- The benefits of protein go beyond hypertrophy. This macronutrient supports overall health and athletic performance.
- A diet high in protein can reduce recovery time between workouts, accelerate fat loss, and prevent catabolism aka muscle breakdown.
- When combined with resistance training, high-protein diets can improve body composition and metabolic health.
- Protein recommendations vary among health organizations. While the recommended daily amount is a modest 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, that’s way too little for active individuals and athletes.
- Most experts agree that consuming 1.5 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day spread across four or more meals helps maximize anabolism and post-workout recovery.
Nowadays, protein powder is cheaper and more widely available than ever before.
Chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon swirl, strawberry milkshake, S’mores, cookies and cream, banana cream, and pumpkin pie are just a few the many flavors you can choose from.
Whey protein alone generated nearly $10 billion in revenue globally in 2018, and it’s expected to reach $15.4 billion by 2024.
But how much protein a day do you really need? After all, it’s not uncommon to see gym-goers who consume a few hundred grams of this nutrient daily.
While it’s true that a high-protein diet can help you get leaner and stronger, more isn’t necessarily better. Like with everything else, moderation is the key.
Your daily protein requirements depend largely on your weight, activity level, and training goals. A pro bodybuilder, for instance, needs a lot more protein than someone who only works out a couple of times a week.
On top of that, most studies are conflicting at the least. Some health organizations recommend as little as 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, while others suggest a daily intake of 2 or 3 grams per kilogram.
Our team has done the hard work for you, so read on! We’ll discuss how protein benefits your health, how much of it you really need, and what side effects may occur.
Let’s get into it!
Protein 101: Primary Functions of Protein in the Body
Like carbs and fats, protein is a macronutrient required for the proper functioning of your body.
It does a lot more than just build mass and strength — it also supports the production of certain enzymes and hormones, fights pathogens, and carries atoms and molecules within your cells.
Several types of proteins exist, and each has different roles:
- Antibodies, such as Immunoglobulin G, protect your body from disease-causing bacteria and other germs.
- Messenger proteins, such as human growth hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and glucagon, send signals to coordinate biological processes between your cells and tissues.
- Collagen, elastin, keratin, and other structural proteins aid in cellular development and allow your body to move.
- Enzymes regulate digestion, muscle contraction, blood clotting, energy production, and other biological processes taking place in your cells.
This macronutrient plays a key role in tissue growth and formation. It can also serve as a source of fuel in certain circumstances, such as during fasting or low-carb dieting.
As you see, this nutrient contributes to various metabolic reactions while providing structure to your cell and tissues. It supports immune function, nutrient absorption, and energy production, among other functions.
Therefore, even if you’re not an athlete, you still need adequate amounts of protein for good health.
How Does Protein Benefit Athletes?
Protein isn’t a magic pill for muscle growth or faster recovery, but it can help with both aspects. Of course, you need to eat clean and stick to your workouts to achieve the desired results.
A high-protein diet alone is unlikely to transform your body.
As the American Council on Exercise notes, this nutrient helps build and repair muscle cells, including those damaged during exercise. This means it speeds up recovery and reduces catabolism, or muscle loss.
Another advantage of a high-protein diet is that it provides your body with all of the amino acids needed for optimal health.
Fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, and other animal foods are classified as complete proteins because they supply all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own.
Some say that lysine is the most important amino acid. It plays a vital role in collagen production, keeps your immune system strong, and supports the formation of enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. Furthermore, lysine helps your body absorb zinc, iron, and other minerals.
In one study, subjects who took 2.6 grams of lysine and 2.6 grams of arginine per day for one week experienced a reduction in anxiety and cortisol levels.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, tends to increase during high-intensity training and long periods of dieting. As its levels increase, testosterone production drops. Therefore, lysine may help keep your hormones in balance and reduce muscle breakdown.
Both animal and plant-based foods contain non-essential and conditional amino acids. The latter, which include glycine, tyrosine, glutamine, arginine, and others, become essential during times of stress and illness.
