Thursday, July 10, 2014

How much protein do you REALLY need?

About 13 minutes after you pick up your first weight, you're going to be told "you gotta pound that protein, brah.  That's how you grow.  Protein!"

Back in the 80's and early 90's if you picked up a bodybuilding magazine without reading an article or interview with someone where it was reiterated over and over again that to grow you needed "1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight."

Over, and over, and over again.

As the 90's wore on, it eventually turned into about 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.  Then 2 grams, and eventually of course, it was more than that.  How much was true, and how much was bravado I don't know.  But "pounding the protein" was reinforced on a consistent basis.

And let's be honest here, protein is important.  After all, amino acids are the "building blocks of muscle".

You'd read that last statement a million times in magazines too.

So now that I've made a very obvious statement that protein is important, the next thing to ask is, how MUCH protein is important to eat in order to grow?

Rather than blather on, let's get right into the studies....

If you want the tl;dr version, it's at the very bottom.

From this one.....

Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation.
Opinion on the role of protein in promoting athletic performance is divided along the lines of how much aerobic-based versus resistance-based activity the athlete undertakes. Athletes seeking to gain muscle mass and strength are likely to consume higher amounts of dietary protein than their endurance-trained counterparts. The main belief behind the large quantities of dietary protein consumption in resistance-trained athletes is that it is needed to generate more muscle protein. Athletes may require protein for more than just alleviation of the risk for deficiency, inherent in the dietary guidelines, but also to aid in an elevated level of functioning and possibly adaptation to the exercise stimulus. It does appear, however, that there is a good rationale for recommending to athletes protein intakes that are higher than the RDA. Our consensus opinion is that leucine, and possibly the other branched-chain amino acids, occupy a position of prominence in stimulating muscle protein synthesis; that protein intakes in the range of 1.3-1.8 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) consumed as 3-4 isonitrogenous meals will maximize muscle protein synthesis. These recommendations may also be dependent on training status: experienced athletes would require less, while more protein should be consumed during periods of high frequency/intensity training. Elevated protein consumption, as high as 1.8-2.0 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) depending on the caloric deficit, may be advantageous in preventing lean mass losses during periods of energy restriction to promote fat loss.
Basically, in layman's terms this says that an athlete that is training hard may need about 1.3 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight.  In 'Murica terms that means a 200 pound cat would need anywhere from 117 grams to 162 grams of protein.  If he or she is dieting, it'll need to be more like 200 grams a day.

"Well that's too low!"  You say.

Sure.  Let's continue then.

This study is long as a mother fuck.  So I will provide the link and some excerpts from it.....

In recent years an explosion of research papers concerning protein consumption has been published. The need to consolidate this information has become critical from both practical and future research standpoints. For this reason, the following paper presents an in depth analysis of contemporary issues in protein requirements and consumption for resistance trained athletes.

the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), meant to suffice for 97.5% of the population is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight [8,9]. However, strength training athletes generally consume a great deal more than the RDA [11-14], with the rationale that their protein requirements exceed that of the general population [12]. Therefore, a number of studies have examined athletes' protein requirements based on the nitrogen balance technique [13-15].

It is also critical to recognize that a minimal protein requirement does not equate to an optimal protein intake. Indeed, strength athletes and bodybuilders are interested in stimulating muscular hypertrophy well beyond levels required for maintenance [1]. Further, evidence suggests that nitrogen balance may be able to occur at protein intakes which fall below those needed to optimize body composition and performance measures [1,23].

Ok, ok, we got it.  Let's get to the meat and potatoes.....

While there was no significant difference in 1-RM bench press performance, the high protein group improved their 1-RM squat (23.6 ± 13.6 kg) to a greater extent than the low protein group (9.09 ± 11.86 kg). In a similar study by Vukovich et al. [29] divided 51 male and female participants into two groups. Group one received a 40 gram whey protein supplement twice daily, while group two received a carbohydrate placebo during a six month resistance training program. Participants in the supplemented group averaged twice the protein intake (2.2 g/kg body weight) as the placebo group (1.1 g/kg body weight). The protein supplemented group experienced significantly greater strength gains than the placebo group in bench press and hip sled tasks (see Figure ​Figure11).

