 4 to get the total grams of protein. 460 / 4 = 115.
Using this example, a person consuming 2,300 calories per day, aiming for 20% of their calories to come from protein, will need to consume 115 g of protein per day.
CAN YOU OVERCONSUME PROTEIN?
While a lot of us are often worried does protein powder make you gain weight, you should remember that weight gain isn’t an inherently bad thing, and that muscle is a denser substance than fat. So, while the scales might be trending upwards, this could be as a result of muscle gain, not an increase in body fat, as many of us might suspect when we see a higher number.
Dr. Liaka explains that protein, like all macronutrients, contains calories, and those calories need to be used. “What is often forgotten is that protein contains calories; one gram of protein contains four calories. This means that overeating protein (I.e., many grams over the amounts mentioned above) produces diminishing returns in terms of performance and physique, whilst providing more energy in the form of calories,” she says. “Remember: eating too many calories, whether they come from fat, carbohydrates, or protein, will lead to weight (and likely fat) gain. There are also other individual variances to take into account, for example, health conditions that require limitation of protein, such as renal problems, or vegan diets which may require aiming for higher protein, in order to ensure intake of a complete amino acid profile.”
A study in Obesity journal found that there is a correlation between protein consumption and the over/underconsumption of other macronutrients, called protein leverage. This is of particular concern in populations with less access to high-quality protein, who will often over consume fat or carbohydrates to make up the calories. The reverse is also true; those who eat high amounts of protein often skimp on other macronutrients.
Dr. Carson tells us that the RDA for protein is increasingly thought to be too low. “The current RDA for protein is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body mass. However, there is a consensus building that this target is too low and a move towards a recommendation of 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body mass is required,” he says. “The current research suggests there is likely to be no additional benefit for building muscle beyond 2.0 gram of protein per kilogram of your body mass.”
Top Foods That Are High in Protein
“Generally, animal-based proteins are more bioavailable in comparison to plant-based sources of protein,” Feller says. Beef and chicken tend to be on the higher end of protein, while other poultry and fish are also great protein sources. “Animal sources also contain key nutrients including zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and iron,” Burdick adds.
That said, you’ll want to watch your intake. Although beef may have the highest amount of protein, it also tends to have a lot of saturated fat, which can be linked to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, as well as contribute to inflammation. If you’re a meat-eater, enjoy red meat and other animal protein sources in moderation, and supplement with other plant-based protein sources.
Eggs, Milk, and Yogurt
Eggs, milk, and other dairy products (like cheese) are a great source of protein as well. One cup of Greek yogurt can contain as much as 23 grams of protein, making it an excellent source. Eggs average around 6 grams of protein each and are also a great choice, in moderation. Like meat, you’ll want to watch your consumption; dairy products carry a lot of healthy benefits, but they too can be linked to high cholesterol.
Edamame tops the list for plant protein, and these young soybeans are fun to eat. Just a half cup of edamame has 9 grams of protein. Although it’s a bean, it’s a soybean, so it’s often lumped into a different category. Soybeans are a whole protein source.
“Three ounces of tofu will get you around 12 grams of protein,” says Burdick. Tofu is another great source of complete protein making it a fueling addition to all diets, especially those following a vegan diet.
Nuts have a ton of health benefits, and one of them is their high protein content. Peanuts (OK, these are technically legumes!) have a high amount of protein, and almonds and pistachios are excellent picks as well. Nut butters are another smart way to pack a protein punch—look for all-natural versions with no added sugars. Hemp seeds or hemp hearts (technically a nut) also boast a high amount of protein.
Chia seeds are a complete protein that boasts 4 grams per 2 tablespoons, and they’re easy to add to your diet. Mix chia seeds into your smoothies, overnight oats, and chia pudding. You can even add some of these dark, tiny seeds into your salad dressings or mix into veggie burgers, granola, and baked goods.
Quinoa is rare in that it’s a grain that’s also a complete protein. (Amaranth and buckwheat are other super choices that fall into this category.) Quinoa has about 8 grams of protein per cup. It’s also high in fiber, making it a well-rounded, hearty addition to your whole grain rotation.
Legumes such as beans are an overall healthy food choice because they also contain fiber (which meat products do not), which will keep you full and satisfied for longer. That’s why legumes—like chickpeas, lentils, beans, green peas—are a great, protein-fueled pick in a plant-based diet. Although not all types of legumes contain that full bioavailability, it’s easy to get a variety by pairing them with other legumes or other high-protein foods. Beans generally contain around 20 grams of protein per cup, and lentils contain around 13 grams of protein per cup. Chickpeas are another solid source of legume protein and super versatile to cook with and eat (hello, hummus!)