How Much Protein To Build Muscle?

Written by Ben Carlisle

Last updated on: Sep 17, 2022

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To gain muscle the body needs to be in an anabolic state. This is where muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. To achieve this sufficient protein is required. The amount of protein needed will depend on 3 factors. The individuals lean body mass/weight, goals and training intensity.

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Using Weight To Determine How Much Protein You Should Take

There are two ways in which weight can be used to determined how much protein you should take in order to develop muscle mass. One way is to use total body mass (overall weight). The other way is to use lean body mass (this is body weight minus body fat). For individuals with lower body fat levels the method used is not important. For those with higher body fat percentages, using lean body mass for protein requirement calculations is probably the best way to start.

The general rule of thumb for daily protein is 0.8 g of protein for every kg of bodyweight which translates to about 7 grams of protein every day for every 20 pounds of body weight (1). However, there is evidence to support bodybuilders needing more dietary protein at around 1.4 g to 2g per kg of bodyweight (2).

It is important to ensure your daily protein intake is controlled, as taking too much protein over a prolonged period can result in unwanted side effects. If you are using a protein powder, check to see how much protein is in each serving. Multiple this by the amount of shakes you take per day. Then subtract it from your daily protein requirements. Now, the remaining number is the amount of protein you require from food sources. Now you can make a diet plan to safely meet the protein levels required for your desired muscle gain. 

How Do Different Goals Affect Recommended Protein Intake?

Muscle growth is a common goal. However, people who gain muscle do so for different reasons. Some simply want to gain muscle so they look better, others do so to maximise athletic performance. Whereas bodybuilders want to maximise size, symmetry and muscularity.

Protein Consumption To Improve Appearance

For those wanting to look better consuming 0.8 g of protein for every kg of bodyweight is likely to be the best course of action. For individuals who have a high body-fat reducing fat levels will be a bigger factor in improving physical appearance. This is because when fat levels are reduced, the lean mass beneath can be revealed. 

To lose weight and the subsequent body-fat a healthy diet with a calorie deficit is required. For a protein supplement pea and casein protein powders may help you lose weight more effectively. Research has found both these proteins suppress appetite more effectively (13). However, all protein is satiety inducing so no matter which supplement you choose it will assist with maintaining a calorie deficit (14).

Protein Consumption For Athletic Performance

The research on the amount of protein required to optimise athletic performance suggests it is dependant upon the athletes amount of resistance based vs aerobic based activity. In athletic endeavours requiring more muscle and strength. More strength training will be incorporated into the athletes training program more protein will be needed to maintain muscle protein synthesis.

In contrast endurance athletes will primarily keep protein levels high to prevent muscle loss and maintain functional strength to perform at their best. As a rough guideline to maximise muscle protein synthesis, 1.3g to 1.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight is recommended for athletes. This is advised to be spread across 3 to 4 meals. With 1.3g being the recommended amount for endurance athletes and 1.8g the recommended amount for more resistance/power based athletes (10).

Protein Consumption For Bodybuilders

The primary concern for bodybuilders is to maximise size, muscularity and symmetry. This means maximising protein accretion following resistance exercise. One study has found protein consumption of 1.6g to 2.2g per kg of bodyweight is optimal to achieve this. (12). Another research paper looking at the use of  nutrition and supplementation in competition preparation for natural bodybuilders, provided the following recommendations. Setting calorie intake at a level so weight loss was approximately 0.5 to 1% of body weight per week. The reason for this was to maximize muscle retention.

When using this calorie intake, most but not all bodybuilders were found to respond best by taking 2.3g to 3.1g of protein per kg of lean body mass. Then 15 to 30% of their calories from fat and the remaining calories from carbohydrates. The study stated eating 3 to 6 meals per day subsequent to resistance training was likely to maximize any theoretical benefits obtained from nutrient timing and frequency. It went on to state alterations in nutrient timing and frequency appear to have minimal impact on fat loss or lean mass retention (15).

How Does Protein Build Muscle?

The muscle fibers in the body are constantly being built and degraded. This process is called muscle protein turnover. When the body builds muscle fibers faster than it degrades them. The body is in an anabolic state. The scientific term for this is the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown. An anabolic state allows for individuals to achieve muscle growth (3).The opposite of this when muscle fibers degrade faster than they are built is called a catabolic state. This means the body will lose muscle.

As you exercise your body draws upon your protein stores to repair, rebuild and strengthen these muscle; therefore consuming enough protein is vital to build muscle. Without adequate protein stores muscle protein synthesis will not exceed muscle protein breakdown. The higher an intensity someone is training at the more protein they will need. Research has found muscle building can be optimised by consuming protein consumption with resistance training (16). This holds true for healthy adults across all age ranges (17).

