Protein is probably the most hyped up macro-nutrient when it comes to nutrition.
Everyone in and out of the fitness community knows about it, from your Mom to the average gym goer. Ask your average joe schmuck on the street what he thinks will help him build muscle and he will confidently tell you that eating large amounts of protein will do the trick. It’s held as the “holy grail” of building muscle by many.
And they do have a point, but it’s usually grossly overstated.
So how much protein do you really need? These people probably can’t tell you that, other than “a lot”.
Adequate protein intake is necessary to build muscle or even lose fat, but most people don’t know how much is really optimal.
Fortunately for you, however, countless research has already been done on this subject so let’s answer this question and get the matter settled once and for all.
The answer might actually surprise you.
The Importance Of Protein
Why do you even need protein in the first place?
Well, even if you’re not an aspiring bodybuilder, protein is one of the most important macro-nutrients required by your body to make sure it functions properly.
Protein is a molecule made of smaller chain molecules called amino acids, which are the building blocks of your body. These proteins perform a wide range of functions such as repairing cells and forming of tissues.
Your body requires 21 amino acids but can only produce 12 itself, so it needs the rest to come from the foods you eat.
Failure to get enough of this important macro-nutrient can result in your body becoming deficient in the amino acids it needs to build and repair itself. Over time and as you age, this could ultimately result in a loss of skeletal muscle which in and of itself is associated with increased mortality. In plain English; your chance of death increases.
And that’s just for your average sedentary folks.
Throw in regular weightlifting and exercise and your body will need even more amino acids to repair damaged muscle fibres which will grow when repaired.
So the importance of protein is obvious, but the question still remains: how much protein per day do you need as an athlete that regularly exercises?
How Much Protein Per Day To Build Muscle?
Bro-science will tell you that even your average 160lb male will need 200+ grams of protein per day, typically recommending a range of 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of goal bodyweight!
This is insane.
On top of that you gotta make sure you eat a meal with protein every 2-4 hours to make sure your body doesn’t go “catabolic”.
The reasoning behind this information is based on the assumption that your body can only absorb up to 50 grams of protein per meal and that you need protein frequently throughout the day to make sure your body preserves muscle mass.
Looking back at this, I can’t believe I actually used to believe this nonsense.
While I was so brainwashed with the whole “eat six times a day myth”, it always puzzled me how other people could still eat only 1-3 meals a day and still build muscle.
Here’s the real deal:
Your body can absorb a lot of protein in one sitting. Scientists even did research with two groups of people; one group eating the majority of their protein intake in one meal and the other group having it spread out over four meals. The results were largely the same with no significant difference in protein synthesis.
That’s that myth settled; we can move on now.
As long as you hit your protein target for the day whether it be in 2 meals or 10 meals, it doesn’t really matter.
Now let’s move on to the next silly myth that you need to stuff yourself with ridiculous amount of protein.
Studies have found that 0.6-0.8 grams per pound of body weight is a good baseline for athletes but the demand goes up depending on many factors and variables such as exercise intensity, training history, your size, age etc.
Since some of these factors are hard to measure, the best general guideline for building muscle is to aim for 0.8 – 1 gram per pound of body weight.
How Much Protein Per Day To Lose Weight?
Yes, you also need adequate protein when losing weight.
While your primary objective might be to lose weight, ideally you’ll want most of that weight to be fat. Eating an adequate daily protein intake for weight loss (along with weight training) will make sure any muscle mass you have on your body is preserved.
Losing muscle mass while cutting will mess up your body composition and is a sure fire way to becoming “skinny fat”.
A good guideline to shoot for in this situation is to eat 1 – 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This will be enough to avoid you losing strength and muscle mass on your cut, without being overkill.
The Bottom Line
Protein is an important macro-nutrient even for the sedentary person doing little to no physical activity. For an active athlete with fitness and body composition goals; even more important.
But hopefully the above information has put some myths to bed around just how much you really need. More is not always better and you don’t have to spread your consumption over many frequent protein-rich meals each day.
You don’t have to be neurotic about this.
And if you hit a plateau while trying to build muscle, provided you haven’t reached your genetic potential yet and are eating within the protein guidelines, eating more protein is not necessarily the solution. Try getting more calories in general.
The bottom line is this:
Hit your protein target for the day and the required amount of calories for your goal consistently, and you should be well on your way to reaching your goals.