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How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle And Maintain An Aesthetic Body?

Protein is the end-all, be-all solution to your muscle-building needs. Everyone knows that. But with all the conflicting research, claims from trainers and nutritionists, and protein-boosting supplements inundating the market, it's hard to know what's right. That's why we're stepping into the ring: to help you separate protein fact from protein fiction, once and for all.

The Difference In The Bare Minimum And Optimal Needs For Protein Intake

The needs of an athlete, or someone who’s training using resistance with the goal of changing body composition is going to differ greatly from those who aren’t active, and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

The current RDA (recommended daily allowance) is anywhere from 46 to 56 grams daily[1]. There are some varying recommendations for teens, and women who are breastfeeding, but it’s not a huge difference.

When you break it down, some numbers have recommend about ~.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This equates to about ~.4 grams per pound of bodyweight.

So for an adult male weighing 150 pounds, the recommendation is about 56 grams of protein.

The RDA is a simple measure that is recommended to keep people healthy, free from disease, and to ensure their daily needs are met for bodily functions.

This is important when looking at populations of people who aren’t exercising with the goal of changing body composition, and for those in areas where adequate protein intake might be difficult to achieve (think very poor third world countries).

In America and other industrialized countries, getting your protein needs is very easy to do with the readily available foods. Heck, even if you subsisted on a diet of 2000 calories of nothing but grains, beans, fruit, and plants, this number is easily achieved.

However, this intake is not ideal for building muscle, losing fat, and changing your body composition. Can some do it on this intake? Possibly, but it’s not recommended for the majority.

What’s The Optimal Daily Protein Intake?

There are a lot of differing opinions here, but when you look at the research, it seems to fall right in line with the figures of .8 – 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Lyle McDonald’s protein book is an amazing resource on this topic.

When looking at various literature, it seems that .8 grams per pound is probably enough. Menno Henselmans’ writeup here does a great job of sifting through the scientific papers to give you all the assurance you need that you’re not missing out on any gainz by pounding the protein powder and getting upwards of 2 grams per pound of body weight.

To keep things incredibly simple, I just round it up to the old recommendation of 1 gram per pound of body weight. My reasoning is twofold:

on a muscle gain diet, it ensures you’re getting enough to cover your bases.
on a fat loss diet, it allows enough room for other foods (carbs and fat) that are just as important to have in your diet to ensure you meet nutrient needs.

Protein Quality And Amino Acid Profile

Most animal protein sources are good choices because they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids. In fact, Layne Norton has mentioned multiple times that Leucine plays a major role in muscle protein synthesis. Consuming foods such as dairy (whey, casein, milk, cheese) contain ample amounts of leucine, in addition to the other necessary amino acids.

The good news is you’re probably meeting all your amino acid requirements if you’re consuming foods from various sources, so it’s not worth worrying too much over. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, then it’s going to be a bit more tricky, and I’ll cover that in an upcoming article.

One thing I want to mention that isn’t talked about much when discussing protein needs for individuals, especially those of us wanting to gain more muscle and lose more fat… and that concept is eating nose to tail.

This idea comes from consuming all parts of the animal, not just the muscle meat. When you go to the supermarket to pick up some animal protein, you mostly grab chicken breast/thighs, turkey, cuts of beef, and fish filets.
These protein sources are muscle meats, which are heavy in the amino acid tryptophan, which is good for growing bodies, and definitely a great option for those who want to improve their body composition.

But what about all the other cuts of meat that you might not see in traditional supermarkets like pig feet, chicken feet, marrow bones, oxtail, or tendon?

Something many haven’t considered is the collagen content of the animals they’re eating. Collagen when cooked (say in bone broths, or head cheeses), is known as gelatin.

Gelatin can make up for 50% of the total animal protein, but most of us in the west and other industrialized countries focus most of our protein eating on the muscle meats.

Certain amino acids such as glycine are high in gelatinous cuts of meat, and very low in muscle meats. Since our bodies are made up of the protein we eat, including collagen in your daily intake might have a positive effect on your joints and connective tissues and their repair.

It’s even believed that degenerative and inflammatory diseases/issues can be positively impacted by incorporating more gelatin into the diet.