How Much Protein Per Day is Needed to Build Muscle?

How Much Protein Per Day is Needed to Build Muscle?

Protein, protein, protein! Every lifter in the gym bows down to the mighty macronutrient named protein.

I admit that I have been caught up in the protein craze before. I have seen meal plans that push followers to eat 2g of protein or more per pound of bodyweight. Here is a question, why on earth does anyone need that much protein?

After getting swept away in the protein craze I asked myself that question. After some investigating and a couple of nutrition courses I arrived at the answer.

You do not need that much protein.

Ever. So why in the world do so many athletes and gym rats embark on a daily quest to consume so much protein? If you are a 200lb athlete that is 400 grams of protein! That equates to 1600 calories from protein alone which, if you were to consume your protein from chicken breasts, that would equal close to 4lb of chicken breasts daily!

Related: The Highest Quality Protein Sources for Muscle Building

I do love me some chicken but, if I were trying to consume anywhere close to 4lbs of chicken a day I would start to reevaluate my life choices. Why then, is there such an emphasis in the fitness industry to consume enough protein? It's because protein is hugely important! You need protein in your diet to support your immune system, hormone production, and repair and replace old cells and tissues (including muscle tissue).

How Much Protein Per Day is Needed?

How much protein does one need then? A sedentary individual (aka couch potato) only requires around .4g/lb of bodyweight. That's it. This means that a 200lb couch potato only needs a mere 80g of protein.

Chances are if you are reading this you are far from a couch potato. For those that are dedicated lifters your protein needs increase to .8-.9g/lb of bodyweight, which is hardly close to the 2g/lb guideline that pops up on some diet plans. To put things in perspective that is 160 grams of protein versus 400 grams of protein. A 240 gram difference! That's a lot of protein you don't need.

You can attribute this huge difference in protein consumption guidelines to the thought process of, "if a little more is better, than a lot more must be WAY better." This just isn't the case. Most of the research involving protein quantity confirms that if you are an athlete or serious lifter that you do need more protein than the average couch potato.

However, there is a cap to which additional protein consumption does not provide any added benefits in muscle gain. That cap seems to be around .9 grams per pound of bodyweight. This means that beyond .9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight you are just consuming extra calories for your body to use as an energy source not as raw material for muscle building/preservation.

Another reason for excessive consumption of protein is because the average person models their nutrition after a bodybuilding pre-contest diet. Bodybuilders dieting down for a show have a tendency to raise the amount of protein that they eat because it is satiating and doesn't leave them feeling any more hungry than is absolutely necessary when in a calorie deficit. You would be hard pressed to feel any form of hunger after consuming 4 pounds of meat in a day.

Extreme High Protein, Low Fat Diets

Ketogenic-type diets have gained popularity over the past decade and as a result, more moderate approaches to nutrition have declined. The general public took to high protein diets for the same reason that bodybuilders consume more protein on a cutting diet. It is very difficult to over eat on a high protein diet because of how satiating it is. As a result, high protein/low carb diets became the "easy way" to lose fat or cut calories without having to actually count calories.

Everyone seems to love extreme diets where one macronutrient is emphasized over the others or gets completely cut out. The general public got carried away with extreme protein quantities because, for some reason, most people believe that extreme diets are the only ones that work. This just isn't the case and there is a lot of progress that can be made from a diet that has balance between all three macronutrients.

It is also important to understand that the other macronutrients are known to be protein sparing. This means that when you consume enough calories from carbohydrates and fats, your body prefers using these nutrients for energy and is able to utilize proteins for creating new muscle and repairing muscles damaged from training.

When you stay balanced in your diet, you can reap the benefits of all the macronutrients and won't have to worry about getting huge amounts of protein. In addition, you must account for the fact that if you are eating whole food there is protein in your carbs and there is protein in your fat sources.
Grilled Chicken
A lifter only requires 0.8 - 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day.

Experienced Lifters and Efficient Protein Partitioning

There is also an interesting research review from McCaster University that hints at the possibility that as you become a more experienced lifter, your body requires even less protein because it becomes more efficient at partitioning and utilizing protein.

So naturally, I had to put this information to the test on myself. I cut out all the protein shakes and eased off of eating pounds of meat. You know what happened? Nothing. My muscles didn't fall off. I didn't get fat from eating carbs or fat. In fact, I was able to train harder and longer. I also found that it was easier to get a pump when I bumped up the amount of carbs that I was eating each day.

Some other observations from cutting back on protein and increasing the other macros is that I was still able to recover and it seems that the level of soreness that I experienced was significantly lower. Another unexpected benefit is that I was able cut down my meal frequency significantly.

I found it nearly impossible to eat the 1.5-2g of protein/lb bodyweight without breaking it up into the typical bro-style diet of 5-6 meals a day. Now I can easily eat breakfast lunch and dinner and hit my protein goals for the day. I know that may be minor for some but, I prefer to not worry about finding time to scarf down a chicken breast and some broccoli every 2-4 hours. The typical three square meals a day and a post-workout shake fits into my lifestyle very well so that is what I go with.

Protein Builds Muscle, Make No Mistake About It

Make no mistake the point here is not to down play the importance of protein in a muscle building diet. I cannot stress enough that if you train intensely you cannot neglect protein. However, daily protein requirements have been inflated for far too long either by various diet trends or from so called nutrition experts that are selling something.

If you have been struggling to fit tons of protein into your diet every day, I encourage you to take a step back and ask why you need that much protein in your diet. Some important points to remember:
  • A lifter only requires 0.8 - 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day
  • You must account for all of the protein on your plate including the protein in oats, rice, beans/lentils, nuts/seeds, and vegetables
  • Any additional protein over 0.9 grams per pound is used by the body for energy not growth and repair. Consuming more protein will allow for greater satiety in a calorie deficit but will not result increased more muscle
  • Carbohydrates and fats are protein-sparing nutrients which means that your body prefers to use them for energy and spare protein for growth and repair
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