If you’ve been hitting the gym more recently, you may be wondering: how much protein should I eat to gain muscle? We’ve broken down common myths around protein, including the recommended daily amount vs. how much protein you should be consuming if you put your muscles under frequent stress (like when weight lifting).
While most of us know that protein is important for growth and repair, you may not be aware that it is one of the most important components of muscle building, and your results may be dependent on the amount of protein you consume on a daily basis. While we get some protein from our diet, for those with higher protein requirements, a good protein powder may help boost your intake.
If you’re looking for an easy way to increase your protein intake, our guide to the best protein powders for weight loss lists the top protein powders to support your efforts to sustainably gain muscle.
Dr. Elena Maria Liaka leads the National Medical Weight Loss Programme available at Vie Aesthetics through her role as an Aesthetic Doctor in both the Essex and Harley Street clinics. Alongside this, Dr. Elena an NHS doctor, working towards becoming an NHS Psychiatrist.
Dr. Brian Carson graduated with a first-class honors BSc. in Sports Science and Health from the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University in 2005. Brian subsequently undertook a PhD funded by a scholarship from the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) entitled “The regulation of metabolic gene expression in human skeletal muscle by exercise: the influence of exercise intensity and contraction frequency” which was awarded in 2010. He then was appointed as a postdoctoral researcher funded by Diabetes UK at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the University of Liverpool where he spent 18 months investigating the intracellular trafficking and release of the adipokine adipokines. From there, Brian joined the team in the Physical Education and Sport Sciences department at the University of Limerick as a lecturer in Exercise Physiology in January 2011 where he is pursuing research into the role of exercise and nutrition in the regulation of metabolism for performance and health.
How much protein should you eat to gain muscle?
The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found we must have a positive protein balance in order to successfully increase muscle mass. In short, if you are looking to gain muscle, you need to ensure that you are consuming enough protein to support muscle protein synthesis.
We spoke to Dr. Elena Maria Liaka, an NHS doctor and aesthetic doctor at Vie Aesthetics, a doctor-run Harley Street cosmetic clinic. “The amount of protein you should take to gain muscle varies between individuals. Increasing protein intake has been repeatedly and consistently shown to improve muscle mass and retention,” she explains. “For several years, the bodybuilding conventional wisdom has recommended around 2g of protein per kg of body weight in order to build muscle. The recommended daily allowance of protein, however, is much lower than this, cited as 0.8g per kg of Bodyweight. In reality, the answer is more complicated than a simple, one-size-fits-all number. Those who are active and challenging their muscles on a regular basis will require higher amounts in order to build or maintain their frame; whereas those who are inactive will require fewer calories and less protein to maintain their body weight. Bear in mind, without adequate stimulus to the muscles, in the form of progressive resistance training, the protein we consume will not translate into increased, or even maintained muscle mass.”
While consuming enough dietary protein is vital, you can also use protein powder to lose weight and gain muscle mass. If you don’t like the taste, you can always add it to a smoothie or oatmeal rather than eating it as a plain shake.
How do you calculate protein intake?
Dr. Liaka gave Fit&Well her best advice for accurate protein intake calculation. “In order to estimate protein intake, you need to track what you’re eating; this can be done in several ways, and to varying degrees of accuracy,” she says. “For example, for bodybuilders who are in competition season, every gram of food is weighed for months on end. For the average fitness enthusiast looking to up their protein intake, however, estimating meals and foods on an app, or even just adding a serving of protein throughout the day, may be adequate. My main message would be the more specific the goal, the more specific the method of achieving it needs to be.”
We spoke to Dr. Brian Carson, Head of Science and Innovation at Whole Supp, who explained that weighing your food can be helpful if you want a more accurate idea of how much protein you are consuming. “The most effective way to calculate your protein intake is to weigh all your foods and establish the amount of protein per gram (or per 100 grams) as per the nutritional information,” he says. “With lots of ingredients and the inconvenience of weighing at each meal, this can obviously be quite challenging. One potential solution is to use an app like MyFitnessPal which has the nutritional and protein content for many common food products to track an estimate of your intake.”
Can you overconsume protein?
While a lot of us are often worried does protein powder make you gain weight, you should remember that weight gain isn’t an inherently bad thing, and that muscle is a denser substance than fat. So while the scales might be trending upwards, this could be as a result of muscle gain, not an increase in body fat, as many of us might suspect when we see a higher number.
Dr. Liaka explains that protein, like all macronutrients, contains calories, and those calories need to be used. “What is often forgotten is that protein contains calories; one gram of protein contains four calories. This means that overeating protein (I.e., many grams over the amounts mentioned above) produces diminishing returns in terms of performance and physique, whilst providing more energy in the form of calories,” she says. “Remember: eating too many calories, whether they come from fat, carbohydrates, or protein, will lead to weight (and likely fat) gain. There are also other individual variances to take into account, for example, health conditions that require limitation of protein, such as renal problems, or vegan diets which may require aiming for higher protein, in order to ensure intake of a complete amino acid profile.”
A study in Obesity journal found that there is a correlation between protein consumption and the over/underconsumption of other macronutrients, called protein leverage. This is of particular concern in populations with less access to high-quality protein, who will often over consume fat or carbohydrates to make up the calories. The reverse is also true; those who eat high amounts of protein often skimp on other macronutrients.
Dr. Carson tells us that the RDA for protein is increasingly thought to be too low. “The current RDA for protein is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body mass. However, there is a consensus building that this target is too low and a move towards a recommendation of 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body mass is required,” he says. “The current research suggests there is likely to be no additional benefit for building muscle beyond 2.0 gram of protein per kilogram of your body mass.”
An article by Harvard Health also indicates that high protein consumption can lead to health problems such as kidney stones. Additionally, if your main source of protein is red or processed meat, you are risking colon cancer, heart disease, and obesity. With this in mind, it is worth swapping out red meat for leaner meats or plant-based protein sources. With various brands of protein powder available, you may be wondering: plant protein vs whey protein: which is better for building muscle?
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Lou Mudge is a Health Writer at Future Plc, working across Fit&Well and Coach. She previously worked for Live Science, and regularly writes for Space.com and Pet's Radar. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.
Multiple diagnoses in her early twenties sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavors and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health.
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