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Aug 17 / Jeremy

Protein for Muscle Building

It is well known and widely accepted that protein is essential for muscle building and is therefore considered an extremely important macro-nutrient when lifting weights for muscle gain.  However, how much protein a person needs to build muscle is highly debated.  Below we will discuss various protein intake recommendations made by experts and experienced muscle builders and we’ll provide guidance on how to decide which approach is best for you.

The Role of Protein in Muscle Building

Proteins are the primary source of the amino acids that your body needs to build and repair muscle tissue.  Your body is able to produce and reuse many of amino acids it needs, however, there are nine amino acids that your body can only access from outside sources (i.e. food).  These are called the essential amino acids.  Your body needs sufficient amounts of these essential amino acids in order to build and repair muscular tissue.

This is where the controversy comes in.  You see, there is no scientific consensus on how many essential amino acids are necessary for muscle building.  To make matters worse, there are many different formulas proposed and the results of these formulas lead to vastly different recommendations. We explore the most common formulas below.

The Common Muscle Building and Protein Formulas

There are quite a few formulas for determining how much protein you should consume in order to maximize muscle building.  These formulas vary in that some are based on your body weight, others are based on your calorie intake, some simply state a daily amount regardless of any other factors, and there are a few that recommend a certain amount of protein in each meal that you eat.

Below we are going to discuss a number of different ways in which it has been recommended to calculate your daily protein needs for those trying to optimize muscle building.  For the sake of comparison we are going to us a 31 year old male who is 5’10” tall and weighs 180 pounds as the basis for calculating protein needs as determined by the various formulas.

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

The most common formula for determining your protein needs for muscle building is based on the recommended daily allowance (RDA) set by the American Food and Nutrition Board.  They recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day for healthy adults. A kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds so this would mean about 65 grams of protein per day for a person weighing 180 pounds.  It is important to note that this is the recommended amount for adults to maintain their current muscle mass.  Those who are interested in building muscle mass may need to eat more than this recommended amount.

Grams per day based on body weight

Since the RDA is often considered a minimum and not necessarily relevant for those trying to build muscle it is often recommended to increase the amount of protein to 1 gram per pound of body weight per day.  In this case, a person weighing 180 pounds would need to consume 180 grams of protein per day.  This results in a 275% increase from the RDA.  Which may sound like an extreme increase, but some of the formulas suggested go way beyond this.

Another simple formula based on body weights suggests 2 grams of protein per kg per day.  Since there are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram this give you a slightly smaller number than 1 gram per pound of body weight.  In this case, a 180 pound male (about 82 kg) would require 164 grams of protein per day.

[Here is a nice video showing you how you can make a quick and cheap protein shake to help you reach your protein goals. I have a free eBook with 51 protein pact recipes below.]

Calculating protein using Lean Mass Only

An interesting formula that I found recommended by Mark McManus of Total Six Pack Abs and is based solely on your lean body mass.  The theory being that you should not be considering body fat weight when considering how much protein to use for muscle building.   In this case Mark McManus recommends taking your lean mass in kg times 2.75.  One of the challenges of this method is that you need to have an idea of your body fat percentage in order to determine your lean mass in kg.  Muscle Hack offers up this equation for a quick estimate of your body fat percentage:

For Men: body fat % = (1.20 x BMI)+(0.23xAge) – 16.2
For Women: body fat % = (1.20 x BMI)+(0.23xAge) – 5.4

Following these formulas, a 31 year old male who is 5’10” tall and weighs 180 pounds would require about 176 grams of protein per day.

Interestingly, these formulas do not vary significantly when it comes to the amount of protein our 180 pound male would be required to eat on a daily basis.  So far they range from 164 – 180 grams per day. There are other formulas out there, however, that end up recommending significantly more protein.

For example, a man by the name of Dr. Perry suggests using the following formula to determine protein intake:

40% of daily calories should be total protein calories (TPC); since there are 4 calories per gram of protein, TPC/4 give you grams of protein per day.  

According to the RDA an active 31 year old male weighting 180 pounds will require 3,149 calories per day.  40% of this (1,260 calories) should be from protein.  This means our man would need to eat 315 grams of protein per day to maximize muscle building.

[Click the eBook below to download 51 free protein pact recipes instantly!]

