How much protein to gain muscle: the ultimate guide.
We often get asked how much protein is needed to gain muscle at an optimal rate.
And we have got you covered (and if you want to read about carbohydrates and muscle growth, click HERE).
By Coach Hunter Bennett
What is protein?
Before answering the “how much protein to gain muscle” question, I wanted to provide an overview of what protein is.
Protein is one of three main macronutrients that make up the food you eat (the others are fats and carbohydrates).
Proteins are made up of thousands of smaller units called amino acids. These are known as the “building blocks” of the human body, as they are used to make practically everything in your body.
Cells, enzymes, hormones, organs, bones, and all your bodies tissues – you name it – they make it.
Oh, and of course, they are also used to repair and build muscle tissue.
They are important.
Which is why eating enough protein can not only impact your ability to gain muscle, but also have health related consequences.
Recommended Daily Protein Intake
Separate to maximising muscle growth, the Australian Government have a recommended dietary intake of protein.
These values are:
- 46 grams per day for women aged 19-70 years, and
- 64 grams per day for men aged 19-70 years
This can be thought of as the minimum amount of protein needed per day to maintain health and function.
However, there are a few issues that need to be addressed when looking at these numbers.
Firstly, the don’t account for body size.
A 100kg human should be eating more than a 50kg human. This should be addressed when calculating protein intake.
Secondly, they don’t account for activity levels.
Someone who performs a lot of weight training will need more protein than someone who does not exercise as all.
Lastly, they don’t account for people who want to get jacked.
Seriously, this is the minimum amount required to maintain health. If you want to increase muscle size (and considering that protein us used to build muscle), you need to eat more.
Which leads us to our next point quite nicely…
How Much Protein to Gain Muscle
There has been a lot of research looking into how much protein is needed to gain muscle.
As a result, we have some solid recommendations on the topic.
A recent meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of other studies) pooled the results of 49 studies to explore whether there was a “tipping point” of protein intake where muscle gain is maximised.
They found that, when combined with weight training, muscle gain increased gradually up until an intake of 1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight was achieved.
After this, any additional protein did not increase muscle gain further.
It is also important to note that this was the threshold at which muscle was gained. As a result, going slightly higher may give you confidence that you are ticking all the boxes.
With this in mind, we often recommend that our lifters aim for ~1.8 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
As an example, a 65kg female should be aiming to eat ~117 grams of protein per day.
Also note that hitting a specific number everyday is probably unrealistic, so you can think of this as a rough target.
Anywhere from 110 – 130 grams is fine.
How Much Protein to Retain Muscle in a Deficit?
I should also note that this recommendation changes when you are trying to lose weight.
When people are trying to gain muscle, they are often eating in an energy surplus. This creates an environment where the growth of new muscle tissue is easier.
However, when people are in an energy deficit (i.e., eating less energy than they consume), things change.
The body must metabolise its own energy stores to create energy. This leads to a loss of fat that often comes with a loss of muscle tissue.
Which is not ideal.
However, some research has shown that consuming high protein intakes can help prevent muscle loss when dieting. And this is particularly effective when combined with weight training.
If you are trying to lose fat and maintain as much muscle as possible, aiming for ~2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is likely beneficial.
How Much Protein to Gain Muscle Per Meal?
Lastly, I wanted to cover how much protein you need to gain muscle per meal.
While weight training is unquestionably your largest driver for muscle growth, eating protein also stimulates the production of new muscle tissue.
A recent study examined whether changing the way protein is distributed throughout the day impacts muscle growth.
They recruited 26 people and randomly allocated them into two groups.
- One group had hardly any protein at breakfast, a moderate amount of protein at lunch, and a large amount of protein at dinner
- The other group had a moderate amount of protein at all three meals
And guess what?
The group spreading their protein intake evenly across their three meals saw larger gains in muscle mass.
What does this mean for you?
Trying to evenly distribute your protein intake across 3-5 meals is a great option.
For example, if your protein target is 120 grams of protein per day, you want to aim for four meals containing ~ 30 grams of protein.
This could be three meals and a protein shake, or any other setup that suits your lifestyle.
Again, this amount doesn’t have to be precise. You can view it as a ballpark figure to aim for at each meal.
How Much Protein to Gain Muscle: Final recommendations
With all this in mind, we can provide some final recommendations:
- If you are eating at maintenance calories, or in a surplus, ~1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is ideal.
- When you are eating a deficit, bump this up to ~2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
- Try and spread this out evenly over 3-5 meals.
And that’s it – once you are ticking these boxes, you can be confident you are eating enough protein to gain muscle.
Oh, and if you’re not sure how to train to get the most out of your protein intake, check out our “How to create a workout plan” article.