Building muscle takes hard work, dedication and consistent effort inside and outside of the gym. It’s important to make sure you’re training when you need to be. You also need to make sure you get all of your nutrients. The body requires three main macronutrients for energy, growth and repair. Those three main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fat. You can get these macronutrients from almost all of the food you eat. How much protein do I need to build muscle though?
To answer that question we must first get an understanding of what protein is, where it comes from, how much you actually need, how to calculate those needs as well as supplements. Knowing this information will help to remove confusion regarding protein and its role in building muscle.
What Is Protein
Guaranteed protein and its consumption is not a new concept to you and you probably have read all sorts of information related to its use and amounts. It seems to be a topic that is covered the most in any type of lifting sport. From printed publications to broscience and all its glory, protein intake is a starting point for many lifters.
The most controversial macronutrient of them all is made up of amino acids bound by peptide bonds. Containing carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulfur, and occasionally other elements their main function is to build and repair body tissue. Upon digestion proteins from food are disassembled by other proteins and broken down into amino acids. The amino acids enter the body’s cells and go to work repairing, growing, building back up the muscle tissues. They also help with the synthesis of hormones, enzymes and peptides.
Where Does Protein Come From
Many foods contain protein. Some of the more common sources are lean proteins like fish, chicken, turkey or lean cuts of beef. Other sources are things like beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Protein is even abundant in many vegetables. In total there are twenty amino acids used to make up proteins. Out of the twenty there are two classes, essential and non-essential. The eight essential proteins are manufactured in the body. The remaining non-essential proteins are manufactured from foods.
The idea that proteins are either complete or incomplete has been traced back to the source and debunked. As long as you’re eating a wide variety of nutrient dense foods and meeting your macronutrient targets, eating foods that are complete or incomplete doesn’t matter. What matters is providing the body with enough of the necessary amino acids in order to use them appropriately.
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
- Tuna (water packed)
- Fish (Salmon, Mahi, Orange Roughy, Tuna)
- Extra Lean Ground Beef or Ground Round (92-96%)
- Top Round
- London Broil
- Top Sirloin
- Beef Tenderloin
- Flank Steak
- Turkey Breast
- Ground Turkey
How Much Protein Do I Need
Protein needs are determined by activity levels, caloric intake, body composition and sports. Through exercise oxidation of amino acids and protein usage increases. The process by which amino acids are used for energy during fat reduction is called gluconeogenesis. A general rule of thumb for calculating protein intake is one gram of protein per pound of body mass.
However there has been much debate and research that has gone into the amount of protein required. Many bodybuilders suggest one gram per pound while scientists and researchers suggest differently. What’s not considered is that a lot of bodybuilders are enhanced therefore additional nutrient assimilation is possible. Something else not always considered is the phase the bodybuilder may be and the needs for that phase. Research has suggested the following amounts should suffice for most:
- Adults – 0.8g/kg (0.4g/lb)
- Strength Athletes – 1.2 – 1.7g/kg (0.5 – 0.8g/lb)
- Endurance Athletes – 1.2 – 1.4g/kg (0.5 – 0.6g/lb)
How Do I Calculate Protein Needs
Now that you have a grasp on what protein is, we need to figure out how much we actually need. This can be done by calculating your caloric intake requirements and then breaking down your calories into the appropriate macronutrient ratios.
There are a few methods available for coming up with this number. One that I know of personally and feel is an easy approach is the Harris-Benedict principle. Which calculates your basal metabolic rate or BMR. The Harris-Benedict principle is widely used when calculating calories and protein.
BMR is the amount of energy your body needs to function. We use about 60% of the calories we consume each day for basic bodily functions such as breathing, digesting, talking, moving about, et-cetera. Factors that influence our BMR are height, weight, age, and sex. Protein plays an important role in all of these processes.
Men and women can calculate their own BMR by using a simple formula.
- Women: 65 + (4.3 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
- Men: 66 + (6.3 x weight in lbs) + ( 12.9 x height in inches) – ( 6.8 x age in years)
After you have calculated your basal metabolic rate you now need to factor in your daily activities. We can do this by using the following guides. Remember, protein requirements fluctuate based on activity.
- Sedentary: BMR x 20%
- Lightly Active: BMR x 30%
- Moderately Active: BMR x 40%
- Very Active: BMR x 50%
- Extra Active: BMR x 60%
A moderately active person would work out on average 3 to 4 times per week. Those that are exercising intensely on a daily basis could be considered very active. And for those that are performing hard labor or vigorous athletic training you can safely assume you are extra active compared to most.
The results of our fun little trip down math lane will be the number of calories you should be aiming to consume each day. Once you know how many calories you need it’s easy to then decide how much protein you should try to consume daily. If we take a 220 lb male and multiply his weight times 0.5 to 1 gram we’d get approximately 110 – 220 grams of protein per day. Therefore our athlete would try to aim for a daily protein intake within that range totaling approximately 440 – 880 calories.
Alternatives to food proteins are protein supplements. They are great for people on the go and a wonderful addition to a well structured diet plan. Getting your proteins from foods is always your number one choice. Supplementation is just that, an addition to your diet. Protein supplements can help fill in some holes that you have in your diet.
Protein powders are a great way to make sure you hit your mark each day. They come in a variety of types and flavors. Protein powders are best for a quick meal replacement shake a couple times a day. Naked Nutrition makes a ton of really amazing protein powders suitable for all diet types and restrictions.
Answering the question of how much protein do I need to build muscle should be relatively easy now. Considering we can simply multiply our body weight between .5 – 1 gram and get a rough estimate. From there it’s a matter of selecting the right foods and supplementing where necessary. But don’t get crazy and think you can just drink your meals. Analyze your diet and focus on that first. Then look into further supplement research.