Saturday, March 18, 2023

How much protein is 'actually' needed to gain muscle

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Protein is widely considered as the king of macronutrients in the muscle-building supplementation industry. While many supplements tout their benefits, protein remains the most popular and effective for muscle growth. But how much protein is truly necessary to achieve optimal muscle gains? This question has been a subject of debate among fitness and muscle hypertrophy enthusiasts, with various opinions and recommendations floating around. In this article, I’ll delve into the latest research on protein and muscle growth, exploring the different factors that influence protein requirements. I will also provide evidence-based recommendations on how much protein you need to consume to gain muscle mass.

Factors that Affect Protein Requirements

The amount of protein you need to gain muscle depends on various factors, such as age, gender, body weight, training volume, and intensity. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the recommended daily protein intake for sedentary individuals is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (1). For those who are engaging in regular resistance training, the protein requirement increases to 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram or 2.2 lb of body weight (2). I recommend that you aim for the upper end of this range to ensure adequate protein intake for muscle growth, especially if you are in a calorie surplus.

The Importance of Adequate Protein Intake in a Calorie Surplus

When in a calorie surplus (CS), it is wiser to aim for the upper end of the range 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram, to ensure adequate protein intake for muscle growth. A CS puts the body in an anabolic state, meaning that it has an abundance of energy and nutrients to support muscle growth. However, without adequate protein intake, the body may not have the necessary amino acids to support this growth. Consuming a higher protein intake in a CS can help ensure that the body has the necessary building blocks for muscle protein synthesis (3).

Additionally, consuming a higher protein intake in a CS can also help minimize the fat gain. When in a CS, the body is in a prime position to gain both muscle and fat. However, research suggests that a higher protein intake can help promote muscle growth while minimizing fat gain (4). Therefore, aiming for the upper end of the recommended protein intake range can not only support muscle growth, but also help control body composition in a CS.

Protein Quality and Timing

In addition to quantity, protein quality and timing are also critical factors for maximizing muscle-building benefits. Not all protein sources are created equal, and some are more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) than others (5). Animal-based protein sources, such as whey, casein, and beef, are rich in essential amino acids (EAAs) and have been shown to be superior to plant-based proteins in promoting muscle growth (6). Though, this does not mean that vegetarians or vegans cannot build muscle, but rather they need to be more strategic in combining various plant-based protein sources to ensure adequate EAA intake (7).

Furthermore, protein timing plays a crucial role in muscle growth, as the window of opportunity for MPS stimulation is relatively short (although I personally haven't found it to be entirely valid, since in my experience the MPS signals can last for days). Based on the study, it is recommended to consume a high-quality protein source within 30 minutes of completing your workout to maximize MPS (8). Additionally, evenly distributing your protein intake throughout the day, with three to four meals containing at least 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, has been shown to be more effective for muscle growth than consuming the majority of protein at one meal (9).

I perceive the research that identifies a relatively brief window of opportunity for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) stimulation as primarily focusing on the peak levels of MPS. These studies may overlook the fact that, although reduced, MPS remains active for a more extended period (10).

Is 100 or 200 grams of protein enough to build muscle?

The optimal protein intake for muscle building can vary greatly depending on individual factors such as age, sex, weight, and activity level. As mentioned before, in general a protein intake of 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended to support muscle growth and maintenance. An individual who weighs 70 kilograms (154.3 lb), for instance, should aim for a protein intake of 84-119 grams per day.

Based on the recommended protein intake, to consume 100 grams of protein per day, one should weigh between 58.8 kg and 83.3 kg (129.63 lb and 183.54 lb). To consume 200 grams of protein per day, one should weigh between 117.6 kg and 166.7 kg (259.27 lb and 367.32 lb). In other words, you would need to weigh between 58.8 kg (100/1.7) and 83.3 kg (100/1.2) to consume 100 grams of protein within the recommended range, and between 117.6 kg (200/1.7) and 166.7 kg (200/1.2) to consume 200 grams within the recommended range.

Note that consuming excessively high levels of protein, above the recommended intake, may not necessarily result in greater muscle growth and can even have negative consequences for health (11).

