This can be a confusing topic for many. And if your goal is to get in the best shape of your life. Protein is a fundamental part of your nutrition, helping you get to that goal. In this article, you’re going to learn how much protein you need and why.
Just Eating As Much Protein As You Can Isn’t A Good Idea
When I first started lifting weights. I thought that I needed to have bucket loads of protein every day. I’d eat at least a couple chicken breasts, eggs and multiple shakes with peanut butter every day.
But this left me fat and weak. For 3 reasons.
- I was eating too many total calories.
- My workout plan was nothing short of shit. This is what it looked like, day 1- chest, day 2- arms, day 3- shoulders and some ab work sporadically thrown in the mix on whatever day I felt like training them. I did also haphazardly train legs. On the leg press but this was a rarity.
- I wasn’t tracking my calories and macronutrients to get to my goals.
Just eat clean, eat some protein and train hard was my philosophy. And it served me okay. But I wasn’t happy with the results I’d made using this approach.
The Magic Macronutrient
Protein is a macronutrient that you need to have in your diet. It’s anabolic. This is because it’s an essential nutrient that your body needs to grow, maintain bodily functions, repair itself, repair connective tissue. skin, eyes, hair and internal organs are all made of protein.
When your body breaks it down further it’s made of amino acids.
All together your body needs 20 essential amino acids to function appropriately. These amino acids are essential and must come from your diet because your body simply cannot make them.
The amino acids are used by your body to form proteins which help you rebuild muscle tissue and cells as they turnover in your body during repair. Every day you lose hair and skin cells and if you don’t eat enough protein it will be very difficult for them to be replenished.
Without this macronutrient, your body cannot exist. The same goes for dietary fat. Without fat, in your diet, your body can’t exist. But carbs are different, they are important for providing you with vitamins and minerals and they do provide your body with its preferred energy source, glucose but your body can function without them.
Hence why many people can function well in a state of ketosis (when your body uses fat as it’s primary energy source) on the keto diet instead of using glucose as your primary energy source.
It Has The Greatest Thermic Effect Out Of All 3 Macronutrients
The thermic effect of food (TEF) which means how many calories your body burns digesting, absorbing and disposing of a given macronutrient is highest in this macronutrient.
Protein has the highest thermic effect at 20 – 35 per cent ( meaning that if you consume 100 calories of protein your body would use 20 – 35 calories just to digest it.) It’s also the most filling/satiating macronutrient you can eat.
To Build Muscle And Even Maintain Muscle, MPS Needs To Be More Than Or Equal To MPB
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is a process that occurs naturally when protein is produced to repair and build muscle. It is the opposite of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) which is where protein is lost after intense exercise.
To maintain or build muscle MPS rates must be equal to or greater than MPB rates.
Getting enough of this macronutrient is an important part of the equation to ensure this happens.
So How Much Is Enough?
As you now know this macronutrient is very important to ensure that you build muscle or at least maintain it when you’re losing fat (cutting) and for all-round general health reasons.
The good news is that you don’t need to eat as much as you think.
This one study by (Phillips & Van Loon, 2011) found that 0.82/ grams per pound of body weight or 1.8 grams per kg of body weight was enough to see maximum MPS. This is contrary to the 1 gram per pound of bodyweight that many people assume is the correct amount of protein to consume.
Although the 1 gram per pound of bodyweight rule of thumb works and has stood the test of time.
What About When Losing Fat?
It seems like common sense that you’d need to eat more protein when in a catabolic state and being in a calorie deficit and losing fat. But this one study by Walberg et al. (1988) shows that eating 0.72 grams per pound of body weight is sufficient to maintain lean body mass while losing fat.
Credit to Menno Henselmans for providing great information on this topic. Article linked below.
If you want to lose fat you must be in a calorie deficit. To learn how to put yourself in a calorie deficit read the article linked below.
Is There Any Benefit To Eating More Than 0.82 Grams Of Protein Per Pound Of Bodyweight?
As you now know as far as your body composition is concerned you’ll maintain your muscle mass and even build muscle just fine eating 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight.
But I do believe there are benefits to eating more, as much as 1-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
This is because this macronutrient is extremely satiating. And even though these recommendations are good enough. I do believe that especially when cutting. An intake of 1-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is preferred.
Simply because from my experience, if I have more protein while in a calorie deficit I tend to be less hungry resulting in better adherence to my diet resulting in better progress over time.
A Practical Recommendation With An Example
I think that it’s fair to say that given the evidence the sweet spot for satiety and muscle building purposes is to have 1 gram per pound of body weight. I say this because it’s very easy to remember and there are no downsides of consuming slightly more than the amount previously stated.
I’ll go through a quick example. I’m currently 177 pounds. So I need to eat 177 grams +- 5 grams to stay full and build muscle although you could go as low as 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight. Which would mean eating within a range of 145-177 grams per day.
What Are The Best Sources?
Not all protein is made equal. Some sources are better than others. For instance, a complete protein has a better amino acid profile than a plant-based source. A complete protein contains an adequate amount of all 9 essential amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine and valine. Whereas plant proteins don’t contain as much of these 9 essential amino acids meaning that you’d need to eat more protein and more variety from other plant-based sources.
The Best Sources Of Protein
Animal sources are going to provide you with more complete protein than plant-based protein foods will.
Some of my go to protein sources are:
Fat free greek yoghurt and cottage cheese.
Lean cuts of meat, specifically lean beef, poultry, eggs, fish and protein powder.
Plant-based protein does come in foods like bread, cereal, nuts, grains and even broccoli but nowhere near as much as the complete proteins listed above.
That’s why most of your protein intake should come from the aforementioned complete proteins or if you’re vegan try to get more protein sources such as lentils, tofu, beans and pea protein powder which can go well in a shake or oats.
Does Protein Timing Matter?
If you want to reap the best results possible it makes sense to have protein feedings of at least 40 grams. This is because MPS has been found to be at It’s highest when you eat this much across multiple feedings.
But this will all depend on how much protein you need to eat. everyone will have different protein requirements.
Although ingesting 20 grams of protein is also enough to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
But this is splitting hairs. If you’re a minimalist like me, just hit your total daily protein intake through as many or as little meals as is convenient for you.
But I Thought I Could Only Digest 30 Grams Of Protein Per Meal?
This makes no sense evolutionary speaking. Think About it, do you think your hunter-gatherer ancestors would’ve survived if he/she could only digest 30 grams per meal?
The answer is obvious our bodies can digest a hell of a lot more than a mere 30 grams. Especially in hunter-gatherer times when our ancestors would go long periods without eating. And then eventually enjoy a large feeding when food is no longer scarce.
The Bottom Line On Protein
- You don’t need bucket loads of powders and slabs of meat to reach your fitness goals. 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight is enough to build muscle and lose fat. Although I think 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a better recommendation for increased fullness and satiety.
- As far as feeding goes 20 grams is enough to stimulate MPS but if you’d like to stimulate an extra 10-20% then make sure you get 40 grams per feeding.
- If you’re a minimalist like me just try to hit your total daily protein intake and you’ll do just fine.
Thanks for reading, if you need any help send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org