How much protein do we really need to build muscle?

Fitness

Find out more about how fuelling your body with the right foods can help build muscle and improve performance.

27/06/2019


Effie Parnell-Hopkinson
MSc BDA & SENr Registered Nutritionist

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Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Okay, I’ll start with the bad news. Unfortunately, there are no magic foods that are directly related to increases in muscle mass. Similarly, there are no foods that directly influence weight loss. The media specialises in fabricating these rules in order to create, essentially, sales and buy-in to these quick-fix products. So, unfortunately, there are no quick fixes, especially when it comes to increasing muscle mass.
The good news! The equation for building muscle is actually really, really simple! However, you absolutely must have patience, practice consistency with both your diet and training and re-evaluate your training intensity and programming to ensure maximum opportunity for tissue growth.

When it comes it building muscle, the nutrient that comes at the top of the priority list is protein. Protein is the building block for muscle tissue and is essential for growth, repair and maintenance of good health. Even if your primary goal isn’t to increase muscle mass, you still need to be aiming for at least 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. When your primary goal is to increase muscle, then more attention needs to be paid to the timing of your protein feeding. To trigger the muscle building mechanisms, you ideally want to be aiming for a protein feed every 3-4 hours. The amount of protein you do consume within these feedings does have an impact and you should be aiming to consume approximately 25g of protein, as this is optimal for triggering muscle protein synthesis.

Additionally, due to the effect training has on the body, it is also important to focus protein around your workouts. However, despite what the fitness industry depicts, it isn’t necessary to chug a protein shake the second you put your weights down. The other, and equally as important, factor that must be placed at the top of your priority list for building muscle is ensuring you are in a calorie surplus. A calorie surplus refers to eating more energy than your body burns on a daily basis, and it is necessary for aiding your body in building new tissue as this is an extremely energy-dependant process.

Now, here are some food ideas specifically around building muscle. Remember these foods act as a basic foundation, but the key is to achieve a calorie surplus.

  • Meat & fish: chicken, turkey, steak, fatty fish (e.g. salmon). A mixture of lean and fatty sources as this will help with achieving a calorie surplus.
  • Plant-based protein: pea protein powder, tofu, tempeh, beans and lentils. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, including these sources will aid in achieving your daily protein intake goals. It can also be particularly challenging to consume a full amino acid profile when following one of these diets, so by including a BCAA drink this will help to fulfill these requirements.
  • Protein powder: protein powder can be extremely useful as an aid to hit your daily protein intake goals.
  • High-calorie, low-volume foods: nuts, seeds, nut butters, oils, avocado, salmon. By including these high-calorie, low-volume foods, achieving a higher daily calorie intake can become a lot easier but it is important to keep a close eye on your saturated fat intake.

A few key takeaways

Protein intake is absolutely essential if your goal is to build muscle. Protein is the building block for tissue growth and repair, and without this, you will not be providing your body with the tools it needs to grow new tissue!
If you want to increase your muscle mass then you must be in a consistent calorie surplus. Of course, you must be cautious with this as it can be easy to slip into an excessive surplus which will lead to unnecessary weight gain. It would be advised to keep a note of your calorie intake and weight over a couple of weeks and look over the averages.

Training intensity is crucial to stimulate muscle growth. If you are not putting your muscles through extreme forces and intensity then your body will see no reason to adapt. Train hard, train consistently and make sure you prioritise recovery.

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