How much protein do you need to build muscle? Here is the most reliable research on the subject, featuring trained bodybuilders and elite athletes.
One Gram Is (More Than) The Upper Limit!
More than once you have seen me saying that you should aim for 1 g of protein per pound of body weight.
Which is not nearly as much as what you get to hear at gyms and bodybuilding forums. In those places you’ll find guys that believe in 3, 4 or more grams per lb.
But actually that 1 g is more than the upper limit. I rounded it up a bit to have a nice and handy number. The real one is 0.82 g / lb (1.8 g / kg).
The Science On Protein Intake And Muscle
I know that for the “more is better” crowd that sounds like blasphemy, but don’t take my words for it. Here is the science that specifically looked into bodybuilding, strength training and protein:
- Already in 1988, Canadian researcher Mark Tarnopolsky took bodybuilders with more than five years experience and examined their protein requirements. Even those that likely used steroids couldn’t benefit from more than 0.55 g per pound of body weight.
- In the same year, a Virginia Tech study examined 19 weightlifters that tried to maintain muscle mass while losing fat. For them to achieve that, 0.73 g / lb were enough.
- In 1992, Tarnopolsky did a study on bodybuilding novices. He found that at least during the first month of training protein doses higher than 0.61 g / lb had no effect at all (PDF).
- In that year he also conducted a larger study involving experienced strength athletes. In the amount of muscle they built, there was no difference between the groups that got 0.62 g / lb or 1.07 g / lb. The 1.07 g protein group just overloaded.
- A 1998 review of the available research comes to the conclusion that for strength training athletes, the daily recommended amount of protein is 0.73 to 0.77 g per pound of body weight.
- A more recent review from 2011 comes to just about the same number: 0.82 g / lb is the upper limit (full text available for free).
I can’t and don’t want to stop anyone from getting more protein, but for me that is just too bothersome. The only people who likely benefit from more than those 0.82 g / lb (or the 1 g / lb from my rule of thumb) are guys on anabolic steroids. But then again I don’t cater to those.
OCD Daily Protein Calculation
If you want to use the strict number, simply take your body weight in pounds and multiply by 0.82. For a 165 lbs guy this would be 165 * 0.82 g = 135 g. If you are of the metric persuasion multiply your body weight in kg by 1.8: 75 kg * 1.8 = 135 g.
For some more background info, check this article on bodybuilding and workout nutrition and this one on how protein works. The latter will also tell you why protein supplements aren’t better than protein from food.
Picture courtesy of Lin Mei.