How Much Protein Is Too Much in Bodybuilding?


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

It is true that bodybuilders and weightlifters need to keep their dietary protein intake up in order to maintain or build large muscle mass. While it would be fair to assume that you need to eat massive amounts to build massive muscles, it rarely is the case. In fact, eating excessive amounts of protein can hurt more than it helps.

General Dietary Guidelines

The recommended daily requirement of protein, fat, and carbohydrates are set by the various nutrition authorities of each country.

In the United States, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP)—a subsidiary of the Department of Health and Human Service—issues recommendations along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) every five years, the latest of which are included in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

As part of the guidelines, the ODPHP recommends a protein intake of between 10% and 35% of the total daily calories for women and men over the age of 18.

Despite needing many more calories when training, a bodybuilder's protein intake would still fall within this range. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition endorses protein consumption at the upper end of the scale, a recommendation echoed by many bodybuilding trainers and enthusiasts.

Calorie Method

Many bodybuilders will use the grams per calorie formula to direct their protein consumption. While some trainers will calculate based on 35% of the total calories, others endorse 30% or less based on your current training level.

Given that a 200-pound bodybuilder may need to consume up to 4,000 calories per day, protein would account for 1,200 of those calories (4,000 calories x 30% = 1,200 calories).

Since a gram of protein equals 4 calories, that would mean that the 200-pound bodybuilder should consume roughly 300 grams of protein daily (1,200 calories ÷ 4 calories/gram = 300 calories).

Limitations and Considerations

In case you were wondering, 300 grams is actually a lot of protein. By way of reference, 300 grams of protein equals 7.5 ounces of chicken (60 grams), one 12-ounce steak (85 grams), two 6-ounce cans of tuna (80 grams), a half dozen eggs (35 grams), 3 cups of milk (25 grams), and 7 ounces of tofu (15 grams).

Your body weight and training goals will alter your actual protein needs, making this mathematical formula more generalized than specific.

Moreover, most sports nutrition authorities will tell you to consume no more than twice the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein compared to other adults of your same age and sex. For an adult between 31 and 50, that could range anywhere from 150 grams (for a 2,000-calorie diet) to 225 grams (for a 3,000-calorie diet) of protein per day.

Given this wide range, there is an alternate method of calculation that may be more appropriate to you as a bodybuilder.

Body Weight Method

While the protein requirements for an adult male is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, according to the National Institutes of Health's Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet for Health Professionals, numerous clinical trials support consuming 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (gm/kg/day).

However, for bodybuilders in their leanest body fat percentage, requirements for protein are between 2.3-3.1 g/kg of weight. For a 200-pound (90-kg) bodybuilder, using 2.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight would translate to 225 grams of protein per day (90 kg x 2.5 gm/kg = 225 gm).

Limitation and Considerations

There are some who will argue that 225 gm/day is still too much for anything but extreme competition training. Consider, for example, that the average adult male weighing 200 pounds only needs 72 grams of protein per day (90 kg x 0.8 gm/kg = 72 gm), according to the protein recommendation provided by the NIH's DRI and the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

On an ongoing basis, it is hard to justify triple the protein intake. This is especially true if you adhere to the advice that you should consume no more than twice the daily allowance of protein than other adults of your age and sex.

Many sports nutritionists endorse 2.0 gm/kg/day as an upper ceiling of protein intake for athletes. Lower amounts would be sufficient for moderate- or low-intensity training.

For a 200-pound bodybuilder, that would translate to 180 grams per day (90 kg x 2.0 gm/kg = 180 grams). While this is still more than twice the intake recommended for a sedentary 200-pound adult male, it may be appropriate when actively training for competition.

Excessive Protein Risks

There are bodybuilding and weight-training coaches who may endorse a protein intake of 40% of your daily calories. For a bodybuilder on a 4,000-calorie diet, that translates to a stunning 400 grams of protein per day (4,000 calories x 40% ÷ 4 calories/gm = 400 gm).

Quite honestly, there is nothing in the way of scientific evidence to support this dietary approach. No matter how hard you train, the fuel that your body will burn first is neither protein nor fat, but glucose derived mainly from carbohydrates.

Since bodybuilder diets are typically high in carbs, you will usually have more than ample supplies of glucose and glycogen (the stored form of glucose) for training. Adding excessive protein rarely helps.

Extra protein is not used efficiently by the body and may impose a concern for your kidneys. This is especially true for people with underlying kidney disease or at risk for kidney disease. Proteinuria (protein in urine) is indicative of kidney damage. If you're at risk for kidney disease it may be recommended not to consume more than 1 gram of protein per kilogram of weight. Regular check-up with kidney function may also be recommended.

Moreover, high-protein/high-meat diets are associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease when heavily processed and non-lean meats are consumed. In essence, you could be the model of fitness but still be a risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart attack, and stroke later in life.

Finally, when using high intakes of protein, a higher fluid intake is required to help the kidneys filter out the extra waste produced by excessive protein intake. In addition, more vitamin B6 needs to be consumed. Vitamin B6 is responsible for protein metabolism. 

Increased fluid intake is required due to help the kidneys filter out the extra waste produced by the excessive protein intake, while increased vitamin B6 is needed to metabolize the protein.

Fast vs. Slow Proteins

How quickly protein gets metabolized into amino acids and absorbed into muscles can vary by the protein type. There are some bodybuilding enthusiasts who will tell you that "fast" proteins such as whey are superior to "slow" proteins like casein in that you can consume more and build muscles faster. For example:

  • Egg protein gets absorbed at a rate of fewer than 3 grams per hour.
  • Casein gets absorbed at a rate of 6.1 grams per hour.
  • Whey gets absorbed at a rate of 8 to 10 grams per hour.

There is not much evidence that these variations make a big difference in muscle building over the long term. Moreover, if a protein is metabolized and absorbed at a rate of, say, 7 grams per hour, you would only absorb around 168 grams per day.

Given these limitations, the type of protein you consume really won't make all that much difference given the amount you'll be able to reasonably consume. Certain whole-food proteins may be just as good—or even better—and cost far less.

One advantage that casein and whey products do offer, outside of convenience, is that you may not have to consume as much as some whole-food products. In addition, 30-40 grams of casein consumption 30 minutes before sleeping has shown to increase muscle protein synthesis, muscle recovery, and overall metabolism in acute and long-term studies.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timingJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 33 (2017). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.