I have a question about my protein intake. All of the popular bodybuilding magazines recommend eating a lot of protein but I’m not sure how much I specifically need to eat every day for my own body. My goal is to pack on about 10-15 pounds of pure muscle and I have only been working out with weights for about 6 months. How much protein do I need daily in order to bulk up and gain lean muscle mass?
Protein is a vital nutrient and it’s a key macronutrient your body needs in order to thrive. For a normal sedentary person, protein should account for about 20% of your daily caloric intake. However, when working out with weights and attempting to gain lean muscle mass, not only should your calorie count rise but the percentage of protein required goes up as well.
While many factors influence your success when building lean muscle mass, your diet is by far the most important. You can workout and lift weights all you want, but without the proper nutrients to support the energy expended, your progress will be limited. Think of food as your body’s fuel. When going farther in a high performance vehicle, it not only requires more fuel but it needs to contain higher octane to keep the motor running with greater precision. The same holds true for your dietary intake when pushing your body hard in the gym and training at a very high intensity level. This is where ramping up your protein intake comes into play which is crucial for the rebuilding and recovery process that takes place after each workout.
I don’t know your sex or weight, but as an example I am going to use a 200 pound male. In order to maintain his current weight, he would require about 2,500 calories per day. Following the 20% rule, his protein intake would account for approximately 500 calories per day. Considering there are 4 calories per 1 gram of protein, this calculates to 125 grams of protein each day.
The recommended daily allowance for protein intake is about 1 gram per kg of weight per day. One kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds, so in order to find your weight in kilograms, simply divide your current weight in pounds by 2.2. For instance, the 200 pound male weighs approximately 91 kilograms. This means that he requires about 91 grams of protein each day per the RDA. His protein intake should therefore fall somewhere between 90 and 125 grams per day.
Now 2,500 calories per day might be adequate if he wanted to maintain his weight and his overall lifestyle was sedentary (not very physically active). However, if he wanted to gain lean muscle mass, he would need to step it up with both his caloric intake and the percentage of protein he eats every day. It’s a good rule of thumb to increase your intake by about 500 calories per day above what you find it takes you to maintain your body weight. So in this example he would begin taking in 3,000 calories per day. This would raise his protein intake to 150 grams per day by following the 20% rule. When performing weight training workouts and actively building lean muscle mass, it’s a good idea to raise that percentage up to about 25% protein, which would be 190 grams per day. Anything over 30% protein will probably be overkill and could start causing issues since it might cause a little extra stress on the kidneys.
If you haven’t determined your daily caloric intake, you could go up to 2 grams per kg of body weight per day when actively working out to gain lean muscle mass. For the 200 pound male, that would amount to 182 grams each day. To really get the most out of your workouts though, it is a good idea to calculate your daily caloric intake so that you are not only getting enough protein, but enough overall calories from other nutrient dense sources as well.
It’s very important to remember to eat 5 or 6 small meals a day with your largest meal being breakfast and your smallest meal being the last one of the day. Your protein intake should be highest around your workouts. Try taking in 20 grams of protein 30 minutes before your workout, drink water during, then follow your workout up with another 20-30 grams of protein (whey protein powder is the best since it is very fast acting) along with some quick acting carbs like dextrose, waxy maize starch or maltodextrin to spike insulin and rush those nutrients into your muscles fast. About 2 hours after your workout you should try to eat a whole food meal with an additional 30 grams of protein along with some clean starchy carbs (brown rice, yams, quinoa) and fibrous veggies (broccoli, green beans). The rest of your protein intake can be spread out over your remaining meals. Good sources of protein include fish, chicken, lean cuts of beef, eggs, and low-fat cottage cheese. Stick with nutrient dense whole food sources for the majority of your protein needs each day and then supplement with a whey protein powder before and after your workouts.