protein

Eat More Protein For Muscle Growth


When it comes to building muscle and burning body fat, one macronutrient stands tall above the others.

That macronutrient is protein.

But despite the fact that most people know protein is good for us, barely anyone is eating enough of it to unlock the results it offers.

So in this detailed article I’m going to show you why protein needs to be a nutritional priority, as well as revealing how much protein you should be eating per day, the best sources, how often, and more.

Video Overview

Watch this video or read below.

how much protein per day to build muscle

Protein Requirements For Muscle Growth & Fat Loss

If you’ve felt lost with regards to protein requirements, let me start by saying it’s probably not your fault.

There’s so much bogus information out there, and this causes most people to skew their figures either way above or below what they really need.

For instance, government healthy eating guidelines suggest consuming 0.35 grams of protein per lb of body weight. For a 180lb person that’s just 63 grams of protein per day, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that’s nowhere near enough to maimize muscle growth! (2, 3)

On the flipside of this, I grew up in gyms where the narrative was the opposite and people were trying to shovel more and more protein into their mouths in a bid to gain size. Walk into any gym today and you’ll still hear people saying they eat 300, 400, even 500 grams of protein per day.

While this approach would certainly build more muscle versus not eating enough, it isn’t perfect.

Firstly, eating that musch protein is f**king hard work! Usually you’ll have to rely heavily on protein shakes to do it. And secondly, there are four calories per gram of protein, so if you’re eating 500 grams that’s 2000 calories from protein alone. This can make your diet incredibly restrictive because you have no room left for anything else.

Which brings me to an interesting question:

What if there’s a tipping point where you can maximize the muscle building response, and anything above is just unnecessary?

It turns out there is.

Back in 2018 a comprehensive meta-analysis on protein requirements was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The researchers looked at the findings of 49 previously published studies and confirmed that the sweet spot for muscle retention appears to be about 1 gram per lb of body weight. This matches up with the vast majority of research pertaining to athletes and bodybuilders. (4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

With these findings, a 180lb person would shoot for 180 grams of protein per day. Considering there are 4 calories per gram of protein, that translates to 720 calories from protein.

However, some of the studies which have tried going higher than this have noted some interesting results.

One such discovery is that bumping your protein intake to about 1.5g per lb may have a positive impact on fat loss. While muscle growth did not drastically improve despite the increase, dietary adherence certainly did. This is likely due to protein’s appetite suppressing capabilities. This means that increasing your protein could be particularly useful during a fat loss phase. You’ll have fewer calories to spend elsewhere, but you’ll feel more satisfied and therefore be more likely to stick to your program to achieve great results! (9)

With this in mind, a 180lb person would shoot for between 180-270 grams of protein per day. That translates to 720-1080 calories from protein. This provides you with some useful goalposts, right?

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

If protein is responsible for muscle growth, how come increasing it from 1g per lb to 1.5g per lb didn’t lead to lots more muscle being built?

That’s a justifiable concern.

I mean, it’s a whopping 50% increase in protein!

And this is where we can really hit the nail on the head with regards to protein requirements. You see, the anabolic effects of protein appear to max out at 1.18 grams per lb. This is the tipping point I alluded to earlier in the article. This means that if your main goal is to get jacked you now have a very specific target to hit, and if you’re in a fat loss phase you might want to go slightly higher to tap into those appetite suppressing benefits as well.

If you ever meet somebody who claims you should go even higher than this, rest assured it’s BS. There aren’t any muscle building, fat loss, or performance benefits to be had from doing so. Usually these folks have a hidden agenda for setting your protein intake so high (i.e. supplement companies).

Considering this information, a 180lb person would shoot for 213 grams of protein per day, which translates to 852 calories from protein.

how much protein to eat per day to build muscle

how much protein to eat to build muscle

Here’s What Happens When You Eat Enough Protein

I’m gonna do something which has probably never been done before. I’m gonna teach you how protein works via… The Expendables.

In case you haven’t seen the movies, these are the guys you hire to complete the job that the guys you already hired failed.

They’re the best of the best of the best.

(… of the best.)

Each character in the picture above is an important part of the team because they offer unique skills. Jet Li is a martial arts master, Dolph Lundgren is an explosives expert, Jason Staham is deadly with knives, and Sylvester Stallone has the best “things are about to go down” face in history.

The Expendables protein

But what exactly has protein got in common with The Expendables?

Well, protein is also made up of several different components known as amino acids, and each one plays a different role in the muscle building process (what a link!).

Here’s the 9 essential amino acids:

  • leucine
  • isoleucine
  • valine
  • histidine
  • lysine
  • tryptophan
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine

They’re deemed essential because your body is incapable of producing them, meaning they must be obtained through your diet.

I want you to pay particular attention ot the top three: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re collectively known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are essentially your Stallone, Statham and Lundgren – the pillars of the franchise. Heck, the amino acid leucine is directly responsible for starting the muscle building process, so we must provide our body with sufficient resources if we are to maximize our results! (1)

how much protein to build muscle

Much like the later Expendables sequels where the team grew to an obscene number, there’s a total of 21 amino acids if we broaden our horizons to include non-essential members of the family, and the crazy thing is, if we are deficient in just one of these little bad boys no lean muscle can be built!

