This Is How Much Protein You Need to Gain Muscle

How much protein do you need to gain muscle? 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight? 1.2? 2.4? As much as you could possibly stomach? We explore.

This Is How Much Protein You Need to Gain Muscle

Let’s figure out how much protein you need to gain muscle.

0.8. 1.2. No, wait, that still sounds waaay too low. Let’s double it and make it 2.4 instead. Just so you know, I did not pull those numbers out of my ass:

  • 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg): The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein
  • 1.2 g/kg: Or, well, more accurately, 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg — the daily protein intake recommendation jointly proposed (*aww*) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine
  • 2.4 g/kg: Participants who ate 2.4 g/kg retained more muscle and lost more fat than those who ate 1.2 g/kg daily, according to a 4-week 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Before you go, “¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Guess I’ll just eat however much protein I fancy then!” stop.

Because this article is about to make figuring out how much protein you should eat to build muscle ridiculously easy. 

How much protein to gain muscle?

First things first. 0.8 g/kg is not it.

To understand why, just look at what the RDA means:

“Average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97% to 98%) healthy individuals”

Within that statement are 2 glaring problems:

1️⃣
“Meet”: In other words, the RDA represents the fine line between protein deficiency (which brings about symptoms like edema and muscle loss) and … not. 
2️⃣
“Nearly all”: What about the remaining 2% to 3% of healthy individuals? 

OK, so it’s clear that you shouldn’t reference the nutritional floor for malnourishment to understand how much protein you need to eat to build muscle. You should eat more than 0.8 g/kg.

But how much more? 

That primarily comes down to 1 thing. 

Your body weight. More specifically, if you’re: 

  • Overweight/obese*: Aim for 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg 
  • Healthy weight: Aim for 1.6 to 2.4 g/kg 
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*An easy way to tell whether you’re overweight or obese is by calculating your body mass index (BMI).

Divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters, squared. I.e., BMI = weight (kg) / height² (m). If your BMI is:

18.5 to < 25: Healthy weight 
25 to < 30: Overweight
 ≥ 30: Obese

Of course, the BMI doesn’t account for body composition. 

So, if your BMI indicates that you’re overweight/obese, but you carry a ton of muscle and are relatively lean (roughly < 25% body fat for women and < 21% for men), please stick to the “healthy weight” protein guideline. 

Now. Why the discrepancy in protein intake guidelines? 

From a very practical POV

Since daily protein intake is recommended on a g/kg basis, someone heavier will likely find stomaching 1.6 to 2.4 g/kg … challenging.

To illustrate, if you weigh 130 kg, you’d need to eat 208 to 312 grams of protein (which, FYI, is ~ 670 to 1,000 grams of chicken breast 🤢). Compare that to the arguably saner-sounding range of 112 to 168 grams of protein daily for a 70-kg individual. 

From a health perspective

If you’re overweight and obese + carrying excess body fat, your priority should be fat loss instead of hypertrophy.

That’s because your body cannot put on muscle mass without putting on some fat. It’s physiologically impossible.

Meaning?

Those actively pursuing muscle growth should expect that they’ll, in some sense, become “fatter” in the process.

This isn’t ideal for individuals who are already overweight or obese (note: BF % is a risk factor for mortality and cardiovascular diseases, independent of BMI).

Several meta-analyses involving individuals with overweight or obesity suggest that a daily protein intake of 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight could maximize fat loss.

Takeaway? If overweight or obese, stick to 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg. 

Once you’ve achieved a healthy BF%, ramp it up to 1.6 to 2.4 g/kg (while monitoring and adjusting your total daily calorie intake).

If you’re wondering, here’s how many calories you need to gain muscle or lose fat:

How Many Calories to Gain Muscle or Lose Fat?
Knowing how many calories you need to gain muscle or lose fat can be tricky. This article changes that so you approach your diet with confidence.

Narrowing the range

Amazing. You now have a range of how much protein you should eat to gain muscle to work with. 

But let’s be honest; between 1.6 to 2.4 g/kg daily is a huge, considerable gap.

To expand on that, let’s assume you weigh 70 kg. As mentioned, this translates to an optimal muscle-building protein intake of 112 to 168 grams daily. 

Not batting an eyelid at the 56-gram difference? 

This may change things. Imagine it’s Thursday evening, 8.30 pm, and you’ve just gotten your dinner down. It’s a chicken burrito — 35.5 grams of protein (441 calories). Earlier in the day, you already knocked down:

You’re unbelievably (and, arguably, almost uncomfortably) full. 

It’s literally *puts on influencer voice* a full day of eating.

Your total protein intake for the day? 123.7 grams.

To hit 168 grams (i.e., 44.3 more grams), you’d need to dig deep within yourself and find what it takes to get down:

@leanbeefpatty Protein protien shake. Banana ~60g. Egg white ~100g. Fairlife ~120g. 2 scoops @Gorilla Mind cxdé: BEEF. Ice. #proteinshake #fittok ♬ Yeah Glo! - SkitzU & GloRiIla

It’s not easy. So, be really honest with yourself:

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Is aiming for the higher end of the spectrum realistic for you? (For example, Do you have access to high-protein meals? What about time for meal prep?)
🤔
Can you stomach all that protein? Or would you end up questioning all your life decisions at midnight as you shovel yet another spoonful of “hiGh PRoteIN CUpcaKE” into your mouth?

If not, rest assured that the lower end of the spectrum works equally well in eliciting muscle growth without sacrificing your precious sanity. 

Question: is there a case for pushing beyond 2.4 g/kg?

Abso-fucking-lutely. 

Assuming progressive resistance overload and a slight calorie deficit, a handful of studies suggest that you may gain less fat in the “bulking” process if you eat more protein — specifically, 3.4 g/kg rather than 1.6 to 2.4 g/kg

You’d put on roughly the same weight, but more of it would come from muscle mass instead of fat mass.

It’s an improvement in body composition changes. 

But, as illustrated earlier, hitting 2.4 g/kg is already a herculean task.

Adhering to 3.3 g/kg would see you powering through 231 grams of protein daily. 

The way we see it, the improvement in body composition changes you’d see from taking your protein intake from 1.6-2.4 to 3.3 g/kg would only be worth it if:

  • You have a great tolerance for protein
  • You manage to find a way to make it work with your daily calorie and macronutrient targets (reminder: you cannot just eat protein)
  • You’re a competitive bodybuilder looking to spend as little time cutting as possible

Please, please, please don’t forget to strength train

Knowing how much protein you need to gain muscle — and actually hitting it, for that matter — is useless if you’re not going to the gym. 

Your muscles won’t grow without stimulation. No matter how much protein you flood them with.

So, before you start pounding those chicken breasts or seitan cubes (if you’re on a plant-based diet), make sure you check these articles out:

How Many Sets Per Workout? (Training Volume Guide)
Here’s how many sets per workout you should do for optimal muscle growth (emphasis: we’re talking about maximizing hypertrophy, not strength).
What Is Progressive Overload? (And How You Can Do It)
You know how it goes, “Fail to progressive overload, plan to fail (on your gains goals)”. OK, so it’s not exactly that, but the idea checks out.
Periodization Training: What Is It And Do You Need It?
Nope, nothing to do with Aunt Flo. Instead, periodization training is a style of, um, training that could help you see better results in the gym.