You probably know by now that protein is essential for building muscle. But how much protein is the right amount? Athletes have been chugging protein powder in shakes for decades to bulk up, but powders have their limits as well. Questions remain: How much is too much? What is the upper limit? What’s the lower limit? Does the type of protein make a difference? Are there circumstances under which you shouldn’t ingest more protein? Does timing matter?
Researchers from McMaster University did an aggregate review of 49 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, consisting of 1863 people, young and old, male and female, novice and professional athletes. The definitive conclusion was that subjects across the board who did ramp up protein intake while doing a weight training program showed an increase of 10% in strength, and 25% in muscle mass.
“The researchers also looked for the sweet spot for protein intake, which turned out to be about 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. In practical terms, that would amount to about 130 grams of protein a day for a 175-pound man. (A chicken breast has about 45 grams of protein.)”
The reason that this news is significant is because the recommended intake for a man of that weight in the past has been pegged at about half that, or 56 grams of protein a day. For a woman who weighs 135, it had been 46 grams. Now her recommended amount would be 98 grams. To get your number, just divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms, then multiply that by 1.6 to find out your ideal protein intake per day to maximize muscle strength and mass. Check out this protein calculator to see how many grams of protein you should consume a day. It’s much easier than doing the math! https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/calpro.htm
As we get older, we naturally lose about 7% of lean muscle mass a decade after age 40. We can counteract that by weight training and increasing protein intake in any form, be it animal protein like eggs, yogurt, beef, poultry or pork, or plants like legumes like peas, beans, and soy, or protein powder. Many nutritionists prefer protein that comes in the form of whole foods for its purity, as long as the protein is of high quality. Also, the conventional wisdom is that naturally occurring protein in foods is more easily absorbed by our bodies. Conveniently, it doesn’t matter when you consume the protein, although many people like to eat or drink it right after exertion.
There are a few caveats, and other research sheds more light on the right amount of protein intake for people with various health concerns. If you have kidney or liver issues, less protein is better than what’s recommended here. You also must drink plenty of fluids to offset the amount of work your kidneys and liver have to do to metabolize increased protein consumption. About half your weight in ounces is recommended for fluid intake- that’s 64 ounces for a 128 pound person. Also, people who do weight training without consuming more protein also improve muscle strength and mass, but at lower rates than those who did. Check with your doctor if you have questions about your appropriate protein intake.
In conclusion, weight training and adequate protein consumption are essential components of lean muscle mass maintenance. So, like your mom always said, “Eat your peas”, or beans, or steak, or quinoa or whatever protein floats your boat, and grow those muscles!