How much protein does your body really need to build muscle? Are some types and forms of protein better than others? Does the time you eat protein matter? If we eat more protein, will we build more muscle?
These are just some questions that bodybuilders, avid athletes, and fitness trainers ask frequently themselves. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer for everyone.
The amount of protein you consume ultimately depends on your body type, your fitness levels, your goals and whether you are a man or a woman!
So, let’s find out more…
How Does the Body Build Muscle?
Before you can understand how much protein you need to consume in order to gain muscle, you first need to understand how the body works and what it needs to effectively build lean muscle mass.
So, let’s start at the beginning…
What Are Amino Acids?
If you have done any reading or studying up on how to gain more muscle, then you likely have come across amino acids. Amino acids are responsible for a number of crucial functions in the body. In fact, amino acids are often referred to as “the building blocks” of proteins.
Amino acids also play a crucial role in protein synthesis, which is the process of muscle growth and lean body mass development. Amino acids also provide the body with a source of energy when there aren’t any carbohydrates or other food left to burn, or if calorie intake has been reduced.
This is because a great deal of the body’s fuel and energy comes from protein, not solely from calorie intake from food. Amino acids and proteins also help create other chemical substances, such as serotonin and adrenaline.
Without a sufficient supply of amino acids, the body cannot build protein molecules—or help you build more muscle. Yes, some of these amino acids you can get from food. These types of amino acids are known as “essential” amino acids.
In addition to amino acids, the body also needs different types of proteins in order to gain muscle. Each protein type has its own special job in the body—ranging from repairing DNA and cell formation, such as for body tissue, muscle tissue, and other parts of the body (hair, nails, skin health and more).
When you consume foods that contain protein, the body naturally breaks down the protein molecules into amino acids, and then uses those amino acids to build muscle.
Therefore, if you eat too little protein, then your body may become deficient in amino acids. As a result, you will likely find it more difficult to build muscle and may suffer more frequently from muscle soreness.
Amino acids are also used to help repair and recover muscles after a workout. This is also why it is important to make sure that you are feeding your body enough amino acids to help build muscle.
What is Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder?
In order to ensure that they are getting enough protein and amino acids, many bodybuilders will drink nutritional shakes that are high in protein.
This is why protein supplements, such as whey protein powders are incredibly popular today. Whey protein has proven to help aid in muscle growth, muscle recovery, and even accelerate weight loss.
Whey protein powder is made from pure milk. There are a number of whey protein powder products on the market today, but Optimum Nutrition 100 percent Whey Protein Powder by Gold Standard is one of the best.
Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder is a top-rated brand, an Amazon best-selling product, and is backed by over 30 years of research, history, and product development for a truly safe and pure protein powder supplement.
Optimum Nutrition provides up to 24 grams of 100 percent pure whey protein per serving. Optimum Nutrition also provides up to 5.5 grams of essential amino acids, BCAAs, and 4 grams of glutamine and glutamic in a single serving.
Optimum Nutrition has been rated by many happy customers and avid athletes as a top-performing product that is low in fat, cholesterol, and lactose, making it a prime post-workout recovery solution and nutritional protein shake for both men and women.
Optimum Nutrition by Gold Standard is available in over 20 different flavors and in various sizes, depending on the individual’s needs.
However, according to a wealth of customer reviews, the Double Rich Chocolate flavor appears to be a huge favorite. Many claim it is just like drinking a chocolate milk shake—but without all the empty calories, sugar, and fat!
By simply mixing one or two scoops of Gold Standard Optimum Nutrition into water or into a protein shake or smoothie, individuals can have a nutritional protein shake and healthy meal replacement option that powers them through their workouts. Optimum Nutrition also helps make adjusting to high-protein diets easy.
In addition to pure whey protein, here are some other healthy and active ingredients in Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder:
- Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolates, Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Peptides)
- Cocoa (Processed with Alkali)
- Natural and Artificial Flavors
- Acesulfame Potassium
If you are new to the world of whey protein supplements or are trying to get on board with a healthy high-protein diet, then Gold Standard looks like a good place to start. Customers seem to rave about Optimum Nutrition, claiming that it mixes well with water and milk, making it a delicious protein shake.
All in all, Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder is worth a shot. Gold Standard comes in several different sizes, including a one-pound, three-pound, and five-pound tub. The five-pound tub is priced at $55.
The Difference Between Consuming High Amounts of Protein and High-Protein Diets
We now know that the body obviously needs more protein and more amino acids when increasing physical activity levels. But, what most don’t realize is that the body needs protein even if you don’t exercise.
Cells throughout the body die and are regenerated every day. The body requires a sufficient supply of amino acids in order to aid in the cell regeneration process.
So, this begs the question: How much protein do you need to gain muscle?
