Here’s the facts on daily protein requirements for people who lift weights.

Eat more protein to build muscle

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

11 min read

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 the best sources of protein, whether eating it more frequently throughout the day makes any difference, and how much protein you should eat per day for maximum muscle building results.


Video Overview

Watch this video or read below.


Correct Protein Requirements For Muscle Growth & Fat Loss

Arnold Schwarzenegger eating protein.

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.

A graph showing how many grams of protein to eat per day to build muscle.

Here’s What Happens When You Eat Enough Protein

The Expendables

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 rag-tag bunch of guys you hire to complete the job that the guys you already hired couldn’t do. They’re the best of the best of the best.

(… of the best.)

The reason this team works so well is because each character plays an important role with unique skills. Jet Li is a martial arts master. Dolph Lundgren is an explosives expert. Jason Staham is deadly with knives. Oh, and Sylvester Stallone has the best “things are about to go down” face in history.

So what the heck has this got to do with protein?

Well, like The Expendables, protein consists of several different components, and each one plays a different role in the muscle building process. They’re called amino acids.

We split them into two groups; “essential” (the body cannot create these, so we must get them via our diet – kinda like the core group of Expendables who are crucial to the movie), and “non-essential” (not a priority because the body can make them by itself if you don’t eat them – kinda like all of the extra characters they added to the sequels).

Here’s the 9 essential amino acids:

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

If we broaden our horizons to also include non-essential amino acids the number grows to 21.

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

Bodybuilding magazines and supplements tend to focus entirely on these three amino acids, but it’s worth remembering that all nine are important – because no lean muscle can be built if your body became deficient in any of them.

The Expendables: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Dolph Lundgren.

Your hard workouts will create micro-tears in your muscle tissue, and the body then recovers by using the available amino acids to help the damaged muscle grow slightly bigger and stronger. Over time, this is what leads to muscle growth.

This is why skimping on protein is a bad idea, as is eating the exact same meals day in and day out, because you’re either not providing your body with enough protein overall, or you’re not getting a wide variety of essential amino acids to maximize results.

With that in mind, hopefully you should now understand why guys who neglect this aspect of their diet are always complaining about a lack of results. By not providing their body with the necessary nutrients to recover from training, they are essentially just going around in circles, like knocking a wall down and then re-building it without making it any bigger or stronger.



How Often Should You Eat Protein?

How often should you eat protein to build muscle?

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.

A graph showing how protein timing affects muscle growth.

Is Whey Protein Essential?

Whey protein

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.


My Go To Protein Sources

Protein

There are many ways to smash your protein target.

We’ve never had it easier in terms of recipes and variety, so the dark days of eating countless bowls of chicken and rice are long gone (unless you like it). I personally prefer to hit my target with a broader selection of foods. You’ll get a wider selection of amino acids this way, and your diet will feel less restrictive (which is considerably better for results).

Here’s a handy list you can use to identify foods to help you smash you targets.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, I certainly enjoyed writing it.

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

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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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

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