The endless debate that seems to thrive every time someone new comes into the picture and starts asking the question “how much protein do i need to build muscle”.
Over the years, research studies were released, and protein requirements swung from high to low and back.
In the area of sports nutrition there is a nice and big fog of misunderstanding regarding optimal protein intake in order to build muscle or lose fat.
Many nutritionists are “invading” our life, preaching that athletes or bodybuilders don’t need any excess protein over the basal requirements found in general population. Are they saying the truth?
When comparing bodybuilders with these nutritionists, bodybuilders break that pattern with extreme recommendations of protein intake.
They state that huge protein intakes are required to build muscle mass and they often promote protein supplements.
While the truth is that no one knows to pin point exactly how much protein is optimal for a specific body, we can look at the available research studies and the applications of these studies in your life.
Protein is the muscle building block for your body. It increases satiety, it maintains muscle mass or at least spares muscle loss when you are on a diet, and also helps you pack on some grams of muscle mass/week when you are bulking or trying to put some muscle.
Protein is a critical substance made from amino acids which are used by the body as a building material for growth and reparation of muscle tissue, bones, organs, hormones, connective tissue, enzymes. Protein is absolutely crucial for a healthy immune system function.
One way in which researchers know if your body is breaking down protein tissue from the body is by measuring nitrogen balance.
I’ll explain as simple as I can: The protein we eat contains a certain amount of nitrogen. When our daily intake of nitrogen exceeds the daily nitrogen excretion, we are in positive nitrogen balance.
Staying in a positive nitrogen balance is something good by the way. That’s where you want to be if you want to maintain muscle when you are losing fat or build muscle when you want to grow.
When your daily excretion of nitrogen is higher than your daily nitrogen intake, you are in negative nitrogen balance which indicates that you are losing lean tissue.
What this means is that an adequate protein intake will keep you in a positive nitrogen balance. This is what researchers are looking for when they are studying protein requirement for dieting and muscle mass.
The Biggest Mistake Dietitians Make
Nutritionists/bodybuilders are usually recommending a newbie looking to pack some muscle mass or lose fat, a percent macronutrient recommendation.
These recommendations look like this: A diet formed from 25% protein, 65% carbohydrates, 10% fat. Why this is a wrong way to create a diet?
This approach is flawed for the simple fact that when you start planning what you have to eat, you can get suboptimal macronutrient ratios depending on you weight. For example:
- In the case of a newbie at 170 lbs that wants to pack some muscle and he needs to eat 3000 calories/day, the ratios would be: 187 grams of protein, 487 grams of carbohydrates, 33 grams of fat. This seems good for an average Joe but let’s see how good this recommendations apply to a dieting newbie.
- In the case of a newbie at 170 lbs that wants to lose some fat and have to eat 1700 calories/day, the ratios would be: 100 grams of protein, 276 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of fat.
Can you spot what’s wrong here?
In the second case, the protein intake will be too low. The newbie will lose muscle mass on a diet with only 100 grams of protein. You’ll see why I am saying this.
Let’s look at some common protein requirement recommendations:
- The US RDI for protein is 0.8 g/kg or 0.36 g/lb of protein everyday – calculating for a 180 lb person, the protein requirement would be ~64 grams of protein.
- Typical bodybuilding advice on protein intake is 0.8-1 g/lb of protein daily – calculating for a 180 lb person, the protein requirement would be 144-180 grams of protein
- “Advanced” recommendation 1g/lean body mass (only muscle mass) – calculating for a 180 lb person, sitting at around 10% bodyfat, the requirement would be 162 grams of protein
Let’s take a look at what research is saying:
- 0.54-0.63 g/lb - Increased protein beneficial for certain active individuals?
- 0.72 g/lb - Endurance Athletes
- 0.63-0.68 g/lb - Dietary protein requirements in sports
- And many other studies.
Some papers examining many other research studies come to our aid, and recommend us a more optimal range of protein intake of 1.1 – 1.4 g/lb which is a summary of many studies. One of those papers that come closer to what some good recommendations would be is Kevin Tipton and Robert Wolfe’s paper.
So, How Much Protein Do I Need To Build Muscle Or Lose Fat?
As discussed above, nobody really knows the exact formula that will be optimal for your body.
I am just amazed by the variety of gurus that are preaching their own formula to building muscle or diet when referred to protein intake.
My recommendations to the question “how much protein do I need?”, based on research studies and experience, is 1.1-1.5 g/lb.
You can use the lower limit when bulking because you are in net anabolic state most of the time because of the excess calories.
Go with the upper recommendations when you diet (1.5 g/lb).
That being said, can you share this article with some of your friends that are having trouble building or maintaining muscle mass?
They’ll surely adjust their protein intake next time they’ll want to build muscle of lose fat, and thank you first and me later.
Also, how much protein are you consuming daily and why?