Expert Nutrition

How much protein do I need?

How much protein do I need... is one of the most commonly asked questions in gyms around the world and whilst there are plenty of people willing to offer their advice, their opinions are often misguided and largely influenced by underlying commercial interest.

This article aims to clarify and quantify how much protein you need (which is invariably different from just about everyone else in the gym).

How much protein do I need? The correct answer is.... it depends

If anybody is quick to offer their advice without first taking into consideration, you’re training goals and your body weight then straight away the quality of their advice should be questioned. Protein requirements vary between individuals and most importantly need to be tailored towards your individual training goals.

A good starting point is to refer to the protein requirement table below which takes into consideration both your body weight and your training gaols. This table essentially summarises the past 2 decades of research and will be discussed in more detail below.

Protein Requirement Table

Training Class Protein Requirement (grams/kg/day)
Sedentary men and women 0.75 - 0.8
Adolescents 1.0
Recreation endurance 0.8 - 1.0
Moderate-intensity endurance1.0 - 1.2
Very High-intensity endurance1.2 - 1.6
Strength and resistance (muscle growth) 1.4 - 1.7
Strength and resistance (muscle maintenance) 1.0 - 1.2

Important note of clarification
Recreational endurance = Training approximately 4-5 times per week for 30 minutes low to moderate intensity
Moderate-intensity endurance = Training approximately 4-5 times per week for 45-60 minutes moderate to high intensity.
High to Very high-intensity endurance = Elite athletes training for hours a day or the equivalent of the Tour De France

Female athletes require 15-20% less protein then male athletes (example calculations below).

How to Calculate Daily Protein Needs

To calculate your daily protein needs, simply select which class of training most accurately reflects your training goals and then enter it into the relevant equation below.

Male (metric system)
Body weight (kgs) x protein requirement (grams) = recommended daily intake of protein (grams/day)

Example Male
Weight: 80kg
Training goals: Strength and resistance training 4 days per week (1.4 - 1.7g/kg/day)
80kg x 1.7g = 136g protein/day

Female (metric system)
Body weight (kgs) x protein requirement (grams) x 0.85 (female factor)= recommended daily intake of protein (grams/day)

Example Female
Weight: 56kg
Training goals: Strength and resistance training 4 days per week (1.4 - 1.7g/kg/day)
56kg x 1.7 x 0.85 = 81g protein/day

Note that in both the male and female examples used above the upper limit of 1.7grams (1.4-1.7g) was used to calculate the daily requirement. This is done to overcome any individual variability to ensure protein requirements are met. Any excess protein that is not being used by the body will essentially be burnt off as fuel as long as it’s not consumed in excessive doses.

If you’re doing a combination of both resistance training and endurance based training you’re best to lean more towards the strength training requirement to ensure you’re protein intake is adequate. You can always cut back, if you gain unwanted muscle mass.

Meeting You're Daily Protein Requirement

Now that you’ve calculated your required daily protein intake, for best results it is advised that you break this into small amounts throughout the day as large portions of protein in the one meal are less likely to be absorbed. That is accumulating your daily protein requirements across all meals throughout the day is generally more beneficial than just having one protein rich meal at dinner. Example below.

MealFood Protein (grams)
Breakfast

2 eggs
1slice toast
glass of milk
12
3
10

Snack Dried fruit and nuts (50g) 8

Lunch

Tuna (90g can)
Salad
Bread roll
13
0
4

Pre workout Protein Shake15

Post workout Protein Shake15

Dinner


Chicken breast (200g)
Steamed vegetables (2 cups)
Brown rice (1 cup)
50
5
4

Total 139 grams

In the above example protein shakes are used to demonstrate how easily meal replacements added to your diet can assist you to reach your protein requirements. If you don't wish to use meal replacements or protein shakes an alternative would be to make a milkshake (with skim milk), adding an egg, low fat ice cream and then fruit for flavor. You would then also need to increase the amount of lean meat at other meals ie a second can of tuna for lunch and/or a bigger portion of chicken at dinner.

Is too much protein bad for you?

Some scientific evidence has concluded that high levels of protein may lead to kidney stress and therefore it's important that you don't overdo it. Additionally research supports that protein intake above 2.0g/kg/day provides no further benefit (ie no more muscle growth), therefore eating protein at levels greater than this means that some of it will go to waste and could potentially be detrimental to your health. Save your money and stick to the guidelines above.

Remember protein intakes well above the recommended amount do not increase muscle growth.

Are Protein Supplements Necessary?

A high protein diet may be impractical for many people because of the amount of food that needs to be prepared and consumed. Liquid protein drinks contain important nutrients and easily digestible protein. Quality protein supplements when used in conjunction with whole foods are a great way to meet your daily protein needs.

As discussed in the articles on nutrient timing and the pre and post workout meals, timing of food and nutrient intake is very important if you wish to maximise your muscle growth and training benefits. Protein shakes are a very easy method of ensuring adequate nutrient timing to maximise muscle growth.

How Much Protein Summary

Despite protein being an important nutrient for muscle growth, getting enough protein is as much art as it is science. The best way to reach your daily protein needs is by planning your meals ahead and paying attention to your daily protein requirement (which changes in line with your training goals and body weight).

Protein shakes and meal replacements offer a convenient and very effective way to top up your daily protein needs with the additional benefit of being absorbed quickly and the ability to be consumed at crucial nutrient timing windows throughout the day. While protein is important for the preservation and gain of muscle tissue, you must also be aware of nutrition timing and meal combining to get best results. For more information please read the relevant articles below.

How much protein, back to nutrition for bodybuilding

Related Bodybuilding Articles

Nutrition for Bodybuilders, Gym Junkies and Beach Bodies

Resistance Training 101

Muscle Building Nutrition Advice

Protein Powder and Gym Supplement Advice

Muscle Building Training Advice

Fit Body Photos and Images

These articles will provide you with the necessary tools to start a successful gym training or bodybuilding program. These principles are only the beginning. Remember that discipline, knowledge and consistency are the keys to achieving your goals. Good luck!

Over the coming months we will be developing this chapter. Please visit our blog and subscribe to our rss feed such that when new articles are added to this chapter you will be notified.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.

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