How Much Protein Do We Really Need To Build Muscle?

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
February 16, 2013

We all know that protein is needed to sustain and maintain health in our bodies. The argument starts when we begin to talk about the amount of protein and the types of protein that our bodies actually need.

When my wife was pregnant, she became bombarded with different numbers. Depending on the source she was told to consume anywhere between 70 to 100 grams of protein a day!

My wife who is 5’3 and 125 pounds could not even imagine consuming this amount of protein let alone food, a day. In the end, after consulting with our naturopathic doctor, he told my wife not to track protein grams but to listen to her body. (Now, remember, we eat extremely healthy. We are gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free. We also try to avoid processed food as much as possible.)

He told my wife that the amount of vegetables she eats in her diet would convert into the protein her body needed and to listen to her body.  If she craved an egg or two than eat them or if she was craving almond butter to go for it. I’m happy to say that we have a very healthy baby girl as a result.

Here’s a picture of her. She is now almost 7 weeks old.

So how much protein should the average male get?

How much protein does he need to build muscle? What should his approach be?

I don’t claim to be a medical expert in this area but as long as I am seeking out the truth I might as well share my findings with you. Let’s start off with taking a closer look at protein.

According to the American Dietetic Association, protein is composed of several different amino acids. There are twenty different types of amino acids and each of them bonds together in order to create certain proteins. Essential amino acids are amino acids that are bodies can not create and so we must receive them through food.

Our bodies must have protein in order to function properly. Protein is responsible for balancing our hormones, building muscle, strengthening bones, and fighting infections. Protein is a must for our bodies!

Most of us immediately picture a large juicy steak, an ice cold glass of milk, or a slice of our favorite cheese as protein rich foods but don’t forget about tempeh, eggs, beans, sesame seeds (my new favorite), nuts, fruits and vegetables.

That’s right!

Fruit and vegetables often are over looked and our merely seen for their vitamin and mineral content but not for their protein. In fact, some believe that because we never calculate the amount of protein in our vegetable and fruit consumption, most of us are consuming more protein than we need. Research even shows that in developed countries protein deficiency is rarely, if at all, a problem.

 

Alright, so how much protein is enough?

Interestingly, as I sifted through the research, I repeatedly came across studies of newborn babies.

Everyone says, “Breast is best.”

I fully agree but I never knew that the protein needs of a baby have been used to study the protein needs of athletes.

More than one credible source used the nutritional qualities of protein in breast milk and the growth rate of babies as their primary argument for how much protein athletes should intake. Here is a mind blowing quote from the book, Convict Conditioning 2
by Paul Coach Wade.

If you still don’t believe that high protein diets are unnecessary, think about a few examples from nature. Infants require more growth material—proportionately—than even the biggest bodybuilders. In its first five months of life, a human baby doubles its size. (No bodybuilder, no matter how gifted or drugged up, could double his size in five months!) So you would assume that babies require (again, proportionately) high protein diets for all this growth, right? Nah. Mother’s milk contains less than five percent protein. Meditate on that for a second. When humans really need to grow, nature presents us with a diet that’s less than five percent protein. That’s all it takes for a baby to actualize that phenomenal growth spurt. Compare this with cow’s milk. In contrast to human milk, cow’s milk contains around fifteen percent protein. Why so much more? Because whereas human babies double their weight in less than half a year, calves double their weight in just forty-five days. Cows have a lot of growing to do. Healthy human males grow to an average weight of 190 pounds, but bulls grow to twenty-five hundred pounds, and more.* The take-home message? Cow’s milk has far, far more protein and growth material in it than a human being could ever need.

Wow! Interesting, right?

There are even studies that show that because we add a higher amount of protein in formula that formula fed babies are more likely to be obese as children. Definitely something to think about!

Here is another powerful direct quote:

“No scientific study has ever shown the consumption of protein beyond 10 percent of calories to have any affect whatsoever on muscle growth.”

Like my wife, I came across a wide array of daily protein percentages an athlete should consume. The lowest and most conservative amount of protein I came across was 0.5 grams of protein per pound.

While UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) studies say that in order to build muscle you need at least 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

While the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances) put out by the American Dietetic Association says that a 0.8 protein gram intake is sufficient protein for most of the population. Here’s a very easy to read chart if you want to see even more specifics.

Alright, so there are few numbers I listed to show you the low and high end of protein consumption. I, personally, follow the 0.8 grams of protein per lean body mass because that amount of protein intake is where my body feels the best. So, this wouldn’t be a true fitness post about protein if we didn’t address protein shakes.

It’s time to weigh in on the whey! Is it as grand as we all believe?

We have all scoured the isles of health food stores in hopes of buying the next magic bullet that will maximize the look and size of our muscles.

The words on the label hold promise that by consuming just a few scoops a day, we will notice dramatic increase on our physic.

How many us have falling for the consumer trap of promising protein shakes only to be disappointed?

Before you make your next expensive protein shake purchase think about this study by Helen Kollias. Helen Kollias, a molecular biologist at Precision Nutrition, claims that the human body can only absorb 8 to 10 grams of whey protein a hour. Any protein consumed above the 8 to 10 grams is excreted. That means for each shake you consume, your body can ONLY use about 15 grams of the protein.

The rest…is literally flushed down the toilet from your body excreting it. So, instead of wasting money, Kollias recommends that you choose a whey-casein blend to slow down digestion. By slowing down digestion your body will be able to utilize more protein. You can also drink the shake over the course of an hour or two to also maximize protein intake.

So, if our bodies can only consume about 15 grams of protein an hour then why are we drinking protein shakes than contain double and triple more grams of protein in one serving?

Here’s Paul Wade’s opinion again:

…”Supplement companies are constantly trying to outdo each other’s numbers. A lot of protein shakes on the market now have more than fifty grams of protein per serving, when mixed up. Babies doubling their weight in a few months need a diet of less than five percent protein. But many modern bodybuilders have diets that are forty percent protein—and more! Why? All that extra protein can’t be utilized by the body. But this huge intake has to be metabolized anyways, and that presents a strain on the kidneys. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating low protein. By all means, enjoy some milk, eggs, cheese, seafood or a nice steak every single day. I love protein foods, and they form part of a healthy, satisfying diet. But this super-high protein craze has totally gotten out of hand.” (Convict Conditioning 2)

According to UCLA research, our bodies can only handle up to 0.91 g of protein per pound of body weight a day. UCLA also says that based on their studies that excess protein ends up being stored away as fat or eliminated from the body.

Well, there’s just a snap shop of the information. Like I said before my purpose was to merely share with you some of my findings and to give you some valuable information to mull over. Remember, that your body will always do better when you consume whole foods in their natural form.

 

Final Thoughts On The War Between Too Much & Not Enough…?

You may have read up to this point and thought, “Well, thanks a lot Todd… now I’m more confused than ever!”

Here is my general suggestion for you that are trying to build muscle. Eat 5-6 small balanced meals a day. This means that you should consume protein, carbs and fats in each of those meals.

Eat only foods in their “original package” (I heard this term from my naprapathic doctor.) If it comes in a box, don’t eat it.

Workout hard so that your muscles tear and then listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs (take this with a grain of salt… cravings are much different than your body telling you it needs more protein). How do you know the difference? Ask yourself… “Is what I am craving in its original package?”

I welcome your thoughts below!

-Todd

 

photo, photo

Show/Hide Comments (15 comments)
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15 Comments
  1. Keith Claridge

    Really interesting article. Thanks for writing it. I love the line, “Is what I am craving in its original package?”

    I’m gonna try to follow that advice.

    Reply
  2. John

    I thought it was ironic that Bill Hartman used the term “sufficient overload.” I think just normal BodyWeight exercises will produce fat loss results with proper diet but your system with angular training will also produce muscle.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      You got it! 🙂

      Reply
  3. John

    Hey Todd I just an article by Men’s Health 4 muscle myths de-bunked and one of them explained that your body will slowly digest any amount of protein even if you eat 125 grams. This is according to Alan Aragon. Another myth they debunked was” bodyweight workouts can make you big.” This is according to Bill Hartman, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. “You need sufficient overload to spur growth; that’s where weights come in.”