Vince Del Monte in his No-Nonsense Muscle Building program recommends 40-60 grams of protein with each meal regardless of any other factors and he tells you to do your best to eat 6 meals per day.  This means that he is recommending 240-360 grams of protein per day.  It may be worth noting, however, that Vince highly recommends going through an intense bulking period when you first start lifting weight to build muscle.  In this program he recommends hitting the weights hard and then eating like it is your job.  He acknowledges that the traditional bulk and cut may not be for everyone, but he believes it is the fastest way to put on slabs of muscle.  This approach has worked for many people, no doubt about it, but not everyone is interested in gaining 30 pounds of fat while working towards adding 20 pounds of muscle.

Protein for Muscle Building – A Reality Check?

Before you start stressing out too much about how to consume so much protein, let me share a quick video made by Brad Pilon.  Through there is no scientific consensus on how much protein someone needs to build muscle, but Brad has done–by far–the most thorough review of all of the available scientific research.  His recently updated and expanded eBook, How Much Protein, does an excellent job of summarizing the available research and using this information to provide scientifically based recommendations on protein intake.  Brad as an upstanding guy who is genuinely passionate about health and fitness.  Given his education background and past experience as a researcher for a major supplement company, when he speaks, I listen.  Below he provides some interesting food for thought.

[Brad Pilon shows illustrates what 1 lb of muscle really looks like.]

If you are interested in learning more about what science does and does not know about protein and the muscle building process then I highly recommend checking out How Much Protein.

Best protein sources and protein absorption

Another thing to consider when determining how to use protein for muscle building is the absorption rate of protein in your body.  By absorption rate I mean how quickly the protein gets broken down into amino acids into the bloodstream and how quickly they then get assimilated into muscle and other tissue for rebuilding and repair.  Though there is evidence to suggest that increasing the level of protein you eat over time will increase the absorption rate of protein by your body, not all protein sources have the same absorption rate.  For example, the most quickly absorbed protein is whey protein.  It is estimated that your body can absorb between 8-10 grams of whey protein per hour.   In contrast, slower absorbing protein sources, such as steak, will be absorbed at 3-5 grams per hour.  This seems to suggest that the maximum amount of protein your body can absorb in a 24 hour period is 240 grams, and this is only if all of your protein came from whey (not recommended).  It is more likely that your body can absorb an average of between 5-7 grams of protein per hour, which would mean that you would only need between 120-168 grams of protein per day.

Protein for Muscle Building – What is Best for You?

We have covered a lot of different formulas for determining how much protein you should eat per day when trying to maximize muscle growth.  As you can see there is no consensus, even among experts and experienced lifters, as to how to determine the appropriate amount.  In truth, your approach to using protein for muscle building should depend largely on your goals. If you want to bulk up in hopes of accelerating your muscle gains then Vince Del Monte’s No-Nonsense Muscle Building approach may be the route for you.  For our 180 pound male example; however, it seems that he would be safe eating somewhere between 150 – 180 grams of protein per day, which also seems to fall in line with the maximum absorption rate of protein in a 24 hour period.

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  1. Raymond-ZenMyFitness / Aug 18 2011

    Excellent article on protein. It cleared a few things up for me.
    I tried the formula for bodyfat and it seems way out (in case you want to check ht-171cm, weight 71 kgs = 25BMI, age 47 y/o) so I got 24% BF. I think I’m closer 10%?
    Protein in the end I see just as powered food for me personally and I use it only because I don’t want to eat it.
    But as tyou show the experts still can’t really decide on how much so I don’t worry about it either except for convienence.

  2. Jeremy & Kim / Aug 18 2011

    Thanks for your comment, Raymond. I agree that the body fat calculation seems quite inaccurate, but I wanted to stay true to the recommendations and formulas as they were laid out. I think the biggest reason for the error is the use of BMI. BMI is a fairly unreliable number.

  3. Sweden Costner / Aug 23 2011

    Good tips right there. It’s amazing, I wanna share this post to the other people I know. This can also be useful to my muscle building and body fitness. Thumbs up to this post.

    • Jeremy & Kim / Aug 24 2011

      Thanks for your comment, Sweden. Feel free to share the link to this post with anyone you think will find it helpful.

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