You read that correctly.

This is why skimping on protein is a bad idea. Hard training in the gym creates micro-tears in your muscle tissue, and the body then looks to recover by using the available amino acids in order to make the muscle grow slightly bigger and stronger so it can cope with the workload in future – but without the necessary nutrients to do this, you’re just staying the damn same.

(… or even worse, you’re losing muscle!)

Given how important the gym is to most guys. and how looking great is such a high priority, it’s always baffled me that most people do not fuel their body with enough protein to unlock the results they’re physically chasing. It’s like going around in circles, or knocking down a wall and then rebuilding it without making it any bigger or better.

Hopefully after reading this you’ll never fall into that category again.


does protein timing matter

How Often Should You Eat Protein?

Now that we’ve established your protein goals, let’s take a look at additional strategies you can use to unlock even better results.

One such method is protein timing.

I recently wrote a full article on this topic. Research suggests that spacing your protein intake by consuming about 20 grams of protein every three hours enables the body to make slightly better use of those all-important amino acids, and could potentially lead to greater hypertrophy. (10)

I don’t want you to get this confused with the old belief that eating small frequent meals speeds up your metabolism and burns more fat. That’s a myth, however it appears there may be some slight benefits with regards to muscle growth. That being said, though, the differences in results are very small so my take-home advice on this is to just focus on hitting your daily targets and incorporate this if it fits your schedule.

does protein timing lead to better muscle building results

diet to build muscle

My Go To Protein Sources

There are many ways you can smash your protein target.

The dark days of endless bowls of chicken and rice are a thing of the past (unless you choose to do it that way), because we’ve never had it easier in terms of variety and recipes.

I’m a big fan of being creative with food. You’ll eat a broader spectrum of amino acids this way and a less restrictive diet is considerably better for long-term results. In my experience no two people are going to enjoy the exact same food choices, so here are some handy tables to give you an idea of the things you can use.

PoultryProtein (per 100g)
Chicken breast32g
Chicken thigh24g
Buffalo wings23g
Duck18g
Turkey breast17g
Lean ground turkey17g
MeatProtein (per 100g)
Sirloin steak31g
Pork chops (lean, grilled)31g
Beef steak (lean, grilled)31g
Lamb chops (lean, grilled)29g
Pork tenderloin26g
Rib eye steak25g
Lean ground beef25g
Cured ham25g
Bacon25g
T-bone steak19g
Fish / sea foodProtein (per 100g)
Tuna26g
Salmon25g
Cod24g
Mackerel20g
Shrimp22g
Tilapia20g
Crab18g
Prawns15g
DairyProtein (per 100g)
Low fat cheddar cheese28g
Cheddar cheese26g
Whey protein22g
Eggs14g
Cottage cheese10g
Egg white10g
Greek yogurt6g
Low fat Greek yogurt6g
Semi-skimmed milk4g
LegumesProtein (per 100g)
Peanut butter25g
Peanuts25g
Edamame beans11g
Lentils8g
Tofu8g
Hummus5g
Baked beans5g
Nuts / seedsProtein (per 100g)
Almonds21g
Cashews18g
Flax seed18g
Mxed nuts15g
Almond butter15g
Walnuts15g
Brazil nuts14g

do you need to use whey protein to build muscle

Is Whey Protein Essential?

You can build a great body without using supplements.

I’ve helped thousands of clients do this over the last couple of decades. As long as you eat enough protein per day, your body will respond accordingly. Another benefit of a 100% food-based approach is that your body will need to work harder to break food-based nutrients down, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of whey protein. I love the stuff, because it gives you the gift of convenience!

The best protein sources (listed below) usually require a bit of prep time, and if you live a busy life like me then it can be much easier to just grab a protein shake instead. There’s nothing wrong with doing that – your body will use the fuel the exact same way as it would use food.

If you do want to use a protein shake, you’ll find this post very useful.

References:

  1. Anthony J. C., et al. Leucine stimulates translation initiation in skeletal muscle of postabsorptive rats via a rapamycin-sensitive pathway. J Nutr (2000).
  2. 10 Protein and Amino Acids. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Institute of Medicine (2005).
  3. Bray G. A., et al. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA (2012).
  4. Morton R. W., et al. 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. Br J Sports Med (2018).
  5. Thomas D. T., et al. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2016).
  6. Jäger R., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2017).
  7. Morton R. W., et al. 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. Br J Sports Med (2018).
  8. Witard O. C., et al. Effect of increased dietary protein on tolerance to intensified training. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2011).
  9. Leaf A., et al. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. Int J Exerc Sci (2017).
  10. Moore D. R., et al. Daytime Pattern Of Post-Exercise Protein Intake Affects Whole-Body Protein Turnover In Resistance-Trained Males. Nutr Metab (Lond) (2012).

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