How Much Protein Do You Actually Need to Build Muscle
So gym legend has it that you need to be consuming anywhere between 1.5-2.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight in order to build lean muscle mass.
So if you are a 180 lb guy or girl you need to be consuming anywhere between 270 grams – 450 grams of protein.
But where did this figure come from, is this scientifically proven? Or just pure bro science?
I am going to investigate if this legend is actually true of if it is just pure gym floor folklore.
The Role of Protein and Amino Acids
Firstly, let’s take a step back and look at protein, why is it so crucial in building muscle?
So protein is one of the three macronutrients we need, the other two being fats and carbohydrates.
Protein makes up 15% of a person’s body weight, and from a calorific perspective 1 gram of protein equates to 4 calories.
When we eat a meal with protein the protein provides the body with amino acids, and essential amino acids must be obtained through your diet (protein).
The protein is then broken down into amino acids which then helps with repair, recovery and regulating immune function.
Now there is an old saying that goes that, ‘amino acids are the building blocks of life’, well technically this is true. As amino acids are made from carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen oxygen or sulfur.
Amino acids help repair and maintain muscle tissue, and this is especially crucial for any gym goer who is trying to build muscle, as the right meal replacement will enable you to recover from workouts.
Does Protein Increase Muscle Mass?
Simple answer is yes, and there is plenty of evidence supporting the fact that protein does increase muscle mass, one study’s results found that, ‘For untrained individuals, consuming supplemental protein likely has no impact on lean mass and muscle strength during the initial weeks of resistance training.
However, as the duration, frequency, and volume of resistance training increase, protein supplementation may promote muscle hypertrophy and enhance gains in muscle strength in both untrained and trained individuals. Evidence also suggests that protein supplementation may accelerate gains in both aerobic and anaerobic power.’
Do I Reduce My Protein Intake if I Want to Lose Body Fat?
Answer here is a resounding no, as one study conducted a review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes, when trying to reduce body fat. And there was ‘evidence that protein needs increase when athletes restrict calories or have low body fat’.
The study concluded that the body fat percentage decreased for all the study groups, it also made a case for higher protein as the ‘protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g’ (per kg of body weight) / 1 – 1.4g per lb of bodyweight.
It is worth remembering that protein reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, while it boosts appetite-reducing hormones, which leads to an automatic reduction in calorie intake.
So we know that protein does indeed increase muscle mass, and if on a calorie restrictive diet more protein is more beneficial, but what is the figure you need if you just want to add muscle?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is listed at 0.8 grams per kg of bodyweight.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), ‘to increase muscle mass in combination with physical activity it is recommended that a person that lifts weights regularly, eat a range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, or 0.5-0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight.’
As 1 gram of protein equates to 4 calories, you would also be increasing your calories from protein four fold in order to gain muscle mass.
The Case for More Protein
One study from 2007 found that the participants, who took part in their 11 week training program, who were taking 1.5g of whey protein per kg of body weight per day concluded that whey protein seemed to ‘promote greater strength gains and muscle morphology during RE (Resistance Exercise) training.’
Another study from 2006 showed ‘that protein supplementation’ of 1.5g per pound of body weight ‘during resistance training, independent of source, increased lean tissue mass and strength over isocaloric placebo and resistance training.’
Another study from 2001 found that participants who were taking 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, compared to the subjects who were taking 0.5 grams per lb of bodyweight found that, ‘males that supplemented with whey protein while resistance training demonstrated greater improvement in knee extension peak torque and lean tissue mass than males engaged in training alone’.
The Case for Less Protein:
One study from 1992 increased participants’ protein from ‘1.35 to 2.62g / kg (0.64 to 1.10g per lb), but did not enhance muscle mass/strength gains, at least during the 1st mo of training. Whether differential gains would occur with longer training remains to be determined.’
A 2006 study concluded that ‘the results of this study do not provide any support for protein intakes greater than recommended levels in collegiate strength/power athletes for body composition improvements, or alterations in resting hormonal concentrations’,
It goes onto state that ‘although elevated protein content did not produce significantly greater strength improvements, results suggest that further study is warranted on the effect of high (> 2.0 g·kg / 0,9g per lb) protein intake on strength and lean tissue accruement’.
So there seems to be a plethora of team more protein versus team less protein. So the takeaway here is that go with the science but when the science contradicts itself, go with trial and error and see what works best for you.