Awesome. The group that took in about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight got stronger than the group that drank some carbohydrate placebo drink. Sweet.

Tell me more....

Recently Burke et al. [30] randomly assigned 36 individuals to a whey protein (WP) supplemented group, a whey protein and creatine supplemented group (WPC), or a placebo group. Whey protein was given at 1.2 grams per kg of bodyweight in addition to the participants' normal diet. It was found that lean tissue increased to the greatest extent in the WPC group compared to other groups, and that the WP group gained more lean muscle mass than the placebo. This same trend was found in indexes of strength as well.

The above studies indicate that protein requirements for athletes far exceed the daily recommended allowance. In fact, a number of reviews from respected authorities have surfaced on dietary protein requirements which have ranged form 1.2–2.2 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight (see Table ​Table1)1) [1,7,14,23,24,31-33].

So not only did the group that got 1 gram per pound of bodyweight increase strength at a far greater rate than the lower protein group, they also grew more mass. Again, another win for more protein. BUT, we're still at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.


Again, those are grams to kilo's of bodyweight. So basically, top to bottom it averages about to about....0.8 to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Hmmmmm.......

Protein timing. Yeah it does matter.

In 2001 a perspectives paper was submitted by the eminent scientist Michael J. Rennie [4]. Amusingly enough the paper was entitled "Grandad, it ain't what you eat, it depends when you eat it – that's how muscles grow! [4]"The paper was a brief review of a study published by Esmarck and colleagues [2]. Esmarck et al. [2] investigated the effect of immediate and 2 hour delayed feedings of protein on muscular hypertrophy and strength over a 12 week period of resistance training in elderly males. An oral supplement of 10 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbohydrate, and 3 grams of fat was administered. Results indicated that both mean fiber area of the m. vastus lateralis and cross sectional area of the m. quadriceps femoris increased in the immediate protein condition, where as no significant increases were found in the 2 hour delay condition. Both dynamic and isokinetic strength increased, by 46 and 15%, respectively in the immediate condition, whereas the delayed condition only improved in dynamic strength, by 36%.

These results indicate that immediate feeding after exercise is an important factor regulating muscle growth, at least in elderly individuals. There are a number of possible explanations for these results. The first is related to the observation that protein synthesis is stimulated in response to resistance training [53]. Phillips et al.[53] found that these effects were inversely related to time (see Figure ​Figure2).2). Therefore, one possible explanation proposed by Esmarck et al. [2] was that the substrate provided to participants and its interaction with the contraction-induced stimulation of protein synthesis was used to a lesser extent for the formation of muscle tissue in the delayed condition compared to the immediate condition.

Now here is what I hate about studies. People will latch onto the words there "at least in elderly individuals." as if that means it ONLY works for them. I don't think I'm breaking my arm in reaching for the conclusion that if it works for elderly people then it PROBABLY has some benefits for younger people as well.

A bit more....

As an additional comparison, Levenhagen et al. [3] administered an oral protein supplement (10 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat) either immediately (EARLY) or three hours after moderate intensity exercise (LATE). Results indicated that Net balance was significantly more positive during EARLY, compared with LATE, for the amino acids measured. In fact, while there was a net uptake of amino acids with the EARLY condition, there was a net release of amino acids in the LATE condition. Further leg protein synthesis was more than 3 times greater in the EARLY condition than the LATE condition. Finally whole body protein deposition was greater in the EARLY condition than the LATE condition.

Alright just wanted to drive that point home.  Ingesting protein, preferably a fast acting protein, immediately after training helps to create a more anabolic environment.  

I'm losing track....oh yeah, how MUCH protein you need in a day.  

The effect of the composition/quality of a protein on lean tissue gains

Results found a significant increase in fat free mass and a decrease in fat mass in the omnivorous condition. However, there was a decrease in fat free mass in the vegetarian condition and an increase in fat mass. These results indicate that a diet with the majority of its protein from meat products is more effective for supporting the goals of a resistance training program then a vegetarian diet.

Basically, vegetarian lifters, you're short changing your gains by not eating meat.  But the rest of us alreayd knew that shit.  

