The vast majority of us have a deficiency of protein. How much protein do we need to maintain muscles or to gain muscle? It is a lot my friend! A lot! Do you have a protein deficiency? Protein is such an important nutrient in our diet. If I were a betting lady, I’d bet that the vast majority of us are only eating enough protein to barely stave off a protein deficiency. First we are going to talk about how much protein you need to gain muscle, and second, how much protein you need to maintain muscle.
How Much Protein Is Needed to Build Muscle Mass and Avoid Protein Deficiency?
Quite a lot. You are going to need a protein supplement or a lot of chicken. Lol!
In a previous post, I shared with you guys that I have finally found a weight lifting program that I think I can stick with for the rest of my life, the Thinner, Leaner, Stronger program by Michael Matthews, founder of Legion Athletics. In the post, I mentioned that one challenge I encountered in my first week of the program was eating enough protein.
I wanted to loose some body fat and gain some muscle mass, and to achieve this, according to the book, I had to consume 1.2 grams of protein everyday for every pound of body weight, which is about 133 grams for me. That is a lot, but I did not want to be protein deficient while trying to build muscle. I normally ate maybe 50-60 grams of protein a day. I have read this same information in multiple sources, it is not an overestimate. 1.2 grams of protein per lb of body weight to gain muscle.
How on Earth Do You Eat That Much Protein in a Day to avoid Protein Deficiency?
First rule of engagement: Don’t just get it all from protein powders and bars.
The author of Thinner, Leaner, Stronger recommends no more than 40 grams of protein from a protein powder source. The reasoning behind this is that you will likely miss out on getting enough nutrients in the rest of your diet, and become nutrient deficient. This totally makes sense and is perfect for me anyway, as while I do like my protein shake, which I blend with ice so it is like a protein milkshake, drinking one shake a day is enough for me. In an effort to find the best protein shake, I reviewed 5 protein powders here, check the post out on my home page!
Second rule of engagement: Don’t overdue the dairy.
For me, I limit dairy a lot in my diet. I have for years. Beyond half and half in my coffee and cheese on my pizza, I didn’t eat dairy. However, hitting 133 grams of protein a day is a challenge. So, while before starting this plan I would have never bought Greek yogurt as a dietary staple, but I have now eaten serving of Plain Nonfat Greek yogurt everyday for the last 3 months. So far so good… Plus, 18 grams of protein for 90 calories, that is hard to beat.
Third rule of engagement: Meat Sweats.
My family has a predisposition for high cholesterol, so I anticipate having elevated cholesterol levels at some point in my life even though I am a pretty darn healthy eater. I only eat 2 servings of animal protein a day, not including the dairy. First, I eat 3 servings of egg whites with breakfast everyday, and only eat whole eggs once or twice a week. Second, I eat one serving of lean meat everyday. Remember, a serving of cooked meat looks about like a deck of cards, not half the plate! We like to buy game meat from a local farm, so we eat lean stuff like boar, bison, or elk, for dinner nearly everyday. We also eat skinless chicken breast or turkey burgers about once a week.
Fourth rule of engagement: Incorporate high protein plant based foods.
I eat between 2 and 3 servings of plant based protein everyday: my protein milkshake, Field Roast sausages or Beyond Meat Burgers, and a whole grain or legume. I typically go for pea protein powders because it is an excellent protein source and it is not dairy (whey or casein), although I am now dabbling in whey protein. Why Field Roast and Beyond Meat? Because they are actually really sources of protein and both companies are dedicated to using high quality ingredients. Most plant based meat replacements out there are not significant sources of protein at all, check out the labels. Finally, the grains and legumes. I eat 2 slices of homemade whole wheat sourdough for breakfast everyday with my eggs. We also always have a legume cooked in with our veggies for dinner, either garbanzo beans, black beans, edamame, or peas.
So, how much protein is that?
So, how much protein is that?
Pea Protein Powder: 30 grams. 160 Calories
Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt: 18 grams. 90 Calories
Egg Whites: 15 grams 75 Calories
4 oz serving of lean meat: 25-30 grams 160 – 200 Calories
Field Roast or Beyond Burger: 20 – 25 grams 220 – 270 Calories
Whole Grains and Legumes: 10-15 grams 200 – 250 Calories
Total: 118 – 133 grams Total: 905 – 1045 Calories
All that food, and we barely made it, and there are only 300 – 400 calories to spare for fruits, vegetables, booze and deserts. Consuming that much protein a day is very doable, but this breakdown really shows that the backbone of the diet must be low calorie high protein choices. Muscles really do require a lot of protein to maintain themselves, build, and not break down.
How to Avoid Protein Deficiency and Maintain Muscle?
There seems to be some contradiction here in the studies. The two articles I referenced before (Here and here.) both say that around .35 grams of protein per pound of body weight is sufficient for maintenance, however one article goes further and claims that this is enough to stave off protein deficiency. Sooo… Michael Matthews, in his section on how to maintain muscle mass, says 30% of daily calories should come from protein. This ends up being around 100 grams of protein for me. I used to aim for 50 to 60 grams of protein while being very active, having a deficiency of protein like that, it is no wonder gains were slow.
Still, this is a huge discrepancy in numbers. I did some digging, and this article explained it the best. It all depends on how active you are. Are you sedentary? Do you practice endurance/cardio exercises like running or biking? Do you do weight training? Each lifestyle needs different amounts of protein. Basically, a sedentary lifestyle will need .36 grams of protein per pound of weight, if your go to exercise is cardio and an endurance style exercise then you need around .6 grams protein per pound of body weight, and if you lift heavy weights, then you are looking at around .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, unless you are sedentary, you really need quite a lot of protein in your diet.
If you have never counted your macros in your diet, like counted grams of protein, grams of carbs, grams of fat, you should try it! It is really interesting to see what nutrients you get easily and what nutrients you need to target for. I have often counted calories and protein in my diet, but counting other macros is new to me and I have learned a lot! Check out my take-aways here!