Protein: How Much Protein is Needed to Build Muscle?
Protein is the one macronutrient everyone is obsessed with!
You’ll see all kinds of things sold in the shops with the word slapped across the packaging. These range from “protein packed” bars and snacks, cereals that are “fortified with protein” and so on.
Why are we all so obsessed with this macronutrient?
It is what our bodies use to build muscle!
First, some basics about building muscle
Building muscle only happens if you’re in a calorie surplus.
Furthermore, it only happens if you are also forcing your body to adapt to a new stimulus using resistance training (i.e. progressive overload: lifting more volume than you were before). You also need adequate recovery (sleep).
In addition to those things, you need to get enough protein in your diet to support muscle growth.
If you’re losing fat, you can also lose muscle. Protein is very important during the fat loss stage as it helps you to keep the muscle you’ve worked so hard for.
Foods high in protein are also quite filling, so they make for good choices during fat loss.
How much protein do I need?
There are many differing opinions on this. Some people say you only need 0.7 grams of protein for every pound of your bodyweight.
That means you take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply by 0.7. For example, a 200 pound person would eat 140 grams of protein per day.
Anecdotally, I’ve not seen many people with seriously impressive results who have followed this strategy.
It might be enough, but it also might not. In my opinion, you’re better off going for 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. This is much easier to figure out as well! Take whatever you weigh in pounds, and just eat that many grams of protein every day!
What are some sources of protein?
There are many sources of protein, but they’re not all good sources. All I mean when I say that is that many of these foods are also sources of fat and carbs, often in higher proportions.
E.g. Nuts – these are often thought to be a good protein source but they’re actually a terrible one. Nuts are only about 20% protein and they contain a lot of fat. If you try to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight by eating nuts, you’re going to consume far more fat at 9 calories per gram than you want to. Most people would consume way too many calories eating nuts to build muscle! They’ll just get fat.
Similarly, many of the bars and supplements that you see advertised as sources of protein actually have just as many, if not more, fats and carbs in them. There’s nothing wrong with eating these. Just using them as your go to protein sources is a bad idea because you’ll have to eat so much of it to reach your goal. It’s also likely the fat and carb content would see you consume too many calories.
Beware packaging slogans and marketing bullshit!
The pack of “Graze” that I posted above says it is “protein packed”, but it’s actually not. It’s a shit source of protein, one of the worst you can buy!
There’s 26 grams of protein per 118g bag. Sounds ok… that is until you realise that protein is making up only 12.4% of the total calories in the bag! There are 705 calories in a bag (!) and the protein at 4 calories per gram comes out at only 88 of the 705 calories. It’s also got almost my daily allocation of fat in one bag, 52 grams for 468 calories (multiply fat grams by 9), and 26 grams of carbs for another 88 calories (multiply carbs grams by 4).
That is laughably bad. Don’t eat this if you’re doing it to get protein in! Only eat it if you like it, and you are can fit a 705 calorie bag of graze into your daily calories.
What are some GOOD protein sources?
A good source of protein is one that contains as little fat and carbohydrates as possible, is affordable and convenient for you to consume.
Some of these are:
- Chicken breast (not thigh or wing, and not covered in fried chicken mix)
- White fish (cod, haddock, tilapia etc. – not salmon, mackerel and other fatty fishes. Also, not fish that is covered in batter!)
- Turkey breast (again, not covered in breadcrumbs or batter)
- Minced meat (beef, pork, turkey – the leaner the better. A 20% fat variety is a much worse source of protein than a 5% fat variety)
- Steaks and chops (the cut matters. Ribeye has much more fat on it than sirloin – check the nutrition labels.)
- SOME burgers and sausages are ok sources of protein. Check the nutrition labels. With burgers it’s going to depend how lean the meat they used was. Look for 5%. Almost all sausages are more a source of fat than protein, but there are some like Heck chicken breast sausages which are a good source of protein. Many vegetarian sausages are an ok source of protein too.
- Tuna and canned fish. Tuna is a great source of protein. There’s basically nothing else in it! It can get expensive if you buy it a lot, and also watch out for eating too much of it. Tuna is a predatory fish, so you can get mercury poisoning if you eat more than the recommended amounts. This goes for other fish too, like swordfish and types of shark. Other canned fish can be a decent option too – it just follows the same rules as above. Some of them contain a lot more fat, like mackerel or salmon. Also, watch out for the fat in the mayonnaise you’re mixing it with.
- Eggs and Egg Whites: Eggs are an ok source, although they are almost as high in fat as they are in protein. Fortunately, all the fat is in the yolk – so if you just eat egg whites these are great for your muscle gaining goals.
- Protein powders: This is a minefield of “gainer shakes”, fats, carbs and useless but expensive added ingredients. Study the options available here very carefully. Ignore ALL marketing speak on the descriptions and packaging. If you go wrong, you could end up paying way too much for your protein. It’s all just protein, there’s no difference to the protein from the food you eat. It’s nothing magical that causes your muscles to grow instantly. The packaging it comes in and the accompanying marketing speak don’t matter. How much you pay, and how many extra carbs and fats are mixed in does matter! Taste and how well it mixes matter too!
How to choose well when buying a protein shake
When choosing protein powder, I look at the price and the amount of protein per serving. You want to pay as little per gram of protein as possible. Grab a calculator and figure out how many grams of protein you’re going to be getting for your pounds/dollars/currency of choice.
Once you’ve got a few options, look at the calories per serving. You want one with lower calories per serving (because who wants to fill up their daily allowance of calories with protein powder when they could have something that’s actually nice?).
When you’re ready to make your decision, you should be able to say yes to the following:
- Amount of protein for your money is better than other options
- Calories are lower than other alternative shakes
- Macronutrient content is lower in carbs and fats than other shakes
- Comes in a flavour you like!
Remember, no foods are off-limits. It’s all about your own goals
I want to stress that you can eat absolutely any food if you want to.
You can have chicken wings, salmon, breaded turkey breast, egg yolks, 20% beef mince or whatever else you want. It’s just going to be EASIER to hit your protein target and stay within your total calories for the day if you pick the leaner options.
I get it – sometimes you just really want to have a battered sausage. Count the protein in it, count all of the other macronutrients and calories too and stay on your plan. You’re probably going to have to eat something else to get some more protein later!
Protein and your Finances!
Protein is the one macronutrient that you might find it more difficult to hit your targets for. That’s because it’s expensive to buy really good sources of it!
Carbohydrates and fats are cheap. You can easily get a big bag of oats for a load of carbs, or a tub of peanut butter for some fats.
Protein, on the other hand, does not come cheap if you want a lean source of it. Chicken breasts, tuna, turkey, lean red meat – it’s much more expensive than the other macronutrients.
Plan where you’re going to get your protein from. Powders are a cheap source if you buy the right ones. I get all my meat for the week in one go from Aldi. I don’t just buy anything though. My meat is carefully selected (usually turkey mince) based on the cost of each gram of serving. This sees me buying less steak and fish, and more chicken and turkey. Do whatever works for your finances and tastebuds!
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