With a few exceptions, plant foods are incomplete proteins as they don’t provide all the amino acids. However, you can combine them to create a complete protein. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains, for instance, can be mixed with legumes.
Additionally, it’s not necessary to consume all of 20 amino acids at every meal. What matters most is your overall daily intake.
A High-Protein Diet May Improve Body Composition
How much protein per day you need depends largely on your training goals. A diet rich in this nutrient will not help you build mass but also accelerate fat loss, improving body composition.
Let’s start with a 14-week study published in the journal Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, which assessed the effects of protein versus carbohydrate supplementation on hypertrophy and muscle performance.
The protein group experienced a significant increase in fat-free mass compared to the subjects who supplemented their diet with carbs.
Type I and type II muscle fibers of the vastus lateralis, the largest part of the quadriceps, increased by a whopping 18 percent. These effects were not observed in the carbohydrate group.
Another study, which was featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has found that protein supplementation leads to mass and strength gains in both younger and older adults when combined with resistance training.
The protein group gained more than 1.5 pounds of muscle compared to the placebo group.
As mentioned earlier, a high-protein diet can also help you torch fat and get shredded. This effect is due to several factors:
- Protein suppresses appetite and increases satiety
- Compared to fats and carbs, protein requires more energy to digest, leading to a faster metabolism
- It helps build and preserve lean mass, improving your metabolic profile
For example, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition has shown that obese women following a calorie-controlled high-protein diet experienced greater fat loss than those eating less protein and more carbs.
Fat loss increased in the protein group when subjects started a workout program. Women who followed a high-protein diet also had lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and higher HDL (the “good”) cholesterol levels compared to the carbohydrate group.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Now let’s answer your question: “How much protein do I need?” The truth is, there’s a lot of controversy on this topic.
The recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, points out Harvard Medical School.
But that’s the minimum amount needed to stay healthy — not the specific amount you actually need based on your weight, activity level, and workout goals.
Additionally, this recommendation applies to sedentary individuals, not those who play sports, lift weights, or have an active lifestyle.
According to Harvard Medical School, protein should account for 15 to 25% of your daily calories. Each gram of protein supplies 4 calories. This means that if your diet provides around 2,500 calories, you should aim for 94 to 156 grams of protein per day.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), on the other hand, states that this nutrient should make up 10 to 35% of your calorie intake. That’s about 62 to 218 grams of protein per day based on a 2,500-calorie diet, depending on your activity level and other factors.
Researchers also note that protein requirements increase with age. The ACSM suggests increasing your protein intake in your 50s to prevent age-related muscle loss.
Athletes and regular gym-goers need higher amounts of this nutrient too.
What do Sports Nutrition Experts Say?
One of the most comprehensive reviews on this topic was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
It recommended the following:
- 1.4-2 g protein/kg body weight/day to build and maintain muscle
- 0.25 g protein/kg body weight (or 20-40 grams)/serving for athletes, including bodybuilders and powerlifters
- Up to 40 g protein/serving for older individuals seeking to maximize muscle protein synthesis
- Around 70 g protein/serving to reduce muscle breakdown
- Spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day — consume this nutrient every 3 to 4 hours
- Consume 30 to 40 grams of casein, a type of slow-digesting protein, before bedtime to increase metabolism and muscle protein synthesis
Despite these recommendations, there are plenty of folks who consume 3 or more grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. Although this practice isn’t necessarily harmful, it won’t help you either.
Clinical evidence points out that excessive protein intakes offer no additional improvements compared to moderate protein intake (1.5 g protein/kg body weight/day).
How Does it Affect Performance?
With a few exceptions, most studies support the above recommendations.
For example, a 2011 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has found that cyclists who consumed 3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day experienced a reduction in psychological stress.
However, it saw no significant improvements in sports performance compared to those using 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
In another study, athletes who consumed 2 or more grams per kilogram of body weight per day reported greater improvements in strength for both squats and bench presses than those consuming 1.6 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram.
An older research paper featured in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition recommends strength athletes to consume 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day or 12 to 15% of their daily calorie intake.
