Protein Guide - How Much and When?

If you want to know how much protein you need to build muscle and lose fat, you want to read this article.


Protein is awesome.


It tastes delicious, satisfies a grumbling stomach, and, perhaps best of all, is highly anabolic.


We’re constantly lectured and reminded about the importance of protein, and for good reason -- you need to it survive.


If you ever need convincing about just how important protein is, step foot into any gym or supplement shop You’re likely to be mauled by the bros giving you advice about how much protein you should eat to build muscle as well as what time you should be eating protein to maximize results.


But, where are these recommendations coming from? Do you really need as much protein as you’ve been led to believe by the bodybuilding magazines and supplement companies pushing endless tubs of protein powder on you?


Let’s find out!


How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle?


Bodybuilding lore has typically prescribed anywhere from 1-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight when trying to gain muscle mass.


What about dieting?


Typical recommendations for protein intake during cutting phases when you’re trying to burn excess body fat range anywhere from 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, depending on which “expert” you’re listening to.


Despite what you may heard, neither of these recommendations is correct.


To understand how much protein you should be consuming, you first need to figure out what your daily energy requirements are. Once you have a rough idea of how many calories you need to consume, then you’ll be able to figure out how much protein you need.


So, how do you figure out how many calories you need?


There are several calculators and formulas you can use to figure out your calorie needs. We’ve gone into great detail before about how to calculate your total daily energy expenditure.


FYI, Total Daily Energy Expenditure is the total number of calories your body burns per day including things like physical activity, thermic effect of food, age, weight, etc.


So, if you’re unsure about your TDEE, head over to that article to get started.




Now, back to the topic at hand….how much protein do you need?


Fortunately, we don’t have to resort to bro-science, as this issue has been tackled numerous times by researchers. The following list of studies assessed protein requirements of athletes, while controlling for calorie intake, so they might glean the true protein needs of those training like a savage.


  • A 1988 study by Tarnopolsky et al noted that only 0.37 grams per pound of bodyweight was needed to maintain a positive nitrogen balance in elite bodybuilders over a 10-day period.[1] Yet researchers suggested that 0.55 grams per pound should be adequate for bodybuilders

  • Another study published in 1988 documented that 0.73 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight was all that was needed by weightlifters dieting over the course of 7 days to maintain a positive nitrogen balance.[2]

  • Tarnopolsky and Lemon et al. assessed protein needs again in 1992, and found no differences in protein synthesis or lean body mass when athletes consumed 0.64 grams per pound or 1.10 grams per pound over the course of 14 days.[3]

    Interestingly enough, protein oxidation was elevated in the group consuming 1.10 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, meaning they were consuming more protein than their body required.

    Additionally, no differences were observed in lifting “newbs” regarding size or strength when they consumed 0.61 grams per pound or 1.19 grams per pound.

    Based on all data collected for the study, the researchers  recommended 0.75g/lb.

  • A more recent study from 2006 found no significant differences in strength, body composition, or hormone levels in athletes consuming 0.77 grams per pound vs 0.91 grams per pound over the course of 90 days.[4]


Numerous other studies have not found any added benefit to increasing muscle size or strength when athletes consumed over 0.73 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.

And to top it off, a recent meta-analysis led by the Hypertrophy Doc Brad Schoenfeld, nutrition wise guy Alan Aragon, Menno Henselmans, James Krieger, Dr. Eric Helms, and several others explored this very question.


Pooling data from 49 different studies totaling 1,863 participants, the team of researchers determined that the optimal intake of protein for resistance-trained individuals (i.e. weightlifters) is ~1.6g/kg body weight.[5]


In the author's’ words:


“Protein supplementation beyond total protein intakes of 1.62 g/kg/day resulted in no further RET-induced gains in FFM.”[5]


In case you’re not so savvy with the metric system, 1.62g/kg/day comes out to about ~0.74g/lb/day, which is extremely close to the frequently recommended 0.8g/lb bodyweight per day.


Hopefully, this helps settle the neverending debate of “how much protein do I need to build muscle?”.


But say, you really like protein, are you going to hurt your gains if you consume over the 0.74 grams per pound recommendation?


No, not at all.


Consuming protein above the research-backed amount is fine, but just realize those calories you’re spending on protein could be also used on carbohydrates (the primary fuel for performance) or fat, which makes food delicious and helps keep you feeling full.


In other words, consuming over the 0.74-0.8g/lb of protein per day won’t hurt your gains, but it’s not going to significantly improve your muscle growth or fat loss results.




How Much Protein for Fat Loss?


For a long time, it’s been stated that during a cut, daily protein intake should be around 1.25-1.5 grams per pound, and some say even higher, to help preserve lean muscle in the midst of caloric restriction.


But, much like we just discussed with protein intake and muscle building, are these recommendations backed by any substantial research?


As it turns out, the answer is no protein intake doesn’t need to dramatically increase during weight loss phases

A 1988 study by Walberg & Friends, no not Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, studied the effects of calorie restriction in weight lifters and found that 0.73 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (the same amount needed for building muscle) was adequate for preserving lean muscle mass.[6]


Fast-forward 20 years, and another study investigating protein intake and weight loss, this time using endurance athletes was conducted.[7] Researchers divided the subjects into two groups.


