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How Much Protein Should I Eat to Gain Muscle Mass?

Photo of juicy steak being grilled, full of protein

If you want to bulk up and shape your physique into a more toned, chiseled look, you probably already know to focus on protein. A protein-rich diet is the foundation for growing your muscles and comes with the added benefit of increasing your metabolic rate to burn fat and keep even more toned and lean, but figuring out exactly how much you need comes with some difficulties. Let’s take a closer look at how protein works and how much of it you actually need to eat to gain muscle mass.

Protein and Your Muscles

Your body contains hundreds of different proteins that do everything from build DNA to promote communication between cells to making up all the physical organs and tissues, like muscle, that make you. Protein molecules are made up of smaller components known as amino acids. Amino acids are responsible for essentially all the major processes that go on in your body. This includes repairing damaged muscle tissue.

When you workout, your skeletal muscles get microtears, which also explain for the general soreness after an especially intense workout. Your damaged muscles signal amino acids to form new strings of protein to repair the microtears. These amino acids also signal the release of satellite cells, which are also helpful in repairing the damage but go even further by remolding the muscle and making it bigger and stronger.

However, that muscle growth only happens if you have enough amino acids to repair the muscle damage and actually contribute to bulkier muscles. Without enough amino acids, your muscles can’t heal properly, you won’t bulk up, and the damaged muscles could lead to more serious injuries and muscle atrophy.

That’s where protein comes in. Most of the amino acids you get come from protein in your diet. In fact, a group of nine amino acids, known as essential amino acids, can’t be synthesized by your body and so must be obtained from food. Eating enough protein helps repair and protect your muscles while encouraging their growth after workouts.

Getting Too Much Protein

While you won’t be doing yourself any favors by skimping on protein, you shouldn’t be gorging yourself on protein. Eating too much protein won’t make you suddenly bulk up. In fact, you could potentially be doing more harm than good.

Research suggests that a diet of excess protein puts your organs and bodily systems at risk. Adding too much protein causes the build-up of ketones. There is a healthy way to incorporate a ketogenic diet, but such a sudden intake of protein puts your kidneys under immense stress as they go into overdrive trying to get rid of the ketones. While this leads to a noticeable increase in water loss, what you don’t notice is the reduction in calcium and muscle mass. Some research also suggests that too much protein can increase your risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, gout, and certain forms of cancer.

Furthermore, excess protein can be broken down and metabolized into glucose, which your body can use as energy or store in fat cells. In other words, too much protein may just add extra inches to your waist if you’re not careful.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The actual amount of protein you need depends on a huge range of factors, from genetics to gender to body size. For example, if you are just starting to include workouts into your life, you probably will not need as much protein as an experienced bodybuilder who already has dense muscle and lifts heavier weights. Women also tend to gain muscle slower than men because men have more testosterone, which is known to aid in the synthesis of muscle protein.

If you are looking to balance protein in relation to the rest of your diet, counting your macronutrients might be a good place to start. The Institute of Medicine recommends that 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. That may be a problem if your main goal is bulking up. If your daily caloric intake is low, then even 35 percent of that may not be enough for the muscle mass you want to gain.

For protein alone, the Institute of Medicine suggests a Dietary Reference Intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day, which equals about 0.36 grams per pound per day. That means that the average 175-pound man would require 63 grams of protein per day. However, for athletes, bodybuilders, and other more active individuals, some studies suggest up to 1.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day, which is about 0.8 grams per pound a day. With that recommendation, the average 175-pound man would need to consume 143 grams of protein per day.

Getting Enough Protein

To reach that 143 grams, you would need to eat about 24 eggs or 4 full chicken breasts a day. Aside from being dull and unappetizing, those foods are also packed with calories. It’s a difficult balancing act of getting enough protein without also overloading your daily calorie requirements. After all, more calories just means more fat.

The best sources of protein are meats, eggs, fish, and dairy products, all of which also contain all the essential amino acids your muscles need. Vegans and vegetarians can get much of their protein from certain plant sources, including nuts, legumes, and quinoa, but know that these do not have the full spectrum of essential amino acids.

Realistically, you probably won’t (and shouldn’t) get all of your daily protein entirely from eggs. The key often comes down to eating from a diverse array of protein sources. This is also often why many people turn to protein shakes. The two most common you will find are whey and casein. Whey absorbs quicker into your system, providing a more immediate source of amino acids, but casein offers a slower, steadier flow of amino acids. Many bodybuilders mix the two.

However, keep in mind that protein shakes are only good for helping you reach your daily protein requirements without all the calories. They don’t present much of any other benefit over whole foods. Most protein shakes are lacking in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs for its general health.

There are also some conflicting reports about when you should consume protein. Many experts suggest taking one serving of protein an hour before your workout and another serving immediately after your workout. One study suggests that, for men, protein works optimally at 20 grams after a workout. However, the jury is still out on many of these studies, and everyone is different. As long as you are getting the right amount of protein throughout your day, don’t stress too much about when you should be consuming it.

Supplements can also be a big help. If you find yourself not getting enough essential amino acids, consider trying mTOR Pro™ from MYOKEM™. This supplement improves amino acid absorption and recovery while offering 10.5 grams of essential amino acids per serving.

Along with proper protein intake, make sure you are putting your body to work to break those proteins down and prevent weight gain.

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