It’s Not That Hard to Figure Out How Much Protein You Actually Need

Just—whatever you do—don't listen to anyone in the fitness industry

Many in the fitness industry tend to overstate actual protein needs, often by an unnecessary amount that makes no difference to your rate of muscle gain or fat loss—and can be detrimental in the long run. Unsplash/David Lezcano

There isn’t a gym in the world that’s not selling some type of protein supplement.

The Internet is obsessed with it, which means you’re probably obsessed with it—and I don’t blame you. How could you not be? You’re sold the dream that protein can provide untold muscle gains and leanness.

You’re told more is better.

More protein = more progress.

Are you right to think this?

In my experience, the sheer amount of biased misinformation means none of us ever really stood a chance.

I know I never did.

When I first started working out, I thought protein shakes were as important as my workouts.

I knocked them back in the name of greatness, neglecting proper fat and carbohydrate intake. The amount of money I spent on egg whites, protein shakes and meat was obscene—but I did it anyway in the pursuit of health and fitness.

Shame on me for following blindly.

All it takes is a quick Google search to see:

  1. There is a hell of a lot information out there on this topic
  2. Your recommended daily protein intake will vary widely depending on who you ask
  3. It can be a bit overwhelming and confusing trying to cut through the BS

Today we will put the bullshit to one side, so you know once and for all what you need to do.

Many in the fitness industry tend to overstate actual protein needs, often by an unnecessary amount that makes no difference to your rate of muscle gain or fat loss and can be to your detriment in the long run.

You see, consuming more protein than required leaves less room for both carbohydrates and fats, which play equally important roles.

Carbohydrates are our primary energy source, needed for physical activity, brain and organ function. Carbs are also important for intestinal health and waste removal.

Fat is backup fuel when carbohydrates aren’t available. Day-to-day, fat is used to absorb and store certain vital nutrients—specifically, fat-soluble vitamins.

Why are protein needs inflated?

  • The influence of professional bodybuilders on the mainstream fitness industry. Steroid use allows bodybuilders to process far more protein than the recreational weightlifter.
  • The idea that more is better. Protein is vital for building and preserving muscle, so we wrongly assume that the more we consume the better our results will be.
  • The power of supplement companies in the industry. They have a clear financial incentive to misrepresent the amount of protein needed daily.

Why do we need to eat protein?

Proteins are the building blocks of the body’s tissue and can also serve as a fuel source. Protein provides four calories per gram, which is the same as a carbohydrate and significantly less than fat, which provides nine calories per gram.

Protein is made up of chains of amino acids which can be categorized as essential, meaning the body cannot produce them and you must get them through food sources.

Protein is a major structural component of your body’s muscle and is used to build and repair muscle tissue.

How much protein do you need to build muscle or lose fat?

The optimal amount of daily protein per day is 0.6-1.0 gram per pound of total bodyweight, depending on your training goal.

Note: If you are overweight or obese, your protein needs will be overstated and you should use 0.8g per goal bodyweight instead.

I know this may seem low, so let’s look at the research:

  1. This study found that 0.6-0.9g per pound of bodyweight is adequate for maximizing protein synthesis. It also goes on to say that experienced athletes may require less, whereas less experienced athletes will benefit from protein intake at this level. Additionally, the researchers find that protein intake within the 0.6-0.9g per pound of bodyweight may be advantageous when in a calorie deficit to help prevent the loss of muscle mass.
  2. This study also concluded that 0.8g of protein per pound of bodyweight is an optimal daily intake to building muscle for strength exercisers, while endurance exercisers can probably get away with 0.5-0.6g per pound of bodyweight.
  3. This study concluded that their results were “unable to show any significant evidence indicating that protein intakes above 2g per kg per day [was effective] for enhancing strength and body composition changes in college strength/power athletes.”

This study in particular highlights the fact protein intake above 1g per pound of bodyweight is not necessary for the recreational to semi-serious weightlifter, given that even under the physical demands of their training, college strength and power athletes gained no additional benefits from a protein intake over 2g per kg which is the equivalent to 0.9g per pound.

What this means and how to calculate your intake.

This means that your actual daily protein intake is only 0.8g-1g per pound of bodyweight if you are strength training.

Probably quite a lot less than you are used to. Don’t worry—it’s a good thing it will give you more flexibility in your diet by freeing up some calories.

HOW DO YOU CALCULATE YOUR INTAKE?

To keep it straightforward let’s, use a 150-pound male as an example.

First, to work out what 0.8 of 150 is, we need to do a simple calculation: 150 x 0.8 = 120

The 120 is the daily protein gram allowance our 150-pound guy wants to shoot for.

To work this out in calories, we just need to multiply 120 x 4 = 480 (four is the number of calories per gram of protein).

Using these calculations, we see the total gram allowance is 120g and this equals a total of 480 kcal from protein per day.

Nice and simple.

Do you need to take protein supplements?

The answer to this question really depends on who you ask. The supplement industry is a big money business, so you’ll always find someone who will tell you it’s a must.

In my opinion, protein supplements are not essential to your overall success.

Sure, some people find it easier, quicker and perhaps ultimately cheaper to use protein shakes—but the truth is you can easily reach your protein needs using food sources. Additionally, eating actual food to get your protein will keep you satiated for longer.

Drinking your calories will always be less satisfying.

What are good sources of protein?

Protein can be found in a wide range of food items, but is highest quantities in meat. The best sources include chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, salmon and tuna

You should find that eating two portions of meat a day (i.e. a chicken breast at lunch and a piece of beef or portion of turkey at dinner) combined with the protein found in other food items in your diet will be enough for you to hit your goals.

For more protein sources check out this list.

There you have it: A definitive answer on how much protein you need to build muscle or lose fat, as backed by science.

Theo is the founder of Lift Learn Grow, a blog that helps you build the body of your dreams without sacrificing your lifestyle. With a focus on lifting heavy weights and eating the foods you enjoy Theo helps you reach your goals and love your journey. Join a growing community of like-minded people and get the tools you need to build the body you want.