How Much Protein Should I Eat To Build Muscle

By Steve Hall

July 17, 2020

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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 but how much protein to build muscle do you actually need?

arnold protein

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. Knowing this information will help to remove confusion regarding protein and its role in building muscle.

What Is Protein

Eating protein to gain muscle is likely not a new concept for you.  You've probably read all sorts of information related to its use and amounts. It seems to be a topic that is discussed widely in strength building circles. From magazines to YouTube, protein intake is a talking point for many lifters.

Protein is made up of amino acids bound by peptide bonds. Containing carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulfur, and occasionally other elements its 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 and building back up the muscle tissues. They also help with the synthesis of hormones, enzymes and peptides.

Where Does Protein Come From

sources of protein

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 come from food.

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.

How Much Protein To Build Muscle?

Protein needs are primarily determined by activity levels and body composition. 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.

protein muscle

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.

The general recommended dietary allowance for adults suggests just  0.8g per kg (0.4g/lb) of bodyweight, but if you are trying to build muscle then this is not going to be enough!

If you are starting a new workout routine, research suggests your protein intake should be around 2g per kg of bodyweight per day for the first 3 months of the new workout programme. This is because your body will be really busy breaking down your muscle fibres in these first weeks and you need more protein than usual to create these new structures and build growth. After 3 months you can then scale this back to between 1.2 - 1.6g per kilo.

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. 

Most people recommend calculating how much protein you need to build muscle by basing it on how much you weigh or how much you eat (caloric intake). We don't recommend this however for the following reasons.

If you calculate based on eating a certain percentage of your calories as protein, then the number can vary greatly depending on your calorie needs. For example 30 percent protein on a standard 2000 calorie diet is very different to 30 percent on a 4000 calorie diet. One will result in 150g of protein while the other would be a massive 300g a day.

OK, so what about basing it on your weight? This would seem to be better as it would remain consistent no matter how many calories you consume. Whilst this is generally better we still need to take into account your body fat percentage.

The best way we've found to calculate how much protein to build muscle is really needed, is to base it on lean body mass. This provides you with a more accurate result than just focussing on your total body weight.

To illustrate the difference, consider someone who is carrying a lot of excess fat. If he weighs, let's say 120kg, based on 2g per kg, he would have to eat 240g of protein per day. But if his body fat percentage is actually 30% then his lean body mass is only 84kg, resulting in 168g of protein. Quite a difference!

The easiest way to measure your body fat is to use a body fat scale. This will give you a relatively quick and accurate measurement of your body fat and will allow you to then easily calculate how much protein you need every day.

This is the one I use and recommend. It's awesome and makes tracking your body fat super simple:

Let's do an example:

If you weigh 90kg and the scales show you have 20 percent body fat, then your calculation using 2.2g (what I would recommend) per lean kg of body weight would be as follows

Lean body mass = 72kg 

72 x 2.2 = daily protein target of 158g 


Protein Sources

If you want to focus on increasing your protein intake, check out the list below taken from the British Nutrition Foundation:


Food type Protein content (g) per 100g

Meat protein

MeatChicken breast (grilled without skin) 
Beef steak (lean grilled) 
Lamb chop (lean grilled) 
Pork chop (lean grilled)
32.0
31.0
29.2
31.6
FishTuna (canned in brine) 
Mackerel (grilled) 
Salmon (grilled) 
Cod (grilled)
23.5
20.8
24.2
20.8
SeafoodPrawns 
Mussels 
Crabsticks
22.6
16.7
10.0
EggsChicken eggs12.5
DairyWhole milk 
Semi-skimmed milk 
Skimmed milk 
Cheddar cheese 
Half-fat cheddar 
Cottage cheese 
Whole milk yogurt 
Low fat yogurt (plain)
3.3
3.4
3.4
25.4
32.7
12.6
5.7
4.8

Plant protein

PulsesRed lentils 
Chickpeas
7.6
8.4
BeansKidney beans 
Baked beans 
Tofu (soya bean steamed)
6.9
5.2
8.1
GrainsWheat flour (brown) 
Bread (brown) 
Bread (white) 
Rice (easy cook boiled) 
Oatmeal 
Pasta (fresh cooked)
12.6
7.9
7.9
2.6
11.2
6.6
NutsAlmonds 
Walnuts 
Hazelnuts
21.1
14.7
14.1


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. 

Conclusion

Answering the question of how much protein to build muscle should be relatively easy now.

In summary, you are trying to build muscle, then you should be looking to consume around 2.2g of protein per kg of lean body mass. From there it’s a matter of selecting the right foods and supplementing where necessary. 

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Steve Hall

Steve is a strength training fanatic who geeks out over the best, most efficient workouts, nutrition and gear to help get you stronger and healthier!

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