Amino acids are the monomers which make up proteins. They are referred to as the building blocks of protein. There are more than 20 different amino acids which can be found in foods (9). The available scientific literature suggests a diet which includes  good levels of all nine essential amino acids will maximise muscle growth (18). This can be assisted by using a protein supplement which contains good levels of all of the essential amino acids. Of the essential amino acids, the branched chained amino acids play an important role in muscle protein synthesis especially leucine.(4).

Which Protein Powders Contain All Of The Essential Amino Acids?

Whey protein supplements contain good levels of all 9 essential amino acids. Scientific research has found whey to have a  robust ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (5, 20). Pea protein, is the best vegan alternative to whey protein. It contains all of the essential amino acids but is low in methionine (6). Some refer to pea protein as a complete protein however this is a contentious issue with some saying the methionine levels are too low for it to be given this label. However, research has found pea and whey supplementation produce similar results in a number of areas including the ability to increase muscle tissue (19). The best way to maximise muscle building when taking pea protein is to incorporate the appropriate methionine levels elsewhere in the diet. Or to take a pea supplement which has added ingredients such a hemp or brown rice to provide a complete protein source. Once such example is Future Kind Vegan Protein Powder.

How Much Protein Can I Get From A Supplement?

It is recommended to get as much of your dietary protein as you can from food sources. However, to hit high protein targets can be difficult either due to the amount of protein required or a busy lifestyle. Also getting protein onboard peri-workout which some believe is advantageous for maximum muscle gain can be difficult without the use of a protein shake.

Not all protein powders are created equal and some have better nutritional profiles than others. Below is an example of how protein content can vary between different protein sources (even the same protein sources can have vastly different nutritional profiles).

A 30g serving of pea protein typically has around 24g of protein. Whereas hemp will only have around 15g per 30g serving. And soy will normally have around 23 grams of protein per serving.  Whey supplements especially whey protein isolate will contain the highest levels of protein. With most having 25g of protein powder 30g serving and some whey isolate supplements being 90% protein. 

It is important to remember it is not just protein content which makes a supplement suitable for muscle growth. The essential amino acids and particularly the branched chain amino acids play an important role. For building muscle we recommended whey protein as the best animal based protein supplement and pea protein as the best plant based supplement.

Food Protein Sources

Recommended Animal Based Dietary Protein

• Eggs

• Poultry

• Meat

• Seafood

• Red Meats 

Recommended Plant Based Dietary Protein

• Legumes (beans, peas etc.)

• Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts etc.)

• Seeds (hemp, pumpkin seeds etc.)

• Whole grains (quinoa, oats, rice etc.)

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What Are The Risks Of Consuming Too Much Protein?

Whilst research suggests bodybuilders can benefit from increasing their protein intake above the recommend 0.8 grams per kg to somewhere between 1.4 to 2grams per kg of weight, there are studies which indicate the actual ingestion of protein in competitive bodybuilders is usually greater (7). You may wonder if there are any dangers of a high protein diet. The answer to this is yes, there can be. Studies have shown over consumption of protein, particularly from unhealthier protein forms, for prolonged periods can be detrimental to health (8).

Research indicates foods which are high in protein but low in carbohydrate can increase the risk of kidney stones, whilst also reducing the body’s capacity to absorb calcium (11).

Calcium binds to oxalate in the intestine and prevents its absorption through the gut. This process lowers the levels of oxalate in the urine and therefore helps prevent stones from forming. A high protein diet makes it harder for the body to absorb calcium which increases the risk of kidney stones forming.

However, the risk of kidney stones is able to be managed by selecting healthier forms of protein, consuming a well-balanced diet and spreading your protein intake evenly throughout your day. It is advisable, for anyone with pre-existing kidney issues should speak to their doctor before increasing their protein intake above the recommended 0.8 grams.

Summary: The Best Protein Intake For Muscle Mass

The best protein intake for the development of muscle mass will depend on your goal. Those who want to look better (get a toned body), athletes and bodybuilders will need different levels of daily protein. Even amongst these 3 groups the optimal level will vary. But in general, the optimal range of protein intake per kg of bodyweight will be between 0.8g and 2g. In all cases sufficient protein is imperative for muscle gain as it is needed to elevate muscle protein synthesis to a level higher than muscle protein breakdown. Before increasing your protein intake you should analyse your goals, your body fat, weight and training intensity. If you have any doubts you should always consult with a medical professional before increasing your dietary protein.

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