- New research suggests getting enough protein each day can help maximize strength gains.
- About 0.7 grams per pound of body weight may be optimal, according to data.
- For best results, do strength training, eat enough, and focus on whole foods, a dietitian said.
The ideal amount of protein you need to build strength may be less than you think, new research suggests.
Eating at least 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (or 0.7 grams per pound) daily may be enough to maximize strength gains, according to a meta-analysis (a study of previous studies) published September 4 in Sports Medicine Open.
For example, a person who weights 68 kilograms (150 pounds) would need to eat 105 grams of protein per day, according to the findings.
The results aren’t groundbreaking, but suggest it is sufficient to stay on the lower end of previous recommendations, according to sports dietitian Angie Asche, RD, CSSD. The International Society of Sports Nutrition, for instance, recommends between 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
“It confirms what we already knew,” Asche told Insider. “It’s interesting to see that more doesn’t necessarily lead to more benefits. But it depends on the person and what their goals are.”
The optimal amount and sources of protein for each person varies depending on fitness goals and whether you’re looking to build muscle mass, burn fat, or support athletic performance, Asche said.
Eating more protein may still help with weight loss or muscle gain
The most recent study focused on the ideal amount of protein to support strength gains, but those recommendations may not be the same for increasing muscle size, or changing overall body composition, Asche said.
For example, if you wanted to gain muscle mass or strength while losing body fat at the same time (known as recomposition), it might make sense to eat more protein because it’s more filling, helping you to maintain the calorie deficit needed for fat loss.
“Satiety is a big factor,” Asche said. “If your goal is muscle strength and you want to decrease fat, than upping your intake might be helpful,”
Protein also takes more energy to digest than other foods, which may offer a small advantage if you’re trying to lose weight, she said.
It is possible to eat too much protein, however.
High protein foods can also have a lot of fat and be very calorie dense as a result, which is an important factor if your goal is weight loss or maintenance, according to Asche.
“Anything in excess, if you’re not wanting to gain weight, may not be helpful,” she said.
Protein alone won’t build muscle — you need strength exercises like weight lifting
One important caveat in the study is that protein only helps to build muscle if you’re doing resistance training as well.
“The wishful thinking is that just by eating a protein bar or protein cookie then poof, you’ve got lean muscles, but it doesn’t work that way,” Asche said.
Exercises that help build muscle include weight lifting and bodyweight movements that put your muscles under tension to prompt them to grow bigger and stronger.
For the best muscle-building results, opt for whole food protein sources like
You also don’t need to rely on supplements like shakes or bars, or look for added protein in foods like chips, ice cream, and pizza, according to Asche.
“It’s very much become a marketing scam,” she said. “There’s this push for protein in all these ultra-processed foods but it’s kind of leaning people in the wrong direction because just an excess of protein isn’t going to change your body composition. It should come primarily from whole foods and being consistent with resistance training.”
Protein supplements can be convenient, but foods like meat, fish, beans, and yogurt, are naturally high in protein as well as other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, and should be your first choice, Asche said.
You need to eat enough to build muscle, so don’t neglect getting enough calories and other nutrients like fat and carbs, she said.