Milk does a body good - 

In a study from McMaster University, Phillips et al. [7] had participants consume 1 of three drinks immediately and one hour after exercise. The drinks consisted of 500 ml of milk (18.2 grams of protein), an isonitrogenous and isoenergetic soy protein mixture, or a maltodextrin energy control condition. After 12 weeks of resistance training it was found that the milk consumption condition gained significantly greater lean muscle mass than the energy control, while there were no significant differences between the energy control and soy protein conditions.

So for all you people who don't drink milk because "other animals don't drink milk from other animals..." well, you're missing out on gains too, and you're wrong.  Because other animals will drink some mother fuckin milk if it is supplied to them dammit.  

I'm still not at my original point....DAMMIT.  Oh wait....

Recent Trends in Protein Requirements

Further, there is evidence that nitrogen retention increases as nitrogen uptake increases [16]. Hegsted [16] presented a series of studies which suggested that 20% of the nitrogen above maintenance is retained. However, these results have not directly translated to enhanced lean body mass [13,15,16]. There are two rationales for these findings. The first is that nitrogen retention is inherently overestimated [16], largely because nitrogen losses are underestimated [16]. A second rationale is that the overall length of most nitrogen balance studies do not allow for a statistically significant measure of LBM increases [1].

Note the bolded part.....

While there was an 8.6% increase from moderate to high (2.4) protein intakes, these results did not reach significance. The authors suggested that this non significant trend appears to support the suggestion that the real protein requirements of athletes were closer to the 1.8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight daily.

Wait, what?  Significantly higher protein uptakes did not result in more significant gainz?  

That the real protein requirements for athletes were indeed closer to 1.8 grams per kilo?

Recently there have been a number of studies which have investigated higher protein intakes on indexes of performance and body composition [28-30]. A number of these studies have supported the efficacy of higher protein intakes, and yielded greater indexes of strength, and enhanced lean body mass [28-30]. This led Wolfe to conclude that increasing protein intake "will increase muscle mass, with all other variables remaining constant [40]."

It is further known that a number of other variables affect protein intake. Perhaps the most critical of these is energy intake. When an individual is in a caloric deficit, protein needs are greater than when the individual is in maintenance or a caloric surplus [34]. Finally it has been recently postulated that a true general protein requirement may be impossible to find considering that studies strongly suggest that different results will be obtained with the same protein intake when a number of variables are manipulated [1]. The remainder of the paper will provide an in depth analysis of a number of these variables.

NOW THIS, is what I was looking for.  But before we move on, I want to make a point about the part in BOLD.

The evidence suggests that someone who is dieting, i.e. in a calorie deficit, needs more protein than someone who is in a calorie surplus, i.e. bulking.  This SHOULD make sense to anyone.  You probably don't need as much protein as you think when you're also ingesting a significant amount of carbohydrates and fats along with it.  So the guy that's bulking and trying to cram in 400+ grams of protein a day isn't really doing anything that the gram per pound of bodyweight wouldn't do for him.  

So let's look at that study.....

Effect of Protein Intake on Strength, Body Composition and Endocrine Changes in Strength/Power Athletes

Ok let's cut to the shit and let the healing begin!

Average daily dietary intake is shown in Table 2. No significant difference in daily caloric intake was seen between the groups. However, significant differences in total and relative protein intake were seen between all three groups. Significant differences were also observed in carbohydrate intake between BL and AL. The protein and carbohydrate composition of the diet was also significantly different between all three groups.

The purpose of this study was to examine whether protein intakes above recommended levels (> 2.0 g·kg-1·day-1) provided any additional benefit for strength and body composition improvements in strength/power athletes.

Now you're speaking my language!

The results of this study do not provide any support for protein intakes greater than recommended levels in collegiate strength/power athletes for body composition improvements, or alterations in resting hormonal concentrations. Inadequate energy intakes likely contributed to these results. Although elevated protein content did not produce significantly greater strength improvements, results suggest that further study is warranted on the effect of high (> 2.0 g·kg-1·day-1) protein intake on strength and lean tissue accruement. However, future research needs to insure appropriate caloric consumption in the examination of strength/power athletes.

Wait, what?  Oh, this only showed that the standard 1.8kg per kilo of bodyweight requirement was sufficient.  

Well God damn.  

Wait, here's a study from Vandy.  Perhaps it will shed some light....

