How much protein we should consume to gain muscle has been discussed and debated over for decades. Over the years, a number of myths associated with this subject have developed. This same question is brought up most often by people who are new to bodybuilding – even some experienced bodybuilders argue over the question of how much protein to eat.
There’s no question that having enough protein in your diet is essential to build muscle. However, knowing exactly how much protein you need can get quite confusing, particularly with all the conflicting information and bro science touted online.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body, muscles, skin, and hair are all made of protein. By getting enough protein each day, you will be able to gain and maintain muscle in conjunction with proper weight training and rest.
Common Myths about Protein
First off, here are some myths surrounding protein that you may hear from people while you’re on a mass building diet.
Myth 1: High Protein Diets will Damage your Kidneys
The fact is, there’s not a single solid study that shows high protein consumption causes any kind of kidney damage or dysfunction in healthy people. This myth started because some people with preexisting kidney problems experienced stress on their kidney when processing protein in their diet.
The ‘International Journal of Sport Nutrition’ published a study that examined the kidney function of athletes and bodybuilders that followed a high protein diet. Analysis of their blood and urine on a protein rich diet found that their kidney function remained within normal range.
Myth 2: You can only Digest 30 grams of Protein per Meal
There has been a long standing myth that we are only able to digest and use 30 grams of protein per meal. I’ve heard people throw all different numbers around from 20 to 50 grams, but the most popular magic number at the moment seems to be 30 grams.
It doesn’t matter if you eat 20, 30 or 80 grams of protein per meal, your body will digest and absorb it ALL. Now, will your body use 80 grams of protein in one sitting to build muscle? No, probably not, but it will absorb it all and use what it needs to repair the muscle tissue.
Protein plays many rolls in the human body beyond muscle growth. How much protein goes to building muscle depends on how much the body needs to recover and grow from an intense weight training session. As long as you are getting enough protein into your body to recover and meet your protein synthesis needs in response to working out then you will grow.
Any extra protein consumed will go to other functions in the body or used as energy.
Myth 3: Too Much Protein will Make you Fat
Protein is a macronutrient responsible for a vast array of functions in the body, from replicating DNA to transporting molecules. Protein itself will not make you fat, eating unhealthy excess calories will.
Increasing how much protein you are taking into your body will not make you gain body fat, because the path ways that allows protein to turn into fatty acids are so small that it won’t cause fat deposition.
However, protein contains calories, around 4 calories per gram. That’s quite low compared to fat which contains 9 calories per gram. Now, when you eat protein it releases a hormone called glucagon which causes a fat burning effect. Further more, glucagon helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
Protein also has a thermogenic effect which aids in calorie burning.
Dept. of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health
There is convincing evidence that a higher protein intake increases thermogenesis and satiety compared to diets of lower protein content. The weight of evidence also suggests that high protein meals lead to a reduced subsequent energy intake. Some evidence suggests that diets higher in protein result in an increased weight loss and fat loss as compared to diets lower in protein. Ref.
How Much do You Really Need?
The United States RDA has said that you should eat around 80 grams of protein per 200 pounds of body weight as your daily intake. The ‘Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine’ recommend 56 grams of protein per day for men aged between 19 and 70 years. These figures aren’t much use to us looking to build muscle though, because this study is based on the average person who is sedentary.
If you train hard and lift weights with the goal of building muscle, the rule of thumb that has proven effective is that you should get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. So if you weight 180 pounds, you would need to consume 180 grams of protein throughout the day to build muscle. By maintaining a high protein diet and eating a protein source at every meal, it will not be hard to hit the goal of one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Good Sources of Protein
- Red Meat: lean Steak, ground beef, top round, and sirloin
- Poultry: Ground turkey, chicken breast, turkey breast
- Fish: Tuna (canned), salmon, white fish
- Dairy: Cottage cheese, milk, whey protein isolate, low fat yogurt
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios
- Free range eggs