When it comes to building muscle, your gym routine is only part of the puzzle — your diet, particularly your protein intake, is the other key factor.
In general, you need between 1.2 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily to encourage muscle growth.1
While specific factors can play a role in where you fall on that range, supplying your muscles with quality protein from your diet is the key to promoting muscle growth. Read on to learn about how to make the most of your protein intake.
- How much protein do you need to build muscle?
- What is protein?
- How much protein do you need on a normal diet?
- How does protein contribute to muscle growth?
- How to calculate your protein requirements for muscle growth
- When should you eat protein to build muscle?
- High-protein foods
How much protein do you need to build muscle?
Now that you know the general range of protein needed to build muscle, let’s dive deeper into the specifics, based on your sex and body type. These are estimates, and vary based on your age and level of activity.
What is protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients along with fat and carbs. It provides 4 calories per gram and is made up of amino acids.
Protein comes from both animal and plant sources, like meat, eggs, dairy products, beans and peas. While it occurs naturally in many foods, there are also a wide variety of protein supplements on the market.
How much protein do you need on a normal diet?
If you’re not exercising excessively or trying to gain mass, 0.8-1.2g per kg of body weight is appropriate. Certain ages when we experience more growth (like adolescence) or as we age and start to lose muscle mass (55+), you may be on the higher end of the range.
How does protein contribute to muscle growth?
Much of our body is made up of protein, including muscle, bones, skin, and hair. Because its function is so widespread, there’s a constant turnover of proteins in our body — some being broken down (catabolism) and some being built up (anabolism).
The amount of protein we consume in our diets can influence whether we’re in a building or breaking down state.
Exercising causes stress on our muscles, making tiny tears or injuries in the muscle proteins that need to be repaired. Consuming more calories and protein in our diet than we’re breaking down provides the building blocks for our muscles to repair and gain mass over time.
How to calculate your protein requirements for muscle mass
If you want to calculate how much protein you need to build muscle mass, there are a few approaches you can take.
- The simplest approach is the grams per kilogram calculation using the table above. If you’re a female and currently at a healthy weight of 150 lbs, you need 1.2 g/kg protein to build mass.
150lbs / 2.2 lbs/kg = 68.2 kg bodyweight x 1.2 g/kg protein = 82 grams protein per day
- You can also use a macro approach, like our simple macro calculator. It will give you recommendations for carbs and fat as well, based on your gender, age, weight, and goals. This does all the maths for you!
- The third option is to calculate your protein intake as a certain percentage of your total calorie intake — between 10-30% is a reasonable range. If you want to gain mass, we’d recommend between 20-25% of your calories coming from protein. For example, if you follow a 2000 calorie diet:
2000 calories x 0.30 = 500 calories from protein / 4 calories per gram = 125 grams protein per day
Which factors could affect your calculations?
You might have higher or lower protein needs for different reasons. Women typically have less lean mass than men and require less protein in general.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have higher protein needs. Also, if you’re recovering from any kind of injury, your needs may be higher as your body is in a state of repair.
If you’re trying to lose weight and are currently consuming too many calories, you might have to cut back on protein intake as part of an overall lower-calorie diet.
However, keeping your percentage of calories from protein the same will help preserve your lean muscle mass and potentially promote muscle growth based on exercise.
When should you eat protein to build muscle?
If your goal is to build muscle, you need both an excess of calories for the day and adequate protein to rebuild any microtears you create during your workouts. While it was thought that you needed to consume protein within two hours of your workout, now we know that your protein intake for up to 24 hours after you hit the gym supports your muscle building.
Once you know your total needs for the day, it’s best to break up your protein intake into 3 or 4 meals or snacks each day.
High-protein foods to help you build muscle
The table below lists some high–protein foods and compares the amount of protein in each food based on a 100g serving.2 However, remember 100g is not necessarily the serving size of each of these foods.
While chia seeds are high per 100g, you would likely not consume more than 10g at a time — you might consume more than 100g of milk at once.
Take home message
Protein is a key nutrient found in many of our foods, and available in many supplement forms.
As the key muscle builder, protein in our diet, along with exercise that challenges our muscles, causes them to repair and grow.
Following an eating pattern that includes high quality protein is an important part of building muscle and meeting your strength goals.
Protein for muscle growth — FAQs
Do males need more protein than females?
Males generally have a higher proportion of muscle than females, which would require higher levels of protein for muscle growth or maintenance. However, based on the height, weight, and muscle mass, a female could require more than a male with less muscle mass.
Will protein make me gain weight?
Too many calories from any source can make you gain weight. If you want to gain muscle, you will likely see the number on the scale increase.
Muscle tissue holds water while fat does not; this is why you might see changes in your body composition but not see weight loss. Too much protein — more than your body needs — can be stored as fat for later usage and also lead to weight gain.
What is the best protein to build muscle?
The best proteins to build muscle are those that contain all of the essential amino acids — the building blocks for protein that the body can’t make on its own — which are called “complete” proteins.
Varying your protein sources in your diet can help assure you get a wide range of amino acids. Research shows that protein sources high in the amino acid leucine can increase muscle growth.3 Dairy foods, like whey protein, are high in leucine.
What is the best vegan protein for muscle growth?
There are many high protein vegan supplements on the market — soy, rice, pea, etc. A blend can be a good option to make sure you are obtaining all the amino acids. Look for one with higher levels of leucine and compare labels to find the one with the most protein per 100g.
Is it possible to consume too much protein?
It’s possible to consume too much of any nutrient — and what our body doesn’t need to burn for energy, it will store.
Our kidneys are involved in the processing of the protein in our diet, and extremely high levels of protein can be harmful over time. However, studies show that up to 3.5g/kg bodyweight per day does not cause negative side effects.4