How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle

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lifting

If you've ever asked yourself "How much protein do I need?" as you were starting a new fitness program to increase your muscle mass, the answer could lie in increasing both the level and type of protein in your diet. Your ability to Increase muscle will rest, largely, on your personal genetics, experience as a bodybuilder, and your diet.

Many people ask, "How much protein do I need?" when they want to gain muscle mass. This article reviews current opinions on amounts of protein needed per day to increase muscle mass and key factors to consider when creating individual meal plans. We also review different sources of protein and how to maintain muscle mass once you've achieved your ideal weight.  

Although our key focus is increasing your protein intake by eating protein rich food and drinking protein drinks, this article also considers the importance of specific types protein, the regularity of meals, and how other factors such as age and genetics affect your ability to build muscle.  

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Diet for Muscle Gain - How Much Protein Do I Need?

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To increase muscle mass, it's critical to eat, every day, more calories than you need. Although the amount of calories a person needs every day is debatable as dieticians and experts argue it's different for each person due to individual metabolic rates and genetic factors, most people need to eat over 1,200 calories a day, to put on weight.

To improve muscle mass, we know you need to increase the amount of protein you eat. However, answering the question, "How much protein do I need?" is a little more complex. Protein breaks down into amino acids the body uses to build new muscle and for a range of other essential functions. Therefore, we recommend a protein level of 2.5 to 3.3 grams per kilogram of total body weight, or of your ideal body weight, for someone who works out and wants to increase muscle mass.

When increasing muscle mass, it is not only essential to increase the amount of protein in your diet, it is also important to know which type of protein will assist you the most in your goal to increase muscle mass.

Different foods have a different NPU or Net Protein Utilization, which shows the amount of protein the body can use. For example whey powder has a 90% NPU and a high level of essential amino acids making it the top supplement for bodybuilders. It is easy for the body to absorb and its amino acids assist in building muscle. Beef protein also has an NPU of 79-80% and the body digests it quickly. So a better question than "How much protein do I need?" might be "What kind of protein can my body absorb the best?"

Foods to Include in Your Meal Plan:

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  • High protein meats: chicken and lean beefs also provide minerals and B vitamins
  • Fish: HIgh in omega-3 fatty acids which helps muscle protein and overall protein synthesis
  • Eggs: a complete protein high in vitamins and packed with amino acids
  • Tofu: A vegan option high in minerals calcium and iron
  • Legumes: Also high in carbohydrates and fiber
  • Milk: complete protein with minerals potassium, calcium and B vitamins
  • Whole grains: Oats and brown rice are high in magnesium
  • Nuts: unsalted and unsweetened almonds and walnuts are high in protein and healthy fats
  • Protein shakes: many unsweetened, additive-free options are available including soy protein isolate and hemp seed power
  • Meal Frequency

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    To maximize muscle mass increases, you need to eat 3 to 4 meals a day with snacks. There is medical evidence showing that the timing of meals affects muscle gain, and four 20g servings of protein a day can be more effective in building muscle than two large intakes of protein. Medical studies show that eating at least a 40g serving of protein before you go to sleep also significantly increases muscle strength.

    Most medical studies confirm that there are significant benefits to eating in the 30-45 minutes window after your workout as this will directly impact your muscles' ability to rebuild and repair.  

    There are no miracle short cuts to building muscle. It will take at least a month before you'll notice significant results, so see this as a long-term plan. If the changes to your diet do not lead to any increase in muscle mass, you need to consider the following factors:

    • Are you doing the right workout?
    • Are you eating enough carbs, proteins, and total calories?
    • Are you allowing muscles to rest and repair themselves for 48 hours between workouts?

    EXAMPLE MEAL PLAN

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    Build individual preferences into every meal and be realistic about how much preparation time you have during the week. Prepare to shop and to cook in advance. A good stock of frozen meat, carbs and protein shakes should be available to you at all times, and protein rich snacks such as nuts, and seeds so you never skip a meal. Reducing protein and total calorie intake for even one day will impact your muscle-gain program. An example meal plan could look like:

    • Breakfast: Oats or muesli with milk, seeds, nuts and a banana with high grain bread toast
    • Lunch: Chicken or turkey breast with steamed leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli or kale with brown rice or quinoa
    • Snacks: Protein shakes and almond or walnuts
    • Dinner: Grilled fish or beef with a large green salad, and dairy dessert of sweet rice or yogurt with fresh fruit

    Breakfast can also include high protein flour pancakes or breads made from quinoa, almond or amaranth flour. You can prepare sandwiches with large green salads for lunch when you have less time or opportunities to cook. Although newbies often wonder how much protein they need for each meal, most experts agree that the total amount of protein per day is a better focus. Online, you can find a wide range of recipes available to inspire your new meal plans.

    How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle?

    As you increase your protein intake to build muscle your experience as a bodybuilder will also affect how much muscle you will build monthly.  An experienced bodybuilder could build 2 to 3 pounds a month while a novice may only build 0.5 lbs.

    Although genetics influence protein absorption, studies show there is no benefit to anyone eating more than 2g protein per day per kg of body weight to build muscle. Other studies show that a person weighing 57kg needs 125g-187g of protein a day to build muscle. Age is also a factor in how much protein the body needs to build muscle, and those aged over 50 will need more since they process protein less effectively.

    We know the body absorbs types of proteins more easily, and that whey protein is most effective for building lean muscle. With high amino acids levels that support protein synthesis, there are vegan alternatives available for people who don't consume whey. Pea flour, soy protein isolate, and casein isolate all have a high absorption rate.

    How Much Protein Do I Need to Maintain Muscle Mass?

    Once you have achieved your ideal muscle mass, you will need to maintain it through your diet and workouts. On average a 57kg person will need 125g-187g of protein a day to maintain their size. However, for overweight and obese bodybuilders the recommended daily protein intake is 68g to 85g.  Replacing carbohydrates and fats with protein as part of your daily calorie consumption will lead to more weight loss from workouts.

    Conclusion 

    It is not straightforward or easy to answer the question, "How much protein do I need?" for building muscle mass. Once you realize that genetics, age, and how much experience you have as a bodybuilder are all factors affecting the answer. Once you have weighed yourself and figured out how much protein you need to eat every day to achieve your target muscle mass increase, you can change your daily diet to move you closer to your goal.

    It is important to be realistic as there is no "quick fix" solution and a long term view is necessary if you are to stick to your plan to accomplish your goals. Maintaining your ideal body weight can prove more difficult for some as it requires constant vigilance on your daily protein intake and overall calorie consumption. However, since you already have displayed the discipline needed to stick to a regular workout program, a new meal plan will seem easy in comparison. Once started, meal planning will become second nature.

    Avoiding processed foods can be difficult, but the 80-20 rule works well for most people. This rule encourages you to eat healthily 80% of the time while allowing you to enjoy more decadent snacks and unhealthy treats occasionally, but not over 20% of the time. Once you train your body and your digestive system, you'll find you no longer have cravings for processed foods high in sugar and chemical additives, and you'll gravitate to healthy snacks and healthy food choices.

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