In summary, 100-200 grams of protein per day may be sufficient to support muscle growth for some individuals, but other factors such as age, sex, weight, calorie intake, exercise routine, and protein quality and timing should also be considered.

The Role of Small Amounts of Protein in Building and Maintaining Muscle

While it is commonly accepted that high protein intake is necessary for muscle growth, the idea that even relatively small amounts of protein can also contribute to muscle building and maintenance is often overlooked. While it may take longer to see results with lower protein intakes, research suggests that consuming as little as 0.3-0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per meal can still stimulate muscle protein synthesis (12).

If you’d like to stay on the lower range without overloading your kidneys and your liver, a dose of about 20-30 grams of protein per meal, which is equivalent to approximately 0.3-0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for an average-sized adult is recommended. While this may seem like a small amount, it can still provide the necessary amino acids to support muscle growth and maintenance over time.

Additionally, it is important to note that consuming small amounts of protein throughout the day can be more beneficial for muscle growth than consuming large amounts at one time. This is because the body can only effectively utilize a certain amount of protein at one time, which is about 20-30 grams per meal, and excess protein is simply excreted (13). Therefore, spreading protein intake evenly throughout the day, with three to four meals containing at least 0.3-0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, can help maximize muscle protein synthesis and ultimately support muscle growth and maintenance.

Conclusion

In summary, protein intake is critical for muscle growth, and the optimal amount depends on various factors. Aim for a daily protein intake of 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram or 2.2 lb of body weight, and prioritize high-quality protein sources and timing for maximum muscle-building benefits. Remember that consistency and progressive overload in your resistance training program are also crucial for muscle growth.

While protein is a vital macronutrient for muscle growth, it is important to remember that it is only one piece of the puzzle. Resistance training and proper recovery, including sleep and stress management, are also critically-essential for building muscle mass (14). Additionally, while high protein intake (up to 3.32g/kg/day) may be beneficial for muscle growth (15), excessively high consumption can have negative consequences, such as kidney damage and dehydration (16).

Note that these protein recommendations are for healthy individuals without any underlying medical conditions. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, may need to limit their protein intake (16).

In conclusion, protein is an essential component of any muscle-building program, and adequate intake is necessary for optimal muscle growth. Aim for a protein intake of 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight, prioritize high-quality protein sources and timing, and ensure you are also implementing proper resistance training and recovery strategies.

References:

  1. Rodriguez NR, et al. ACSM Position Stand on Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2016;48(3):543-568.

  2. Phillips SM, et al. Protein "requirements" beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2016;41(5):565-572.

  3. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJC. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2011;29(sup1):S29-S38.

  4. Pasiakos SM, Lieberman HR, McLellan TM. Effects of protein supplements on muscle damage, soreness and recovery of muscle function and physical performance: a systematic review. Sports Medicine. 2014;44(5):655-670.

  5. Churchward-Venne TA, et al. Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. The Journal of Physiology. 2012;590(11):2751-2765.

  6. van Vliet S, et al. The skeletal muscle anabolic response to plant- versus animal-based protein consumption. The Journal of Nutrition. 2015;145(9):1981-1991.

  7. Gorissen SHM, et al. Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino Acids. 2018;50(12):1685-1695.

  8. Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(1):5.

  9. Burd, N. A., Beals, J. W., Martinez, I. G., Salvador, A. F., & Skinner, S. K. (2019). Food-First Approach to Enhance the Regulation of Post-exercise Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Remodeling. Sports Medicine, 49(Suppl 1), 59-68.

  10. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2018;15:10.

  11. J├Ąger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017;14(1):20.

  12. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJC. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2011;29(sup1):S29-S38.

  13. Paddon-Jones D, Rasmussen BB. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2009;12(1):86-90.

  14. Schoenfeld BJ, et al. Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2019;51(1):94-103.

  15. Antonio J, et al. A high protein diet has no harmful effects: a one-year crossover study in resistance-trained males. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2016;2016:9104792.

  16. Martin WF, Armstrong LE, Rodriguez NR. Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2005;2(1):25.