How Much Protein Do I Need?

TL;DR: 20-30g of protein 5-6 times per day

 

Protein. Everyone’s favorite macronutrient.  It is an essential part of our diets. It is used to build muscle, enzymes, antibodies, hormones, and aids in cellular repair. You cannot survive without ingesting protein. The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8g of protein/kg of body weight. For a 150 pound person that is only 50g of protein, which is not enough for someone who is looking to maximize their potential gains. 50g of protein is the absolute minimum you should consume per day.

 

How much protein do I need to maximize my progress?

 

First of all, like everything else in fitness and nutrition, it is different for everyone. Larger people are going to need more than their smaller counterparts. However, the vast majority of the human population should eat 20-30g of protein 5-6 times throughout the day if they wish to enhance muscle gain. It turns out that optimization of protein intake is a function of nutrient timing as well as nutrient load.

 

Why is this so?

 

In order to build muscle we need a stimulus that tells our body to grow (resistance training) and adequate calorie and protein intake. Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the driving force behind the changes that occur to a muscle as a result of physical activity. MPS is upregulated through protein intake and exercise. The combination of both resistance training and protein intake is more anabolic than nutrition on its own. Consumption of 20-30g of protein has been shown to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. However, nutrient driven increases in MPS are limited, lasting around an hour and a half. This is why it is necessary to eat a 20-30 gram dose every few hours. Resistance training has been shown to upregulate MPS for up to 48 hours post exercise. Take a look at the following graph. The line represents the rate of MPS. With each meal we augment the synthesis of muscle protein. A bout of resistance training can increase the amplitude of the peaks on this graph and can lessen muscle protein breakdown in the postprandial state. You can see from this graph why it is important to eat protein every few hours.

 

Can I eat too much protein?

 

Technically yes but you’re probably not going to. Some people argue that eating too much protein can lead to kidney issues. This is not supported by the science for people with healthy kidneys. Your kidneys will adapt to the increase protein intake and remove the excess nitrogen from protein as necessary.

When we eat a large amount of protein, anything that is in excess of what is required is sent to the liver to be converted to glucose. This isn’t necessarily an issue as far as optimizing muscle growth is concerned but is more a problem for your wallet. Because protein consumed in excess of what is required is converted to glucose, it might be overkill to eat large amounts of protein. You would save money by getting those extra calories from alternative sources.

 

In summary, optimal protein intake will change depending on your goals. For the majority of people who wish to add some muscle mass, ingestion of 20-30g of protein 5-6 times per day is preferred. Eating a dose of protein many times throughout the day stimulates muscle protein synthesis and when coupled with resistance training, net protein state is maximized.Protein consumed in excess of this will likely be converted to glucose and used for energy. Use this information to better serve your goals. Don’t fall into the traps set by nutritional ideologues that spout pseudoscience to support their agendas. Stick to the science and you will succeed.

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Ingesting protein augments the synthesis of muscle protein. The yellow cap on each peak represents the additional bump you’d receive from adding resistance training. It also decreases the amount of protein breakdown that takes place after meals. You can begin to visualize the importance of protein intake for muscle gain. To gain muscle the area of the peaks needs to exceed the area of the valleys.