Ever wonder how much protein you really need to build muscle?
If you ask Dr. Google for advice on this topic, you’ll unfortunately get a long list of different answers.
A few will point you in the right direction for how much protein you need as an athlete or maybe a bodybuilder.
Not Enough Protein?
But far too many health experts and organizations recommend a much lower amount of protein than you really need to build muscle and maintain muscle mass. For example:
- The American Dietetic Association recommends 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 0.4 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (up to 0.8 grams for athletes).
Based on these amounts, you’re going to have a hard time building muscle. And some even advocate that consuming more than this could be harmful to your health.
You might see some success at the athlete level of 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. But it’s just not enough. So how much protein do you really need?
Protein Recommendation for Bodybuilders and Athletes
Fortunately, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition put this debate to rest. In this study, researchers report that consuming an average of 35 percent of daily calories from protein is safe and an effective way to build and maintain muscle.
And that matches up with what bodybuilders and athletes have already been doing for years. Here’s an example for a 175-pound bodybuilder or athlete:
- 2000 (calories a day) x 35% (recommended protein intake) = 700 calories of protein
- 700 (calories of protein) / 4 (number of calories in a gram of protein) = 175 grams of protein per day
I just came back from Olympia 2017 where I was surrounded by top ranked bodybuilders and the most recognized supplement companies in the world.
And while everyone has their own training methods and strategies, there’s at least one thing this group can agree on.
About 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (maybe even a little more) is critical to building muscle and maintaining muscle mass, especially when combined with strength training. Some bodybuilders, including seven-time Mr. Olympia champion Phil Health, consume even more protein than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day, but it’s typically not necessary to go above this to get results.
Track protein intake
How are you going to make sure you get enough protein in your diet?
One of the reasons 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight works, is that it’s easy to remember. There’s no complicated formula you need to know to figure this out.
And food tracking with a mobile app, and product packaging has made it even easier. I highly recommend using a mobile app, and update it throughout the day.
At any given time, you can check in, see where you’re at and make changes to your food choices to make sure you stay on track. It’s critical for protein intake and building muscle.
Eat These Protein-Rich Foods
Find out how many grams of protein you should eat per day, and you’ll have important info to help you plan your meals.
So what should you put on your shopping list the next time you go to the store? Here are some examples of protein rich foods to include in your diet.
- Lean meat. 56 grams of protein in an 8 oz. steak.
- Poultry. 43 grams of protein in one chicken breast.
- Fish. 34 grams of protein in 6 oz. salmon filet.
- Legumes. 39 grams of protein in 1 cup of black beans.
- Eggs. 6 grams of protein per egg.
- Nuts and seeds. About 7 grams of protein in 1.4 cup of nuts.
- Dairy products. 8 grams of protein in 1 cup of milk. 10 to 15 grams of protein in a cup of Greek yogurt.
- Whey protein supplement. 20 to 40 grams of protein per serving.
Best Time for Protein Consumption
If you’re new to dieting to build muscle, start by simply working on hitting your protein goal. Include a protein source with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Then take things a step further. Plan ahead to have a post-workout protein shake or meal within an hour after your training session is over.
Right after your workout, your metabolism is elevated to which helps speed recovery, repair muscle damage, and promote growth. It’s a condition known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
About 30 to 60 minutes after your workout is the perfect window of time to maximize protein intake to feed your muscles.
If you’re in a hurry, grab a protein shake or smoothie. If you’ve prepped meals and snacks, you’ll already have something ready to eat. And if you’ve got the time, you can make a protein-rich meal or snack to eat after your workout.
Hit Your Daily Protein Goal
Post-workout protein is important, but your bigger focus should be on hitting your daily protein goal: About 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Commit to making this part of your nutrition and training plan, and you’ll build muscle, get stronger, and look better.
Need help figuring out your daily calorie and macronutrients goals? Check out my customized training and nutrition plans.
- Rodriguez, N. (2015). Introduction to Protein Summit 2.0: Continued exploration of the impact of high-quality protein on optimal health. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. From: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/101/6/1317S.full.
- Cataldo, D., et al, (2015). Protein intake for optimal muscle maintenance. American College of Sports Medicine. From: https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/brochures/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf
- McCall, P. 7 things to know about post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). American Council on Exercise. From: https://www.acefitness.org/blog/5008/7-things-to-know-about-excess-post-exercise-oxygen-consumption-epoc