What evidence is there to support or disprove claims that high intake levels of protein help build muscle mass and better athletes? Muscles are made mostly of protein, so logically one would think that the more protein in the diet, the more muscle one should have. Certain types of exercise, weight lifting for example, do stimulate muscle growth. So, a combination of weight training and large amounts (the more, the better) should be beneficial, right? Not exactly. The most recent indications are that dietary protein in excess of the current recommended dietary allowance (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day) is likely needed for optimal muscle growth (5.) "The current recommended dietary allowance doesn't seem to be enough for elite athletes who are training every day, who are growing, or who are training especially hard right before an event" (6.) However, the benefit appears to plateau at intakes well below the levels typically consumed by many athletes. Thus, for best results, a diet high in protein is beneficial for muscle growth, but only to an extent. Once a certain intake level is reached, any additional protein taken in will not help build muscle mass any more.

There's that pesky 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight shit again.  

A study done by Fern et. al (1991) showed that greater gains in body mass occur over four weeks of heavy weight training when young men consumed 3.3 versus 1.3 grams if protein per kilogram of body mass. In addition a study done by Meredith et al. (1992) found that a daily dietary supplement containing 23 grams of protein combined with weight training can enhance muscle mass gains relative to similar subjects who trained with out the supplement. Both of the studies show support for the belief that increased protein in the diet can help increase muscle mass, but it should be noted that these effects were found with a combination of intake and training. These two studies further indicated that a protein intake of about 1.7 - 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, when combined with weight training will enhance muscle development compared with similar training with an intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (5.) However, it is important to note that there is little good evidence that the very high protein intakes (more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day) typically consumed by strength athletes are beneficial.

The Fern study led me to a mikementzer page (yes, but keep reading...)

In another study, Consolazio, Johnson, Nelson, Dramise, and Skala (1975) monitored young men over a 40 day period while they engaged in a "vigorous" physical conditioning program, which consisted of a variety of physical activities including "treadmill walking, riding the bicycle ergometer, calesthenics [sic], isometric exercises, and other sporting activities." (Calisthenics are exercises that use the body as its resistance, such as push-ups and abdominal crunches. Isometrics are exercises in which a muscle tenses but does not shorten, such as when a muscle attempts to contract against an immovable object or an individual flexes his muscles and holds a pose. Thus, for the purpose of this report, calisthenics and isometrics constitute resistance training.) The exercise time duration per workout was not reported. The 8 subjects averaged 21.5 years of age and consumed diets providing about 48.7 kcal/kg to balance energy intake with expenditure. Consolazio and colleagues observed greater nitrogen retention (0.533 g/day vs. 1.60 g/day) in resistance-trained athletes over a forty day training regimen when protein intake was 2.8 g/kg/day versus 1.4 g/kg/day.

Also supportive of these findings is a study which followed for four weeks two groups of young men whose average age was 24.5 years old (Fern, Bielinski, and Schutz, 1991). Both groups began whole-body strength training 3 times per week, with each session lasting for one hour. One group consumed their normal protein dietary intake of 1.3 g/kg/day while the higher protein group consumed this amount plus a protein powder supplement of 2 g protein/kg/day, giving a total of 3.3 g/kg/day. "Crude" nitrogen balance was determined to be 0.01 g N/day and 3.4 g N/day, respectively. It is insinuated that only urinary nitrogen was actually monitored.

Another study of four champion weight lifters ranging in age from 21 to 34 years old suggested an average protein intake of 2.2 g/kg/day resulted in a positive nitrogen balance of 1.85 g N (Laritcheva, Yalovaya, Shubin, and Smirnov, 1978). One lifter who consumed the least protein at 1.85 g/kg had a negative nitrogen balance of -0.88 g N. The weight lifters exercised 90-150 minutes per workout, and energy balance was approximately neutral. Nitrogen losses through the integumenta were not taken into consideration. It is assumed that the nitrogen retention data are from a single observation day for each weight lifter.

Somehow from there, I ended up reading this shit from The Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine.....

If you don't want to read that text via a pic, basically it says that they came to the conclusion that a safe and effective intake of protein was about 1.76 grams per kilo of bodyweight, and that there was no evidence or studies to show that anything over 2 grams per pound of bodyweight were more effective at increasing muscle mass.  Now we know from studies later (as linked above) that higher than that did show a far greater positive nitrogen balance.  But it was only significant compared to people on the very lower end of protein intake in the study.  Which should be expected.  

