A high-protein diet is not essential for building muscle, but you might be wondering “How much protein should I eat to gain muscle?”
It’s an important question because protein is an essential part of any healthy diet — but how do you know if you’re getting enough? Proteins are known as the building blocks of life: In the body, they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. A protein deficiency can weaken the heart and respiratory systems, cause muscle loss and stunt growth. Protein may even help reduce the risk of some diseases when properly incorporated into your diet.
Unfortunately, figuring out the exact amount of protein you need to eat in a day isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
The recommended dietary allowance of protein — otherwise known as the minimum amount an average sedentary adult needs to consume to stay healthy — is 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams for men. Depending on your body weight, that number may need to be slightly higher or lower, but a good rule of thumb is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
If you exercise regularly, you may want to consider eating slightly more protein to help your muscles recover — between 0.5 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Increasing your protein intake can also be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. Since protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, it can help you feel fuller longer, which can make reducing your calorie intake easier to achieve.
Finally, eating enough protein is especially important as you age and muscle or bone loss becomes more of a risk.
While your body needs protein to function properly, some sources of protein are better for you than others. For instance, eating too much red meat — especially processed meat — can increase your risk of heart disease. Instead, it’s best to choose lean protein sources like poultry, fish, beans, eggs or nuts.
There are many vegan protein sources available for those following a plant-based diet. Eating a combination of these foods daily can help provide complete protein and keep meals interesting. Here’s a list of plant-based options that are packed with protein.
Remember this: Incomplete proteins — like whole grains, nuts and produce — can join together and produce a complete protein, packed with all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, so be sure to consume various sources throughout the day.
The protein you eat is most helpful to your body when eaten at certain periods throughout the day.
Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are one of the building blocks of your body’s tissue and can also serve as a fuel source. For more tips on getting the right amount of protein in your diet, our guide “Eating Healthy on a Busy Schedule” can help.