How much protein do we need to build muscle?
If you have been into the fitness world for a while, you have probably heard countless people talk about how much protein you need. Some people argue that you don’t need much and what you need you can get through food, while some people swear by eating protein powder dry directly from the container to meet their daily requirements. The question remains, how much protein is enough? Should you delve into the endless scoops of protein powder, or will a healthy diet be enough?
We have all heard that protein is the main building block of muscles. But what happens when you ingest protein?
Protein synthesis is the term used to describe building new proteins. To build muscle, we need to increase Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). This is the formation of proteins used to build muscle. MPS is balanced by muscle degradation, also called muscle proteolysis, and it is the balance between these two processes which determine if you get more muscle or if you lose muscle mass. Ingesting protein, especially in relation to exercise, increases the rate of MPS and therefore promotes muscle growth.
How much do I need?
Ingesting protein has shown to increase MPS. There are a few factors though that determine the rate of increase. First, the type of protein you ingest can affect the rate of increase. Whey protein is high in an amino-acid called Leucine. Leucine seems to be the main trigger for MPS which explains why Whey has long been the staple of protein supplementation. If you are lactose intolerant and cannot have Whey, the addition of 3-5g of Leucine to your protein source seems to be just as effective as a good quality Whey in increasing MPS.
The amount of protein you ingest in one sitting can determine the rate of MPS. In healthy young adults, 0.25g of protein per kg of body mass seems to be sufficient to get a maximum increase in MPS. However, age seems to influence this number, and if you are older you may need more protein to get the same effects. Some studies showed that 0.4g of protein per kg of body mass was needed to get maximum MPS. It is important to take into account that protein requirements will vary depending on your complete diet, training type, experience and many other factors, but 0.25-0.4g seems to be sufficient for the vast majority of the population. For an 80kg male, this equates to 25-32g of protein.
Many people in the fitness industry argue that you need over 2g of protein per kg body weight daily to maximise muscle growth, but an extensive review of the evidence found no additional benefits from exceeding 1.6g of protein per kg body weight. For an 80kg individual, this means that 120-140g of protein daily should be enough to maximise MPS.
Take home points
- 25-40g of protein after training (1 scoop of Whey) can be beneficial to maximise MPS after training
- 120-140g of protein daily is enough to maximise muscle growth (As long as your total caloric intake exceeds the energy you use)
- Protein source seems to be important. If you are using a supplement, Whey seems to be most effective. If you cannot have Whey, adding 3-5g of Leucine can benefit.
Atherton, P. J., & Smith, K. (2012). Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. The Journal of Physiology, 590(5), 1049-1057. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225003
Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., . . . Krieger, J. W. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(6), 376. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
Schoenfield, J., & Aragon, A. A. (2018). 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, 15(10). 1-6. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1