  • One group consumed 0.41 g/lb protein

  • One group consumed 0.82 g/lb protein

The researchers also placed these athletes on a 1000 calorie deficit too!


Surely these guys lost some muscle...right?


While the nitrogen balance of the 0.41g/lb group steeply declined, the group consuming 0.82 g/lb maintained nitrogen balance, protein turnover, and even their lean muscle mass![7]


So, based on the available data, there is no need to consume massive quantities of protein while on a cut. Protein intake requirements are slightly higher (0.74 to 0.82 grams per pound), but nothing near the 1.5-2 g/lb range that’s typically prescribed to dieters.


The one exception for those who might benefit from increasing their protein intake above the 0.82 g/lb threshold are those that dabble in the “dark arts” (a.k.a. Illegal anabolics).




Does Timing Matter?


Undoubtedly, you’ve probably heard that you need to eat every 2.5-3 hours to “stoke the metabolism” and guard against muscle protein breakdown (a.k.a. catabolism). Yet again, this is another recommendation rooted in the ancient annals of bro science.


As long as you hit your total daily protein and calorie goals, timing and frequency of protein intake is negligible. So, whether you have all of your protein in an 8 hour window, say if you’re following intermittent fasting, or you eat protein every 3,4, or 5 hours, is not going to significantly affect muscle growth of fat loss.


However, it may be beneficial to make sure you do consume some form of protein before and after your workout.


A trio of university studies have noted that consuming protein pre workout and post workout did lead to better muscle growth.[8,9,10] However a few other studies have shown no additional benefit to pre and post workout protein.[11,12]


So, yet again, hitting your total daily protein and calorie goal is most important. But, if you want to “optimize” things in your favor as much as possible, you might want to consider doing a bit of nutrient timing, and take advantage of the heightened insulin sensitivity post workout.

What About Whey Protein?


Many people buy protein supplements, but more often than not, they’re not really sure how to use it, when to take it, or where it fits into a healthy diet.


The first thing to remember is that a whey protein powder is a supplement, meaning it should supplement your diet. That means that you should aim to consume as much of your daily protein needs from whole food sources like eggs, beef, chicken, fish, pork, etc. Then, use whey protein powder to meet your goals if you’re low by the end of the day, or suffer from a poor appetite.


Additionally, many people just don’t have the time between work, family commitments, and actually living life, to prep, cook, eat, and clean 4 or 5 whole food meals each and every day. This is when whey protein powder can be a real saving grace.


And really, that’s one of the great things about whey protein powder -- you can really use it anytime of day.


You can have it in the morning for breakfast or as part of your pre workout meal. Whey protein also makes a superb post workout shake when you don’t have the appetite for a full meal, or need to get on with your day.


Whey protein can even be used as a dessert (protein yogurt anyone?) or as a light pre-bed snack to keep your amino acids stores topped off during your long overnight fast.


Basically, whey protein is there for you when you need it.


If you’re having trouble consuming all of the necessary protein from whole foods, whey protein powder provides a tasty, affordable, and convenient solution to staying on track with your nutrition plan while simultaneously supporting muscle growth and recovery.


And, if you’re currently in the market for a premium-quality whey protein powder, there’s...


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  1. Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDougall, J. D., & Atkinson, S. A. (1988). Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 64(1), 187–193.

  2. Walberg, J. L., Leidy, M. K., Sturgill, D. J., Hinkle, D. E., Ritchey, S. J., & Sebolt, D. R. (1988). Macronutrient content of a hypoenergy diet affects nitrogen retention and muscle  function in weight lifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 9(4), 261–266.

  3. Lemon, P. W., Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDougall, J. D., & Atkinson, S. A. (1992). Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 73(2), 767–775.

  4. Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Falvo MJ, Faigenbaum AD. Effect of Protein Intake on Strength, Body Composition and Endocrine Changes in Strength/Power Athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2006;3(2):12-18. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-3-2-12.

  5. Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 11 July 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608.

  6. Walberg, J. L., Leidy, M. K., Sturgill, D. J., Hinkle, D. E., Ritchey, S. J., & Sebolt, D. R. (1988). Macronutrient content of a hypoenergy diet affects nitrogen retention and muscle  function in weight lifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 9(4), 261–266.

  7. Pikosky, M. A., Smith, T. J., Grediagin, A., Castaneda-Sceppa, C., Byerley, L., Glickman, E. L., & Young, A. J. (2008). Increased protein maintains nitrogen balance during exercise-induced energy deficit. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(3), 505–512.

  8. Cribb, P. J., & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(11), 1918–1925.

  9. Willoughby, D. S., Stout, J. R., & Wilborn, C. D. (2007). Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids, 32(4), 467–477.

  10. Hulmi, J. J., Kovanen, V., Selanne, H., Kraemer, W. J., Hakkinen, K., & Mero, A. A. (2009). Acute and long-term effects of resistance exercise with or without protein ingestion on muscle hypertrophy and gene expression. Amino Acids, 37(2), 297–308.

  11. Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Tranchina, C. P., Rashti, S. L., Kang, J., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2009). Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19(2), 172–185.

  12. Erskine, R. M., Fletcher, G., Hanson, B., & Folland, J. P. (2012). Whey protein does not enhance the adaptations to elbow flexor resistance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(9), 1791–1800.