How Much Protein Do I Need?

by Dean McKillop 9522 views Gain Muscle

How Much Protein Do I Need?

It's one of the primary essential macronutrients we require for cell health, is the most metabolically demanding of the three macronutrients (protein/carbs/fats), it offers important amino acids for total body function (brain, bones, vital organs) and of course, it is the number one macronutrient responsible for the repair and building of lean muscle tissue. Comprised of more than 20 amino acids, an amino acid protein sequence includes 9 essential amino acids that must be consumed via dietary protein sources and the remainder are considered non-essential amino acids due to the body’s ability to internally biosynthesise them when and if they are needed.

But enough of the nitty gritty, let's get down to muscle growth and protein - how much do we need?

Ok, hang in there a little longer, let's discuss how we build muscle to begin with and then we can look at the dietary intake of protein required to optimise this process.

Load Stimulus

Seeing this is a protein discussion and not an article on training, I will keep this short.

Muscle growth occurs in two ways:
  1. Sarcoplasmic
  2. Myofibrillar

The first refers to the internal contents of the muscle, mainly looking at the storage of water and glycogen (which is one benefit of Creatine) and the second is actual muscle tissue growth, which comes from the principle of mechanical overload or more simply put, lifting more weight!

For the purpose of this article, we will be looking at protein and its effect on Myofibrillar muscle growth.

mTor Stimulation

mTor is an internally synthesised protein responsible for the regulation of cell growth, cell proliferation and protein synthesis (plus more). Known as the master of protein synthesis (the utilisation of circulating proteins) mTor is primarily stimulated by 3 factors:

  1. Training stimulus or more specifically muscle contraction
  2. Hormones (Insulin, IGF, GH)
  3. Amino acids (Leucine)

By regulating the interaction of mTor and the above 3 factors we can essentially maximise the amount of muscle protein synthesis we can achieve in a day.

So how much do we need?

Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as a mathematical equation, however, we can at least set some guidelines by first looking at daily protein consumption and then perhaps breaking it down into a per meal approach for those who want to micromanage their diets for a 1%er.

The number 1 determinant for ensuring maximum muscle protein synthesis  (MPS) is to consume an adequate daily intake of protein.

 
Males

I would recommend aiming for 2.2-2.7g of protein per kg of lean body weight (minus body fat)

Females

I would recommend aiming for 1.8-2.2g of protein per kg of lean body weight (minus body fat)

 

By ensuring these amounts of protein are consumed on a daily basis, your net nitrogen balance will be positive and your MPS will be efficiently stimulated due to the effect total protein intake has on these factors. It is recommended to try and split your protein intake up fairly evenly throughout the day, however, all too often we stress over the minor details and forgot to focus on the major details.

Remember… the dominating stimulus for MPS is total daily protein consumption. Focus on that first and then if you wish to optimise your protein intake you can follow the following protocol.

Protein Consumption Optimisation

Below is a simple guideline on how to utilise protein intake for the non-vegetarian/vegan dieter to optimise MPS and ensure MPS is achieved as efficiently as possible through the use of dietary protein intake and supplementation.

The primary concern of this protocol is to ensure a minimum of 2.5g of Leucine is consumed per meal to initiate mTor signalling and therefore MPS.

Meal 1        
30g of protein from whey or 40g of protein from any animal sourced protein such as chicken/fish/beef +4 hours  
Meal 2        
30g of protein from whey or 40g of protein from any animal sourced protein such as chicken/fish/beef +4 hours  
Meal 3        
30g of protein from whey or 40g of protein from any animal sourced protein such as chicken/fish/beef +4 hours  
Meal 4        
30g of protein from whey or 40g of protein from any animal source    

Pre/Intra Workout

  • Pre – Consume at least 3g of Leucine with accompanying amino acids such as a BCAA or EAA product 15min prior to training.
  • Intra – Consume an easily digestible carbohydrate source intra-workout, which will work two-fold in promoting energy production during training as well as blunting the release of AMPK (AMPK negatively effects mTor).

As you can see this approach will give you between 120-160g of protein in the day, not including trace amounts of protein from non-meat/fish sources.

protein

Ensuring you maintain a 4-hour gap between major meals will allow MPS to drop back down into its refractory phase, which then further allows it to be re-stimulated by food derived leucine. Consuming a protein rich meal earlier than 4 hours has been shown to cause a less than optimal muscle protein synthesis response, so it is critical to ensure the gap between meals is maintained.

If your daily protein intake is less than the allocated 120g a day above, simply reduce your meal frequency to 3 protein rich meals and consume carbohydrates and fats as a snack between major meals.

Final Notes

Make one of your major protein meals your post workout meal and include some carbohydrates in there to maximise MPS around training.

Try and time your pre-workout amino acid bolus for approximately 1.5-2 hours after a major meal as this can re-spike MPS and will also blunt AMPK release during training.

Remember, nutrient timing is a minor tweak for a diet that is already accurate in total calorie and protein consumption. Don't overthink it and focus primarily on consuming your daily target of protein first and then where possible ensure your protein intake at each meal is greater than 30-40g, split 4 hours apart.

Dean McKillop

Exercise Scientist

I completed my Exercise Science Degree at the University of QLD and have worked in the fitness industry for over 8 years, including a short stint at the Brisbane Broncos in 2010 as a student. I also hold my Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Coach accreditation (ASCA) and have competed in 1 bodybuilding season, placing 2nd at the IFBB u85kg Nationals.

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