I could keep linking and linking but all I came across over and over again was the following....

  • Most of the benefits of protein top out at around 2.2 - 2.5 grams per kilo of bodyweight.  For American's that's the standard of about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, or just slightly more.
  • If you're dieting you may need a little more than this.  Perhaps 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.

All this shit let me to ask two experts I know, so I could balance this out a bit.

From Trevor Kashey of Complete Human Performance.......

How much protein is too much? That depends on the nature of the question. As far as compromising health of already full functioning organs? I'm not convinced there has been a demonstrated upper limit in healthy individuals, nor has their been an upper limit established by the medical community. There was a recent study published in the ISSN with 2g/kg intake with no ill effects on health.

If one wants to set an upper limit on intake in order to maximize their anabolic response? I'm hard pressed to believe that a typical athlete would need more than 30-50g per meal depending on the quality of the proteibn source. Or approximately 5g leucine for a LEAN 225lbs man. To put that into perspective, higher quality sources are approximately 10% leucine per gram of protein.

I would argue enhanced athletes need even less, but that would lead to serious digression.

So depending on the person, if he's doing the usual 5 meals a day, that's between 150-250 a day.  Yeah, quite the range but my guess is Trevor is covering anyone from the 155 pound guy trying to gain mass, to the 275 pound guy trying to do the same, or even diet.  

Which brings me to my next point.  The other part in all of this, is that you should also be going by LEAN pounds of bodymass.  If you're 300 pounds, but are 25% bodyfat, you don't need 300 grams a day.  Just throwing out a roundabout figure, 10% bodyfat is always a safe place to start.  So for that guy, we're talking 255 grams of protein a day or so.

I also asked my buddy, Dr. Mike Israetel about the proper amount of protein intake.  And well, he just reiterated what all the studies showed....

The research on the protein needs of strength/power atheltes is quite expansive. The general consensus is that athletes can benefit from up to 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. This is the highest number seen in replicated studies with athletes that train with high volumes. In some situations, particularly conserving muscle mass during bodybuilding diet and training with lower bodyfats, up to 1.5g may be beneficial, but this is as yet inconclusive. What is conclusive it is that peak benefits have been consistently reported of values as low as 0.6g, especially in athletes putting on weight via a high calorie diet. Thus, the recommendation of 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight per day covers nearly all cirucmstances in bodybuilding and especially powerlifting. Arguments that much more protien is beneficial are left highly lacking in evidence or conjecture.

Closing - 

tl;dr version - If you're a hard training athlete, a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is ENOUGH.  Period.  You can easily get away with less if you're eating to mass and are taking in sufficient amount of carbs as well.

If you're a hard training athlete, and you're dieting, maybe slightly more.  But the gram per pound of bodyweight will probably still suffice.

There's no magic in overdosing on protein.  


  1. Hi Paul, good read and entirely in agreement. How about an "enhanced" athlete in a bulking phase; how much would be enough?

    1. Trevor covered that. It's the same or even less.

  2. How about the "keto 4 lyfe" lifters who consume 2-2.5g/lb? What's funny is that much protein actually keeps them out of keto. All the excess protein gets converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis. So their workouts are still being fueled by sugar, not ketones. Fancy that. But hey, at least they shit bricks.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I've been telling people forever that 1g per lbs is fine but it is so hard to convince folks when a) every mag pushes protein for obvious reasons and b) every pro takes 2-3g to be safe, because if you are committed enough to be elite you probably do what you need to and then some, protein would be a silly place to start being moderate. It seems harmless, except for a couple of extra bucks, but the end result is that people that want to get big and aren't very focused or disciplined about their diets end up just overeating in general to meet the 2g per lbs standard and get fat while gaining muscle. That becomes their standard after a couple of years.

  4. Great article
    Can you comment on how to work this into a Keto(with weekly carb cycling) diet?

  5. Nice! Thank you! Real answers for some long held questions.

  6. Nice! Thank you! Real answers for some long held questions.

  7. Amazing article ... Thanks for spitting the facts out ! .8 is the most anyone will probably ever need unless you on the juice.