    Read more at Men’s Health: https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/4-muscle-myths-debunked?cm_mmc=PTNL-_-1204150-_-02192013-_-MythsMuscle-body##ixzz2LOsY4soi

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Great article John. The research that I have found states the opposite in terms of total grams of intake. I’m not too surprised that a Mens Health article would state the contrary. The best thing to do is experiment with what your own body needs in terms of growth.

      In terms of body weight exercises not being used for muscle growth, now we both know thats not true right? That’s why I named the program Bodyweight Overload. You CAN Overload the muscles without weights you just have to know how to do it. This author hasn’t experimented with body weight distribution and angular training.

      Thanks for the article!

      Todd

      Reply
  4. Jac

    Hi Todd!
    I love your site, especially your body weight exercises.
    About a high protein diet, I’m not sure it is really essential,as the largest land based animals are grass eaters.

    Jac

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Jac, You got it buddy! Think GREEN when you desire muscle growth. That’s my rule of thumb.

      Reply
  5. Michael

    Todd

    The article is brilliant, as always, i like the research that you do and the conclusions you develop.
    I also just want to say you are a very lucky man, that baby of yours is beautiful.

    Take care mate

    Mike from the UK

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks Michael. It’s great to get positive feedback. I too feel extremely blessed to have such a beautiful and healthy family. God bless Mike.

      Reply
  6. Dennis Habern

    Greetings from Germany:

    I am an American citizen, currently residing in Germany.

    I have been lifting for about 10 months, and have dropped at least 11 pounds,

    but now, I want to increase my weight to at least 170 pounds of Muscle. I

    currently weigh 155 pounds. Does anyone out there, maintain a 5-6 daily

    meal plan, based upon 4000 calories, for at least 7 days. On the 8th day, I

    would then commence ingesting what I consumed on the first day, etc.? In

    addition, I am in the gym for 1.5 hours, daily, Monday-Friday, but I have hit one

    of those dreadful plateaus that lifters are plagued with, therefore, I maintain my

    own workout schedule, training the same muscle group on the 3rd day, but I am open

    for other suggestions. I do not train the lower extremities because I maintain

    condrums with my knees, a condition exacerbated from jogging, if you follow.

    Although I appear well in a tank top, I feel that I am wasting my time, pounding out

    the variations in my current workout routine, therefore, I would like to obtain

    suggestions from the bodybuilding community at large, and then, when I obtain

    positive results, I can pass them on to others. By the way, what does anyone think

    about Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman?

    I hope to hear from someone soon.

    My current e-mail address: dennishabern@hotmail.com

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Dennis P. Habern

    Reply
  7. Øystein

    Thanks Todd.
    I personally believe that homemade food, is the way to go, and all supplements are a waste of money. I think that no matter how big you are or want to become, you don’t need supplements. But i lack the facts to back it up.

    Thanks for the information, again!

    Øystein, The CalisthenicViking.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Oystein, Yes, for sure. Supplements can be used when we can’t get the right nutrition but certainly aren’t a necessity. Love you site by the way. I checked out the workout you have on there. Looks pretty tough. Is it four reps for each set?

      Todd

      Reply
      • Øystein

        Yeah, I totally agree with you.
        Yes I have used four reps for each set for some time to build strenght to hold a front lever longer and to build up my strenght to do more pull ups etc. I also like the 12 reps for each set to build volum to look stronger.
        My site is currently on Norwegian, because i don’t have a lot of english followers, but I’m thinking of changing it to english.

        Øystein, The CalisthenicViking.

        Reply
        • John

          What is your website Calisthenic Viking?

          Reply
          • Øystein

            I have a blog where I keep track of my workouts through a diary.
            You can find it at :

            CalisthenicViking

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