That’s about 188 to 250% higher than the “official” recommended amounts, but it makes sense. Bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and other strength athletes have higher protein requirements than sedentary individuals as their goal is to gain mass and strength.
The Journal of Physiology, on the other hand, states that protein requirements vary based on the energy demands in various sports.
Therefore, it’s difficult to recommend a specific amount.
Researchers suggest focusing on getting enough protein at every meal rather than trying to hit a daily target. Current evidence indicates that consuming 20 to 25 grams of protein per meal may help optimize post-workout skeletal muscle reconditioning.
Switch to a High-Protein Diet for Fat Loss
While building mass is important for most athletes, your abs won’t show unless you burn the extra fat. As a bodybuilder, you want to gain muscle definition, which requires sensible eating.
After all, your diet varies based on whether you’re bulking or cutting.
As discussed earlier, a high-protein diet can make fat loss easier. The question: how much protein per day do you need when cutting?
Again, the research is conflicting.
A widely-cited review published in the British Journal of Nutrition recommends 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day while on a calorie-restricted diet.
This may help improve body composition, reduce blood pressure, and prevent weight gain.
Other experts, though, have a different opinion. A recent review, for instance, states that athletes should aim for 1.6 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily when cutting. That’s double compared to the amount recommended by the British Journal of Nutrition.
Spreading Out Daily Protein
There are other factors you must consider in addition to your daily protein intake. Protein quality, timing, and distribution throughout the day are just as important.
You see, there’s only a certain amount of protein your body can absorb and process at once.
Some studies suggest that athletes who wish to maximize muscle growth should consume at least 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per meal across four meals.
This amount may increase up to 0.55 grams per kilogram of body weight per meal for higher daily protein intakes (around 2.2 g/kg/day).
If you don’t eat enough protein in one sitting, your muscles won’t get the fuel needed to grow and recover. Excess protein, on the other hand, will be eliminated in the urine as your body cannot fully utilize it.
This doesn’t mean you must eat a complete meal every few hours, though. In fact, that would be counterproductive.
For example, your muscles need fast-digesting protein immediately after training. Chicken breast, beef, turkey, and other high-protein foods take hours to digest, so they’re not the best choice following an intense workout.
Instead, sip on protein shakes to provide your body with a quick source of fuel.
Vintage Brawn™, our muscle-building protein formula, supplies both fast- and slow-digesting proteins from eggs, milk, and beef. Therefore, it’s ideal before, during, and after your workout. You can even enjoy it before bedtime to fuel your muscles over several hours while you sleep!
How Much Protein Is Too Much?
Based on the above recommendations, it’s fair to say that a daily protein intake higher than 3 grams per kilogram of body weight is too much — and unnecessary — for most athletes. The excess will go to waste.
Some studies indicate that eating too much protein may affect kidney function by increasing the acid load. This effect appears to be more pronounced in those on high-protein diets, such as Atkins, as they may cause additional acid buildup from ketone bodies.
Additionally, there is a greater risk of kidney stones in those who consume too much protein. For this reason, it’s recommended to monitor your renal function while on a high-protein diet.
Other studies, though, show no association between high protein intakes and impaired renal function.
According to a 2005 review in Nutrition & Metabolism, diets rich in protein are unlikely to damage the kidneys in healthy people. However, if you do have kidney disease, you may need to cut back on this nutrient.
Wrapping It Up
All in all, your daily protein requirements depend on your weight and what you are trying to achieve. When combined with regular training, a high-protein diet can maximize your gains and speed up post-workout recovery while improving body composition.
Stay on the safe side and try not to exceed 3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. If you’re taking protein supplements, choose a quality formula.
Ultra-processed protein powders are loaded with additives, preservatives, artificial flavors, and chemicals that may harm your health in the long run.
For best results, spread your protein intake across four or more meals. This way, you’ll provide your muscles with a constant source of fuel and prevent or reduce catabolism.
How much protein do you consume daily? Have you ever tried high-protein diets like the Caveman diet or Atkins? Share your experience below!