How much protein do you need to build muscle?
How much protein do you need to build muscle?
Hitting that point of temporary muscle failure on each exercise is the most important factor in getting benefits from strength training, in our opinion.
But, it's not the only factor that can affect results.
Have you ever asked, “How much protein do I need to build muscle?” In this article, we deep dive into the importance of protein, how much you need to gain muscle, how to get enough protein, and more. Let’s get into it…
The Effects of Protein
Protein intake affects how much lean muscle you gain from exercise. If eating more protein enables more muscle growth, then any additional protein to your usual diet should help, right?
It’s not quite that simple.
Researchers have discovered a phenomenon called the “protein change theory.” If you want to gain more strength and muscle by adding protein to a typical diet, there’s evidence you can’t just add a little more to make a difference.
Research has shown the increase in your diet must be significant.
The protein change theory was created after researchers noticed conflicting results of studies.
In studies when strength trainees increased their habitual protein intake, some gained strength and muscle, and others saw no change.
When looking closer at how much the intake was increased between those who got stronger and those who didn’t, a clear answer stood out:
- Studies showing noticeable strength and muscle gains averaged a protein consumption increase of 60%.
- Studies with small increases, such as those under 20%, led to no changes.
In terms of actual amounts, a 60% increase for a person who eats 50 grams of protein per day is jumping to a daily amount of 80 grams (which translates to about five more ounces of meat per day, considering an ounce contains 6-7 grams of protein).
To maximize muscle and strength growth, protein intake can have an effect. According to the protein change theory, a large increase, perhaps as much as two-thirds of your current intake, may be needed to notice extra results (depending on how much protein you’re already eating).
Otherwise, any change in protein consumption may not make as much of an impact on your strength or appearance.
How Much Protein Is Enough?
Although many people normally eat a diet that provides sufficient protein that can provide for good strength training results, some people do not.
One recent study looking at protein intake with people who strength trained found that if enough protein isn't consumed, muscle development will be limited.
So how much is enough? In this study, the trainees ate one of three amounts of protein relative to their body weight:
- 0.86 grams per kilogram of body weight per day
- 1.4 g per kg/day
- 2.4 g per kg/day.
The group eating 0.86 grams per kg/day developed less muscle than the 1.4 and 2.4 gram groups. Eating 0.86 grams per kg was not enough to help post-workout muscles rebuild to an optimal extent.
On the other hand, the 2.4 g group actually had an abnormally high rate of amino acid oxidation (breakdown), meaning that there was a large excess of protein. While 0.86 g was not enough, 2.4 g was too much.
The researchers concluded that a person who strength trains should consume a minimum of 1.3 g per kg of body weight per day.
To translate this formula into pounds, you can figure out your daily minimum by multiplying your weight by 0.7.
For example a:
- 100 lb person x 0.7 = 70 grams of protein per day
- 150 lb person, this is 105 grams per day
- 200 lb person, this is 140 grams per day
- 250 lb person, this is 175 grams per day
According to the Journal of Nutrition, a high-protein intake is helpful for several reasons. A higher protein intake:
- Reduces hunger levels and snack cravings
- Decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis
- Helps sustain weight loss
- And, for older adults, a higher protein diet is connected with maintaining functional abilities, strength, muscle, and recovering faster/more quickly from hospitalizations
A high-protein diet is helpful for maximizing your physique, health, and physical function. But is there such a thing as too much?
Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Protein?
Earlier we mentioned there was such a thing as “too much” protein when overconsumption led to amino acid oxidation, but eating that much protein is not easy to do without massive changes to your diet. So, unless you’ve been consistently getting something like 350+g of protein in a day, (which is what a 175lb person eating 2.4g a kg would be) you won’t need to worry about this.
One concern some people have is the fear that eating more protein may lead to kidney damage. Some research supports the idea that this shouldn't be a concern for most people.
The University of Connecticut researchers in this study conclude, “We find no significant evidence for a detrimental effect of high protein intakes on kidney function in healthy persons.”
Also, the Institute of Medicine states that protein is safe to consume for 10- 35% of calorie intake. To put that in context, a person who consumes 100 grams of protein and 2,000 total calories per day only consumes 20% of calories from protein.
If you’re not sure you can eat enough protein simply because of how much food it would require you to consume in a day, read on.
How To Get Enough Protein
How can you reach the amount that’s recommended for a person of your weight? Consume a major source of protein at every meal.
Some “whole food” sources of highly digestible protein are poultry, fish, red meat, eggs, and dairy.
Other examples of high-protein foods include:
- low-fat Greek yogurt
- cottage cheese
For more non-meat, dairy-free protein alternatives, read Healthline’s 18 Best Protein Sources for Vegans here.
If looking for a protein supplement, consider whey, casein, egg, or pea protein. These supplements have high levels of most or all amino acids and are largely digestible. If you know you have allergens or sensitivities, especially to whey or milk protein, check out Precision Nutrition’s whey sensitivity & intolerance article here where they talk about alternative kinds of protein supplements.
Maximize your results by complementing your strength training program with a sufficient amount of protein intake each day.
Eating enough protein will ensure that you are gaining muscle, strength, managing your weight, and maintaining your physical function.
Protein Pays Off- A Real Life Story
We were emailed a real-life story of a high-intensity strength training member and her experience with protein needs:
“I was working with a woman who had lower than average muscle tone. This woman was approaching her senior years with a very small frame, below average muscle mass, and osteopenia (the precursor for osteoporosis).
Her goals: gain muscle, strength, and improve her bone density.
She quickly and fully absorbed the value of intensity, working to ‘muscle success' on every exercise a few sessions after starting. I can honestly say that I never left our sessions thinking that she could have worked harder.
However, despite a large capacity for physical improvement and her great effort, her body barely changed over the first two months. I was at a loss for words when witnessing the lack of change. Needless to say, she was unhappy with the training and with herself.
Fortunately, I had come across some research on protein intake at the time. After informing her of the researchers' recommendations, the woman admitted that she didn't consume much protein.
She made some diet adjustments and, sure enough, her body started to slowly develop into what she wanted. About three months later, she routinely showed up to sessions talking about compliments from friends and family about the muscle tone in her arms, shoulders, and thighs.
The funny thing is, even though her muscles made noticeable changes over the latter three months, it was her diet that changed. Specifically, it was her protein intake.”
It's extremely unlikely that you will “bulk up” like a bodybuilder, regardless of how much protein you eat. Instead, all of us over the age of 25 are fighting against age-related muscle loss (“sarcopenia”), which slows the metabolism, promotes fat gain, and is definitely not what you want.
We recommend striving to develop every bit of body shaping, calorie-burning muscle tissue that you can!
The relationship between strength training and nutrition is an interrelated one. While putting in a great effort at the end of each strength training exercise is key, protein provides the amino acids that your body uses to develop new muscle tissue.
If you would like to learn more about our method of strength training, read about our methodology. If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and book a FREE Introductory Session.
- Anderson, G.H. & Moore, S.E. (2004). Dietary proteins in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(4), 974S-979S.
- Bosse, J. D., & Dixon, B. M. (2012). Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 42.
- Graham, J. (2019). Why older adults should eat more protein (and not overdo protein shakes). KHN. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/why-older-adults-should-eat-more-protein-and-not-overdo-protein-shakes/
- Martin, W. F., Armstrong, L. E., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2005). Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & metabolism, 2(1), 25.
- Phillips SM. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to metabolic advantage. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006;31:647.
- Phillips, S.M. (2012). Dietary protein requirements and adaptive advantages in athletes. British Journal of Nutrition, 108, S158-S167.