How much protein do I need to build muscle?

If one of your fitness goals is to build muscle, it’s important to consider the amount of protein in your diet. But just how much protein do you need to build muscle and support your fitness goals? 

Here, we’ll explore the answer to that very question, from the process of muscle growth and various sources of protein to the potential benefits of protein as part of a healthy and balanced diet.  

The basics of building muscle

Now, here comes the science; muscle growth is also known as a process called muscle protein synthesis.

Broadly speaking, muscle growth happens when new muscle proteins are created faster than they’re broken down in the body (1). When you combine the right amount of protein with physical exercise (particularly resistance training) this leads to muscle growth overtime (1,2).  

How much protein do I need to support muscle growth?

There are many factors that will affect the amount of protein you need in your diet. Your bodyweight, age, and fitness goals being just a few examples. 

Generally, it’s recommended that adults here in the UK consume 0.75 grams of protein per kg bodyweight per day (3). Athletes or individuals who exercise regularly with the goal of building muscle will likely have higher protein requirements (2,4). This can range from 1.4-2 grams per kg bodyweight per day depending on the intensity and type of activity (2).

Individuals with special conditions may also need higher protein intakes due its role in growth and repair in the body (5). Whilst there’s no strict guidance on how much protein could be too much, guidelines set out by the Department of Health state that you should avoid exceeding double the daily recommended amount of protein in your diet (6).  

 

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When is the best time of day to consume protein?

There’s a lot of focus on how much protein we need, but when is the best time to consume it? For supporting muscle growth, it is recommended to spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day, including a source of protein after exercise (7).

So, if your goal is building or maintain muscle, try to include a source of protein in every meal and keep some protein-rich snacks to hand throughout your day. A yoghurt with fruit, boiled eggs or a handful of nuts are some good examples. 

Ultimately, taking a food first approach and eating a healthy balanced diet should provide you with all the protein you need. Find out some of the best food sources of protein here.

The importance of balancing macronutrients

Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is classed as a macronutrient (4). Macronutrients are needed in larger quantities in the body to provide energy and support a number of vital bodily functions (8). A good balance of these three nutrients forms the building blocks for a healthy balanced diet, something that’s important for your overall health as well your fitness goals (9,10)

It's not just about how many grams of protein you consume. In fact, diet is just one component of a healthy lifestyle. For optimal muscle protein synthesis (aka muscle growth), the body requires a combination of the right amount of protein and physical exercise, particularly strength and resistance exercise (1,2)

If you’re considering making significant changes to your diet, whether related to getting enough protein or otherwise, it’s always best to speak to a healthcare professional for more tailored dietary advice. This will help you set an action plan to suit your individual needs and fitness goals! 

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  1. Witard OC, Bannock L, Tipton KD. Making Sense of Muscle Protein Synthesis: A Focus on Muscle Growth During Resistance Training. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2022;32(1):49-61. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2021-0139
  2. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. Published 2017 Jun 20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
  3. COMA. Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom – Report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Published 1991. London: TSO
  4. British Nutrition Foundation. Protein [online]. Available at https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-sustainable-diets/protein/. [Accessed November 2023]
  5. Phillips SM, Paddon-Jones D, Layman DK. Optimizing Adult Protein Intake During Catabolic Health Conditions [published correction appears in Adv Nutr. 2021 Mar 31;12(2):578]. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(4):S1058-S1069. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa047
  6. Department of Health Report on Health and Social Subjects (1991) Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom.
  7. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International Society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
  8. World Health Organization. Macronutrients [online] 2023. Available at https://www.emro.who.int/health-topics/macronutrients/introduction.html#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20broad%20classes,be%20divided%20into%20three%20groups. [Accessed November 2023]
  9. Chad M. Kerksick, Colin D. Wilborn, Michael D. Roberts, Abbie Smith-Ryan, Susan M. Kleiner, Ralf Jäger, Rick Collins, Mathew Cooke, Jaci N. Davis, Elfego Galvan, Mike Greenwood, Lonnie M. Lowery, Robert Wildman, Jose Antonio & Richard B. Kreider (2018) ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15:1, DOI: 10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y
  10. NHS. Eating a balanced diet [online] 2022. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/eating-a-balanced-diet/.  [Accessed November 2023]
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