How Much Protein You Need for Exercise

The Best Kinds of Protein for Building Muscle

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Are you confused about how much protein you need? Many athletes and exercisers think they should increase their protein intake to help them lose weight or build more muscle. Since muscles are made of protein, it makes sense that eating more protein could help you build more muscle. However, health and fitness authorities say that isn't always the case.

Learn how much protein you really need each day.

Getting the Right Kind of Protein

Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body. They are made up of amino acids and are needed build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and internal organs. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body, and most of it is actually in the skeletal muscles.

Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, and just about anything else derived from animal sources.

Incomplete proteins don't have all of the essential amino acids and generally include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts. If you're a vegetarian, this doesn't mean you can't get complete protein. Below is a chart listing some incomplete proteins. To get all of the essential amino acids, simply choose foods from two or more of the columns.

GrainsLegumesSeeds and NutsVegetables
BarleyBeansSesame seedsLeafy greens
Corn MealLentils Sunflower seedsBroccoli
OatsPeasWalnuts 
RicePeanutsCashews 
PastaSoy products (tofu)Other nuts 
Whole grain breads   

Many experts believe that most of people get more than enough protein daily. In fact, some believe the average sedentary American eats about 50 percent more than the recommended daily amount, which ranges from 40 to 70 grams each day depending on your gender, age, and health condition.

If you're an exerciser, however, your protein needs may increase since resistance training and endurance workouts can rapidly break down muscle protein. The general guidelines for endurance and strength-trained athletes from the American Dietetic Association and American College of Sports Medicine suggest consuming between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for the best performance and health.

If you are trying to build more muscle, you may think you need even more protein, but this probably isn't the case. There's evidence that bodybuilders, much like exercisers or athletes, do require more protein but that any more than double the recommended daily allowance won't necessarily help you build more muscle.

In essence, the more you exercise, the greater your protein needs will be. However, taking it too far, for example, more than doubling your protein intake, won't necessarily help you build more muscle.

How to Calculate Your Protein Needs

Use these steps to find your protein need in grams (g)

  1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kilograms (kg)
  2. Weight in kg x 0.8 = protein grams per day lower limit
  3. Weight in kg x 1.7 = protein grams per day upper limit

Use a lower limit number if you are in good health and are sedentary (i.e., 0.8).

Use a higher number (between 1.2 and 1.7) if you are under stress, pregnant, recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.

Example:

154-pound (lb) male who is a regular exerciser and lifts weights

  • 154 lb/2.2 = 70 kg
  • 70 kg x 1.5 = 105 grams protein per day

Calculating Protein as a Percentage of Total Calories

Another way to calculate how much protein you need is by using daily calorie intake and the percentage of calories that will come from protein. To do this, you'll need to know how many calories your body needs each day. First, find out what your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is by using a BMR calculator.

Next, figure out how many calories you burn through daily activity and add that number to your BMR. This gives you an estimate of how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.

After you've figured out your maintenance calories, next figure out what percentage of your diet will come from protein. The percentage you choose will be based on your goals, fitness level, age, body type, and metabolic rate.

Most experts recommend that your protein intake be somewhere between 15 and 30 percent. When you've determined your desired percentage of protein, multiply that percentage by the total number of calories for the day.

Example:

For a 140-pound female, calorie intake 1800 calories, protein 20 percent:

  • 1800 x 0.20 = 360 calories from protein
  • Since 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, divide protein calories by 4
  • 360/4 = 90 grams of protein per day

A Word From Verywell

No matter what your calculations are, remember that there are no magic foods or supplements that can replace the right training and the right diet. The foundation of any program, whether your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle, is a combination of strength training, cardio exercise, and a healthy diet that includes carbs, with a balance of protein and fat.

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