Building Muscle, How Much Protein?

Building Muscle, How Much Protein?

Article Difficulty: Moderate

In this article, we are going to be looking at exactly how much protein that you should consume to optimize muscle gain.

Protein's Role in Muscle Building:

Before looking at exactly how much protein is required to optimize muscle growth, it's important to understand why we must consume dietary protein to recover from training. Engaging in resistance training or physical activity places stress on our muscles, leading to damage in the muscle fibres. To repair and rebuild these damaged muscles, our bodies rely on an adequate supply of protein. When we consume dietary protein, it is broken down into smaller molecules called amino acids, which are essential for muscle tissue repair. This crucial process, known as muscle protein synthesis, is responsible for muscle tissue growth. However, insufficient protein intake can hinder this process and limit muscle growth potential. Therefore, ensuring an appropriate dietary protein intake is vital for supporting muscle repair and maximizing muscle growth.

What is the optimal amount of dietary protein for building muscle mass?

Numerous studies have delved into the topic of optimal protein intake to maximize the benefits of resistance exercise. The collective findings indicate a recommended range of 0.68 to 1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (g/lb/day) (1)(2). The variation between the studies was driven by many factors that affect protein requirement, including age, body composition, activity type, and energy balance. Despite an abundance of different studies, a recent systematic review (3) synthesized data from 49 studies and found that an optimal dietary protein intake is around 0.73 g/lb/day. Eating at least this intake was associated with significant benefits, including a 27% increase in lean body mass (muscle tissue) and a 9% improvement in strength, when compared to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) intake of 0.36g/lb/day. The review concluded that values beyond 0.73g/lb/day did not provide additional benefits, suggesting that 0.73g/lb/day represents an optimal protein intake for muscle development and strength gains.

Protein requirements for building and maintaining muscle while losing body weight:

0.73g/lb/day represents the minimum effective dose for people looking to optimize muscle hypertrophy while in energy balance (eating the same number of calories as they were burning each day). However, another study (4) investigated the impact of caloric restriction on protein requirements. They found that higher protein intake, closer to 1.1 g/lb/day was necessary to offset decreased lean body mass in conditions of caloric restriction. This was attributed to dietary protein being catabolized as an auxiliary energy source during carbohydrate and glycogen depletion. Therefore, if you’re looking to lose weight while maintaining muscle mass, a higher protein intake is required. The reverse is also true. If you’re eating in a calorie surplus (gaining weight), you will not require as much protein as more dietary protein is spared from being catabolized for energy and can instead be used for tissue repair and growth.

However, what these studies did not explore is the severity of the caloric restriction and how this affects protein requirement. Some research has presented figures as high as 1.4 g/lb/day (5) and it stands to reason that the more aggressively you are cutting weight, the more protein you will require to offset muscle loss as there will be even less carbohydrates and fat available for energy.

The sliding scale:

It can help to think of protein requirement as a sliding scale, on one end you have someone gaining weight (bulking), they will require the least amount of protein (0.73 g/lb/day or maybe even less) as they have a plentiful supply of carbohydrates and fats, thus all protein can be diverted to muscle repair. On the other end of the spectrum, we have someone aggressively cutting weight, perhaps for an upcoming bodybuilding show, they will require the most protein (up to 1.4 g/lb/day) as a good portion of their dietary protein will be catabolized as an energy source. Hopefully you can determine where abouts you fit on this scale and which protein recommendation is best for you.

 

Summary:

The collective research suggests that the optimal requirement of protein is 0.73 grams per pound of body weight per day. However, as a rule of thumb, aiming for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is good practice (if you are a 150 lb. individual, you will require 150 grams of protein per day). This higher recommendation is to prevent you from falling under the minimum effective dose for maximizing muscle hypertrophy. Additionally, this slightly higher daily goal helps offset the effects of fluctuations in energy consumption. For example, if you have a day when you undereat, you will require more protein to build muscle, and the 0.73 grams per pound figure from the research will leave you short in this circumstance, therefore, it’s best to aim a little higher with 1g/lb/day and not leave potential gains on the table. If your goal is to build or maintain muscle mass while in a caloric deficit, such as when in a cutting phase, then research generally recommends a minimum protein of 1.1 grams per pound per day but this may shift higher depending on the severity of the caloric restriction.

Supplementation:

Eating 0.74 – 1.4 g/lb/day can be challenging with dietary protein alone, which is why protein supplements exist, they offer a convenient and cost-effective means of increasing protein intake. If you are looking for a high-quality protein supplement, view our fully plant-based performance protein here.

Why is the protein RDA so low?  

The current RDA for protein intake is 0.36 g/lb/day (0.8g/kg/day). This value represents the minimum protein requirement for sedentary individuals and is not designed as a recommendation for muscle growth or repair, therefore if you’re looking to get the most out of your recovery, you’re going to need to consume more than this and this is why much research has been conducted on the effects of dietary protein and muscle growth.

 

References:

1) Stokes, T., Hector, A. J., Morton, R. W., McGlory, C., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients, 10(2), 180. 

2) Tagawa, R., Watanabe, D., Ito, K., Otsuyama, T., Nakayama, K., Sanbongi, C., & Miyachi, M. (2022). Synergistic Effect of Increased Total Protein Intake and Strength Training on Muscle Strength: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Sports medicine - open, 8(1), 110.

3) Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., Aragon, A. A., Devries, M. C., Banfield, L., Krieger, J. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British journal of sports medicine, 52(6), 376–384.

4) Hector, A. J., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(2), 170–177. 

5) Ruiz-Castellano, C., Espinar, S., Contreras, C., Mata, F., Aragon, A. A., & Martínez-Sanz, J. M. (2021). Achieving an Optimal Fat Loss Phase in Resistance-Trained Athletes: A Narrative Review. Nutrients13(9), 3255.

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