How Much Protein Do You Need to Build Muscle?

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
20th April 2021

In 30 Seconds… 

Protein is an essential macronutrient, vital for the growth and development of organs, tissues, enzymes, and more. 

It’s also crucial for building muscle, which is why many professional athletes and keep-fit enthusiasts pay close attention to their protein intake. 

Generally speaking, there’s no single, optimum amount of protein needed to gain muscle. It can vary from one person to the next. That being said, research shows that consuming anywhere from 0.7 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight should help achieve strong results (literally).

Protein for Muscle & Strength: Everything You Need to Know

There are few nutrients more critical than protein. 

For starters, it quite literally provides the building blocks for life, health, and body composition. It’s vital for the growth and development of your body’s organs, tissues, hormones, and enzymes. And this essential macronutrient helps build and maintain muscle mass and plays a significant role in weight loss.  

So, if you have specific body goals in mind, you need to know your way around protein. From staying trim and toned to “getting swole”, exercise will only take you so far — the fuel you choose matters, too.  

In this article, we explore what protein is, why it’s important, and how much you need to build muscle

What is Protein? 

First, let’s talk about what protein is exactly. As we’ve already mentioned, protein is a macronutrient, which is a nutrient that we need a lot of (hence “macro”). It’s built from smaller molecules, called amino acids. These link together to form long chains, which can then fold into complex shapes. 

The human body can produce some of these amino acids naturally (known as “non-essential amino acids”), but you need to source the essential amino acids from your diet. 

When you eat protein-rich foods, your body breaks down the proteins into amino acids, which it then uses to build organs, muscles, tendons, skin, and hair, along with hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and other important molecules.

Why Is Protein Important for Building Muscle Specifically?

Because muscles are, by and large, made of protein.

And, as with most other types of body tissue, muscle is dynamic. This means it’s always changing, breaking down and being rebuilt. 

So, to gain muscle, you need to know about muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown (MPB). In simple terms: 

  • MPS is a naturally occurring process where protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by physical activity (such as intense exercise, strength training, or resistance training).
  • MPB, meanwhile, is the contrasting force. As a result of exercise or physical exertion, protein is broken down and lost.
  • The ratio of MPS to MPB has a direct relationship with how much muscle tissue is built or lost at any given time.
  • This means if MPS occurs faster than MPB, more muscle growth is achieved. But on the flip side, if MPB occurs faster, the opposite happens.

This is why athletes and exercise enthusiasts monitor protein intake closely. In addition to working out, anyone who wants to build muscle will often eat more protein. Studies have shown that a higher protein intake can contribute to building muscle by helping you stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

So, How Much Protein Do You Need to Gain Muscle?

It’s difficult to say one way or the other just how much protein you need to build muscle. After all, everyone is different, and factors such as age and fitness level can often dictate your protein needs. 

However, generally speaking, your protein intake can be tied to your muscle mass. The more mass you have (and the more of it you use), the more protein you’ll require to maintain and/or gain muscle.

This is why bodybuilders are renowned for protein supplementation, such as with whey protein or protein shakes. Because they’re adding mass while using their muscles to lift, they need more than the average person to hit their goals. 

What Do Scientists Recommend?

There have been several studies into the optimum amount of protein for building muscle, but as yet, no-one has found a conclusive answer. 

Some have estimated a minimum of 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight is required, while others suggest eating any more than 0.8 grams per pound won’t have any significant effect.

And then there’s the common recommendation that, in order to gain muscle, you should consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight — something that was backed in a 2018 study

Note: If you’re working on losing weight, calculate your protein intake based on your goal weight or lean body mass.

Are You Getting Enough Protein?

To understand if you’re getting enough protein in your diet, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to your calorie intake and the types of foods you’re consuming. There are several nutrition apps on the market that make tracking daily calories simple, with many providing a handy breakdown of your food’s macronutrients. 

In general, a healthy male should aim for between 56 and 91 grams of protein per day, which is around 0.36 and 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight. This should give you the baseline from which to add more protein to your diet as you try to build muscle. 

Just be careful not to overdo it. If you focus on a high protein diet, you could inadvertently limit your intake of carbohydrates and healthy fats, which are also important for building muscle.  

Where to Get More Protein 

Protein sources run the gamut from animal to plant to protein supplements, but the unfortunate truth for vegetarians is that animal protein sources tend to absorb better than their plant counterparts. This means, if you’re veggie or vegan, you need to plan your diet carefully if you want to gain or maintain muscle. Luckily, you still have plenty of choices. 

Common sources of protein include:

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt
  • Eggs
  • Fruits and vegetables Fruits and vegetables (although not a lot compared to other high protein foods)
  • Grains and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Tofu
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Key Takeaways… 

So, how much protein do you need to build muscle? Rule of thumb would suggest anywhere between 0.7 grams and 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, but this depends on your age, fitness levels, and body composition goals. 

For best results, work closely with a nutritionist to calculate your protein requirements and develop a diet plan geared towards gaining and/or maintaining muscle.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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