How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Protein is an essential macronutrient used to build, maintain and repair tissue in our body. There are different recommendations on protein intake, this article will touch on the factors that should be considered when determining an "optimal" amount.

The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36g/lb of bw (equates to 0.8g/kg of bw). Following these guidelines, a 185lb person is only recommended to consume 67 grams of protein!! Quite far off from the 1g/lb of BW recommendation we often hear from the fitness industry.

The RDA for protein was created for non-exercising individuals to consume enough protein for bodily functions and overall tissue health. However, this amount is not sufficient to meet the needs of athletes undergoing rigorous training . There are several variables involved in calculating protein intake values:

  • Body composition (total body weight, especially lean body mass)
  • Mode of training (strength vs. endurance vs. mixed)
  • Frequency, intensity and volume of training
  • Specific body weight goals (losing weight vs. gaining weight)
  • Dietary Preferences

For The recreational and Dedicated Strength/power Athlete

Strength athletes want to consume adequate protein for one main reason: to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in order to to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy). Another benefit of protein consumption is to promote recovery in between training sessions. Supplying enough amino acids to repair our damaged muscle fibers from training is essential to health and making short and long term progress in the gym and on the platform.

Often in the strength training circle, we hear about being in a "anabolic state". What this really means is a positive net protein balance. A positive net protein balance is achieved when dietary protein consumption is greater than protein loss. For strength athletes, many lifters have success with anywhere from 0.8-1.5g of protein per Lb of bodyweight (some even higher, we'll touch on this in a bit). This means a 185lb lifter will consume anywhere from 148g to 278g of protein a day.

So why the large range? It really comes down to dietary preference, training age and current lean body mass. 

Dietary Preference: Lifters that love steak, chicken and fish among other protein sources will have no problem consuming these foods on a regular basis. Their protein intakes will be high, by habit/dietary preference.

Training Age & Current Lean Body Mass: The more experienced of a strength athlete you are, the more likely you'll have greater amounts of muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more protein you'll need to consume to match the demands of you body. A muscular, lean, world-class strength athlete may grativate towards the higher end of protein intake recommendations (1.5g/lb of bw), while a beginner trainee on starting strength or other beginner programs will make great progress consuming 0.8g/lb of bw.

High Protein Diets

This naturally leads us to the question, are high protein diets safe? Opponents of high protein intakes will argue high protein diets impair kidney function and decrease bone density. However, it is found that high protein intakes are not detrimental to kidney function in individuals with healthy kidneys to begin with and high protein diets are actually positively correlated with increased bone mineral density (elderly).

There is a series of research studies carried out by Jose Antionio et al, on the effects of the very high protein consumption on health and body composition(1.5-2g/lb of bodyweight). They conclude that there is no evidence a high protein diet is harmful, and that they were favorable for body composition goals and body fat control (even at a calorie surplus; very interesting).

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"I'm already consuming protein at 1g/lb of bw, in what scenarios should I further increase my intake?"

Periods of Moderate-Large Caloric Deficits

For most lifters in a 300-400+ kcal deficit, I suggest increasing daily protein intake slightly, perhaps to 1.25g/lb of bw. (please note these numbers are far from concrete, these can vary from individual to individual). Doing this will help maintain lean body mass while losing weight/body fat.

Increasing Satiety During Caloric Deficits

Protein is known to be more satiating and has more of a thermogenic effect (takes more energy to digest) compared to carbs and fats. After a high protein meal, individuals usually feel fuller for a longer. For individuals that struggle with hungry during calorie deficits, eating a plentiful amount of protein-rich sources (and a huge salad of course) may be your answer.

Enhanced Recovery

Do you struggle with muscle soreness, and decreased recovery time in between training sessions? Try increasing your protein intake. 


The protein - carbohydrate trade off

More protein in your diet means less room for carbohydrates. Luckily, recreational lifters and dedicated strength/power athletes do not require a high amount of carbohydrates to fuel performance; with the exception of high-volume training. Before you increase your protein intake, consider the following:

  • Is your current carbohydrate intake adequate for performance?
  • Do you have to prioritize performance in the gym or do you need to improve your rate of recovery in between sessions?
  • Are you in a isocaloric state (maintenance)? Are you in a calorie deficit? Calorie surplus?
  • *Can you afford to decrease your carbohydrate or fat intake in order to increase protein intake?*

the bottom line

Benefits of protein

  • Support overall health
  • Support muscle growth
  • Repair muscle tissue in between training sessions and in times of muscle injury
  • Hunger control and satiation
  • Controlling body composition and body fat

0.8 - 1.5 grams of Protein per pound of bodyweight is sufficient

  • The lower end 0.8-1.0g/lb of BW for:
    Beginners and (maybe) Intermediate Strength athletes
    Recreational Lifters
    General health and fitness (if you partake in strength and cardio training)
  • The higher end 1.0-1.5g/lb of BW for:
    Intermediate and advanced athletes
    Hunger control and satiation
    Athletes in a caloric deficit
    Athletes with a dietary preference for protein sources


Protein Distribution 

  • Multiple meals consisting of >20-30g of protein from high quality sources (whey, egg, beef, fish, soy protein)
  • Aim for protein sources with high amounts of Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), this is often what determines protein quality (optimal amount is 3-4g of Leucine)


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