We’re getting there…
If you ask bodybuilders how much protein you should consume each day, the answers will likely vary. Some will say 1 to 2 grams per pound of body weight; others will say 10 to 35 percent of calories should come from good sources of protein, which is a HUGE range.
Depending on the individual, and his or her body weight, this could mean consuming up to 400 grams of protein per day!
What is frustrating is that even if you consume this much of protein, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will build the amount of muscle that you want.
Therefore, if you are having trouble building muscle, consuming high amounts of protein may not be the best solution. Furthermore, you don’t need to eat insane amounts of protein to build muscle.
What DOES work is consuming a high-protein diet.
And, yes, there is a difference.
Following a “high protein diet” does not necessarily mean shoveling pounds of meat and drinking multiple protein shakes each day; it DOES mean eating enough of the right foods that are high in protein.
What is a High-Protein Diet?
One gram of protein per pound of body weight has been the general rule of thumb for decades, and one that most bodybuilders have followed.
However, modern studies show that the “right” amount of protein really depends on multiple factors.Clinical studies have shown that 1.3 and 1.8 grams of protein each day may be sufficient for athletes, but other factors should be considered, such as the following:
- Energy intake
- The amount of carbohydrates available
- Exercise and activity level and intensity
- Quality of protein sources
- Timing of protein consumption (or last meal)
- Exercise and activity intensity and quality
- Fitness level and training history
- Pre-existing medical conditions or medical history
As we mentioned above, there are many factors involved in how much protein you need to build muscle, so there really isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
However, it’s worth mentioning that as you begin to build more lean muscle, keeping up with your protein intake—and your hydration—becomes even more important.
If you begin to build more lean muscle, and you don’t keep up with your protein intake, then you may develop a protein deficiency. A protein deficiency means you may begin to lose strength and muscle rather than build it.
The Type of Protein
Not every type of protein is the same, nor does it yield the same results for every individual. The biggest differences between each source of protein is the speed at which it digests, how the body utilizes certain protein sources, and the different levels of essential amino acids.
Therefore, each protein source is rated according to the following:
- Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER)
- Biological Value (BV)
- Net Protein Utilization (NPU)
If you had to pick two to follow, NPU and digestion speeds are probably the most important. This is because the human body needs to rely on high-NPU protein sources in order to provide the body with a sufficient amount of protein each day.
For example, here are some of the most common protein sources, and some details on how each protein is used by the body.
Beef or Red Meat – Protein that comes from meat sources is digested quickly, and the body uses between 70 to 80 percent of beef. Beef also has a large amount of essential amino acids.
Although beef is a great protein source, it can also be high in cholesterol and saturated fat. So, if your goal is to lose weight, be sure to eat red meat sparingly, or make sure it is cooked thoroughly.
Whey Protein – Another reason why bodybuilders and athletes love whey protein is because it digests quickly. In fact, the body uses up to 90 percent of whey protein, which makes in an efficient protein source.
Whey protein is also incredibly high in essential amino acids, and even branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), such as Leucine. BCAAs have proven to be an excellent protein supplement for individuals who have a low-protein intake.
Egg Protein – Eggs are great sources of protein, but they digest much slower than beef or pure whey protein. On the other hand, eggs have a high amino acid profile, and 90 percent of egg protein is used by the body.
Fish Protein – Fish is another great source of protein that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, compared with beef or red meat. The body also uses approximately 80 to 83 percent of protein from fish.
Peanuts – Peanuts are another great protein source, and one that is used by many vegetarians and vegans. Peanuts are naturally high in protein, but their digestibility and efficiency are lower (at only 43 percent).
The bottom line is that if your high-protein diet is well-rounded, and consists of a healthy amount of meat, dairy, eggs and fish, you will not only notice weight loss, you will also notice toned, lean muscle mass replacing fat. So, consuming a healthy, high-protein diet will definitely help you build muscle and accelerate fat loss.
But, what do you eat if you are a vegan or a vegetarian?
High-Protein Foods for Vegetarians and Vegans
Yes, vegans and vegetarians have a harder time getting the proteins they need and that also have a high NPU. If you thought that vegetables are also high in protein, you are correct—to an extent.
Yes, vegetables are naturally high protein sources, but some vegetables have lower amounts of amino acids than others.
For example, the protein found in peas and brown rice is higher than the protein found in hemp. Here is a list of the best sources of plant-based protein for vegans and vegetarians:
Whole grains (such as quinoa) – Quinoa has a biological value of 83 percent, which means that the body will digest quinoa more easily than beef.
Soy beans – Soy beans, for example, have an incredibly high biological value and also provide a high source of protein.
Soy beans have a biological value of 96 percent, which is the highest that we have seen thus far on our list of the best protein-rich foods.
