How Much Protein Do You Need to Build Muscle?

How much protein do you need to build muscle? There has been disagreement about this for the past 100 years I think. In fact, since man (or woman) first picked up a boulder, bench pressed it, and did a monster size, most muscular pose; there has been a clash between the “eat till the protein comes out of your ear” group and the “you don’t need no blanking protein to build muscle; look at a rhino” camp.

When I first started pumping iron, the two camps seemed best represented by Bill Pearl with the “you do not need a lot of protein,” and Vince Gironda who advocated some serious protein usage. Following some of what Vince suggested; I would eat nothing but steak and eggs for breakfast during football season and carbo up with a ton of spaghetti on game day. It seems crazy now.

I guess I have followed the high protein thought pretty much my whole life. When I worked out heavily, I would average a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. I would eat about 180 to 220 grams of protein a day. Those periods when I did not work out quite as much, I still consumed about a 100 grams a day. Did it work for me? Was high protein what help me put on close to 210lbs of decent muscle back a few years ago (or eight)? Maybe or maybe not; I could not definitely say because I had no benchmark to go by.

So, how much protein is enough protein? That question seems a lot like another question which asks, “How long should a man’s leg be?” An answer could be, “as long as it takes to reach the ground.” You need as much protein as it takes to build muscle, for you.

The Mayo clinic recommends that protein intake be about 10% to 35% of a 2,000 calorie diet. That amount translates to a whopping range of 50 to 175 grams of protein. That is huge range and not much help. Even among the experts, there is some question marks, or at least that is how I interpret being given such a wide range.

And no wonder, after all; you cannot understate the importance of protein to everyday living, let along muscle building. Protein is essential to human life. Your skin, bones, muscles and organ tissue all contain protein. Protein is found in your blood, hormones and enzymes, too.

You need protein. The question is again, how much do you need? Your body takes the ingested protein and breaks it down into its amino acid components for use. The body cannot store unused protein. Any unneeded amino acids are stripped of its nitrogen and stored as fat (or used as energy). The nitrogen elements are processed as waste by your kidney and liver. Not being an expert or a guru here, you may want to verify all this, but I think I am in the ballpark.

So, if you only need 100 grams but eat 180 grams, guess what, the balance of the 80 grams is either fat around the gut or pooped out. Either way, the excess causes undue stress on the body. Protein is not a good source of energy, unless you are a big cat roaming the plains of the Serengeti. Hence, there is no incentive to eat more protein than you need. Quite the contrary, you punish your body by consuming more than you need.

But understand this, after all the thousands and thousands of years, there is still no scientific basis for thinking that high protein consumption is better for building muscle. There is no scientific rationale for thinking that you need a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight. There are none that I know of.

None other than what appears to be commonsense. If by all agreement, your average bear needs 45 to 70 grams of protein (woman and man, respectively); then would it not stand to reason that your muscle building grizzly bear would need a lot more? The red flag, though, is that a lot of supplement companies out there use this sort of reasoning to push a lot of expensive protein powders.

As for what I suggest, well, this is what I do. Being nearly 49, I just do not have the energy, or the desire to be a gym rat again. But that does not mean I am not interested in working out or being healthy. To the contrary, with two little girls, I have tremendous incentive to live a long life; long enough to see my little girls eventually have their own little girls.

I eat a balance diet with lots of veggies and fruit. And I drink about 10 to 15 cups of water a day. As a true meat eater, I probably get my daily 75 grams easy. But because I do work out about 45 minutes every other day fairly hard, I now drink about two tall glasses of milk daily. And I probably consume about 12 eggs a week, or so. All that probably bumps my protein intake up to about an average of 110 grams a day which I think works for me.

But it is all an inexact science. How do I know it works for me? Well, less than that; I get hungry and cranky. Vince Gironda used to say that protein keeps the hunger pains away and gives you the full feeling. I will buy that. I do know that if I drink any less water, I feel parched. Any less protein and I feel cranky. Is that really a true rationale for eating my 100 to 110 grams of protein, no, but it is my way of listening to my body.

And that is ultimately the key here, I think. You need to listen to your body. Your body will tell you if you are not consuming enough complex carbohydrates. Your body will tell you if you are eating too much protein (the increasing girth will be sign).

If nothing else, start with your baseline protein need of 75 grams and add 50%; then assess how you respond. How are your workouts? What are your energy levels like and how fast are you recovering? Based on those observations, either cut back or add a little more. I have talked about the 3 circles and how you should move those around; well, same thing here.

Lastly, I no longer recommend buying tons of protein powder. Instead I think you would do just as well to drink more milk (or soy) and have a few more eggs a day. These are quality sources of protein and pennies on the dollar compared to the protein powder on the market today. A quart of milk and 3 eggs will add about 56 great grams of protein to your diet. Do you need more?

Also, if you eat three balanced meals a day with about a quarter pound of meat as a part of that meal; you will probably consume about 28 to 30 grams at that seating. That gives you anywhere from 80 to 90 grams a day. Now add in the extra milk and eggs; that will put you in the 150 gram range. And guess what, you did not have to buy a super premium nitrogen enhanced, whey concentrate, and super-duper hi-test protein powder.

Michael Ortiz

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