How much protein do you need to build muscle? I think there have been disagreements on this for the last 100 years. In fact, since the man (or woman) first picked up a rock, pressed it on a bench, and struck a monstrous-sized pose, the most muscular; There has been a clash between the “eat until the protein comes out of your ear” group and the “you don’t need any shutter protein to build muscle; look at a rhinoceros” group.
When I started pumping iron, the two camps seemed best represented by Bill Pearl with the “you don’t need a lot of protein” and Vince Gironda, who advocated serious protein use. Following some of what Vince suggested; I ate nothing but steak and eggs for breakfast during football season and fed a ton of spaghetti on game day. It seems crazy now.
I guess I’ve followed high protein thinking for most of my life. When I exercised a lot, I averaged one gram of protein per pound of body weight. I would eat 180-220 grams of protein a day. In those periods when I was not exercising as much, I was still consuming around 100 grams a day. Did it work for me? Was it the high protein content that helped me gain nearly 210 pounds of decent muscle a few (or eight) years ago? Maybe or maybe not; He definitely couldn’t tell because he didn’t have a benchmark to follow.
So how much protein is enough protein? That question is a lot like another question asking, “How old should a man’s leg be?” One answer might be “as long as it takes to get to the ground.” You need as much protein as you need to build muscle, for you.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that your protein intake be about 10% to 35% of a 2,000 calorie diet. That amount translates to a huge range of 50 to 175 grams of protein. That’s a huge range and it doesn’t help much. Even among experts, there are some questions, or at least that is how I interpret it being given such a wide range.
And it’s no wonder, after all; The importance of protein in daily life cannot be underestimated, much less in building muscle. Protein is essential for human life. Your skin, bones, muscles, and organ tissues contain protein. Protein is also found in the blood, hormones, and enzymes.
You need protein. The question is again, how much do you need? Your body takes ingested protein and breaks it down into its amino acid components for use. The body cannot store unused protein. Unnecessary amino acids are removed from your nitrogen and stored as fat (or used for energy). Nitrogen elements are processed as waste by the kidney and liver. Not being an expert or a guru here, you may want to check all of this, but I think I’m in the ballpark.
So if you only need 100 grams but eat 180 grams, guess what, the balance of the 80 grams is fat around the gut or poop. Either way, excess causes undue stress on the body. Protein is not a good source of energy, unless you are a big cat roaming the Serengeti plains. Therefore, there is no incentive to eat more protein than you need. On the contrary, it punishes your body by consuming more than it needs.
But understand this, after all the thousands and thousands of years, there is still no scientific basis to think that high protein intake is better for building muscle. There is no scientific basis for thinking that one gram of protein is needed for every pound of body weight. There are none that I know of.
Nothing less than what appears to be common sense. If you agree, your average bear needs 45 to 70 grams of protein (female and male, respectively); So wouldn’t it be logical to think that your muscle-building brown bear would need a lot more? However, the red flag is that many supplement companies use this type of reasoning to push a lot of expensive protein powders.
As for what I suggest, well, this is what I do. At almost 49, I just don’t have the energy or desire to go back to being a gym rat. But that doesn’t mean you’re not interested in exercising or being healthy. On the contrary, with two little girls, I have a tremendous incentive to live a long life; long enough to see that my daughters eventually have daughters of their own.
I eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables and fruits. And I drink 10-15 glasses of water a day. As a true meat eater, I probably get my easy 75 grams daily. But because I exercise about 45 minutes every other day pretty hard, I now drink about two tall glasses of milk a day. And I probably eat about 12 eggs a week, more or less. All of that probably boosts my protein intake to an average of 110 grams a day, which I think works for me.
But it is all an inexact science. How do I know it works for me? Well, less than that; I’m hungry and in a bad mood. Vince Gironda used to say that protein keeps hunger pangs at bay and gives you a feeling of fullness. I’ll buy it. I know that if I drink less water, I feel thirsty. Less protein and I feel grumpy. Is that really a real reason to eat my 100-110 grams of protein? No, but it is my way of listening to my body.
And that’s ultimately the key here, I think. You need to listen to your body. Your body will tell you if you are not consuming enough complex carbohydrates. Your body will tell you if you are eating too much protein (increased girth will be a sign).
At a minimum, start with your basic protein need of 75 grams and add 50%; then evaluate how it responds. How are your workouts? What are your energy levels and how fast are you recovering? Based on those observations, reduce or add a little more. I have talked about the 3 circles and how you should move them; well, the same here.
Lastly, I no longer recommend buying tons of protein powder. Instead, I think you would do well to drink more milk (or soy) and eat a few more eggs a day. These are quality protein sources and pennies on the dollar compared to protein powder on the market today. One liter of milk and 3 eggs will add approximately 56 grams of protein to your diet. You need more?
Also, if you eat three balanced meals a day with about a quarter of a pound of meat as part of that meal; you will probably consume between 28 and 30 grams in that seat. That gives you between 80 and 90 grams a day. Now add the extra milk and eggs; that will put it in the 150 gram range. And guess what, you didn’t have to buy a nitrogen-enhanced super premium whey concentrate and a super duper high proof protein powder.