Peas – Is a pea a vegetable or a fruit? Although the debate continues, peas most certainly fall in the legume family, which make them a rich source of protein.
In fact, one serving of peas provides approximately 5 to 8 grams of protein. Furthermore, pea protein is particularly rich in essential amino acids (BCAAs), such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
However, peas have a relatively low biological value. However, if you combine pea protein with brown rice, you can maximize the biological value up to approximately 80 percent.
Tofu – There is still some debate about whether or not tofu is considered a “complete” protein. However, many vegetarians and vegans swear by it.
Tofu contains eight essential amino acids (BCAAs), however, the biological value of Tofu is only 64 percent.
Soy Milk – Again, soy is one of nature’s best sources of plant protein, however, its different forms have different biological values.
As we explored above, soy beans have a biological value of 96 percent. However, soy milk is a bit lower at 91 percent.
DOES TIMING MATTER?
Now that you have a better understanding of what foods are great sources of protein—both animal-based and plant-based—as well as the overall NPU value and biological value of each—why does timing matter?
And, by time we are referring to the best time to consume protein to gain muscle.
So, should you eat protein before or after a workout? Or both? Does it even matter?
Some bodybuilders recommend consuming protein every three hours. After checking numerous sources, the timing or frequency of consuming protein may not matter (depending on the individual, of course). The primary priority is consuming the rightamount of protein for YOU each day.
For example, if you prefer to eat three large meals each day, then go for it. The body can handle large amounts of protein at once. You can also consume smaller meals throughout the day, which is known as intermittent fasting, and is practiced by many fitness experts.
Some studies show that timing does matter, and even has a direct impact on building muscle, whereas other studies do not. Some studies show that the body uses protein to help improve muscle performance before a workout.
Other studies show that consuming protein after a workout and before bed is best for muscle recovery and repair.
Although studies are inconclusive at this time, you may have to figure out what the best sources of protein are for you and when consuming them works best.
IS EATING TOO MUCH PROTEIN BAD FOR YOU?
Now that we have looked at why the body needs protein to build muscle, the importance of protein and amino acids, and some of the best protein sources for both meat-lovers as well as vegans and vegetarians, is eating too much protein bad for you?
This is a question that is asked by many bodybuilders and avid athletes. Our culture has become obsessed with nutrition, particularly with protein.
Although adding protein to every meal at every chance we get might seem like a good thing, adverse effects are possible, if you aren’t careful.
Kidney Issues – The kidneys act as the body’s natural filter, removing wastes from the body. The kidneys are also responsible for nitrogen balance in the blood. Some studies suggest that an overabundance of protein can put too much pressure on the kidneys.
However, these studies concluded that these occurrences were present in individuals with pre-existing kidney issues.
So, a finite link between too much protein and kidney problems has not been solidified (at the time of this writing).
Dehydration – Studies also suggest that individuals with extremely high protein levels were also severely dehydrated. This is likely due to the body using more water to flush out wastes, therefore leading to dehydration.
Of course, dehydration isn’t a reason to not consume a sufficient amount of protein; it is simply a reminder to athletes and bodybuilders to drink more water to make up for heightened fitness training.
Weight Gain – Although many individuals who choose to increase their protein intake are also the same people who want to lose weight, it’s worth mentioning that muscle weighs more than fat.
Individuals who begin to watch what they eat, cut bad calories (sugar, starches, saturated fats, etc.), and exercise will likely accelerate weight loss because they are burning fat.
However, as individuals continue this routine, the body will eventually start converting food into energy, building muscle, and stimulating fat loss, rather than storing fat.
And as individuals up their protein intake, the body will then begin using the protein to build lean muscle mass, which obviously weighs more than fat.
So, ultimately, yes, overall body weight will increase… but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to remember that lean body mass isn’t the same as body fat.
All in all, yes, there are some things to watch out for when increasing your protein intake, but none of these reasons by any means should keep you from consuming protein.
CONCLUSION: HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?
In conclusion, how much protein do you need to build muscle?
Well, that answer really depends on YOU—your gender, your body type, your age, your overall health, your fitness level and your goals.
Of course, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, then you may need to put a little more work into planning your high-protein diets.
Try consuming more protein-rich meals or a protein shake as a meal replacement in order to get as much protein as beef or red meat.
And, yes, over the time the number on the scale will increase, but your body will appear more lean, muscular, toned, and your clothes will fit better. Remember, a higher body weight or lean body mass isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you are toned.
All in all, increasing your protein intake isn’t necessarily dangerous, as long as you are smart about what you eat, how much, and your efforts to stay hydrated.
Increasing your protein will absolutely lead to lean muscle mass growth and development, but the length of time will depend on your physical activities, limitations, and if you are eating high quality protein sources.