Basic Nutrition Course #4: Protein

Do you need extra protein to build muscle?

Protein in food is broken down to amino acids in our bodies. Amino acids provide the building blocks for growth and repair of ALL the body’s cells, including skin cells, liver cells, immune cells, as wellas muscle cells.

The key to building muscle is resistance training (not consuming protein or amino acids) and consuming adequate calories and carbohydrate to fuel this type of training. In theory, it costs an extra 350-500calories every day to build a pound of muscle in a week. It only costs an extra 10-14 grams of protein every day to build a pound of muscle in aweek. (NOTE: 14 grams of protein is the amount in 2 oz. of chicken–a mere biteful!) In most cases, the only reason high protein, weight gainer drinks and sports bars help is because they provide these extra calories.

That being said, it IS true that people trying to build muscle DO need more protein than a sedentary person.

How much protein do you need?

The amount of protein you need depends on your weight (specifically your lean body mass), your total calorie intake (specifically whether or not you are consuming adequate carbs and fats for energy), and your fitness goals. Find your weight and fitness category on the table below to see how many grams of protein you need each day.

If you are very overweight and your excess weight is from excess body fat (not muscle), this table will overestimate your protein needs. The extra fat on your body does not require extra protein intake. To avoid overestimating your protein needs, use your desired,healthy weight instead of your actual weight.

- Protein 110lb 130lb 150lb 170lb
Sedentary .36 40 47 54 62
Recreational Athlete .45-.68 50-75 59-89 68-102 77-116
Endurance Athlete .55-.64 60-70 71-83 82-95 92-108
Strength Athlete .73-.82 80-90 94-106 109-122 123-139
Active .82 90 106 122 139
Maximum .91 100 118 136 154


From this table, you can see that students trying to build muscle need up to 2 times as much protein as sedentary students. But that doesn’t mean you need to go out of your way eating dozens of egg whites,multiple cans of tuna, tons of skinless chicken breasts, and several high protein bars and shakes on top of that to build muscle. To explain…

First, the average sedentary person already consumes much more protein than he/she really needs, without even trying. Look at the protein content of normal foods. A small 3 oz. chicken breast (about the size of a deck of cards) has about 25 g of protein. An 8 oz. glass of milk has 8 g. A slice of bread or ½ cup of vegetables has2-3 g. An active man who eats like the Food Guide Pyramid suggests (with three, 3 oz. servings of meat, 3 cups of milk, and several servings from the vegetable group and bread, cereal, and grain group) will be consuming about 140grams of protein per day.

Second, even though you need more total grams of protein per day for muscle building, you still only need to eat 12-15% of your total calories from protein. This is the same percentage recommended for people who are sedentary. The trick is that if you are very active, you need toeat more total calories every day. If you consume these extra calories,you more than likely are consuming more protein too.

This article is the fourth part in a series of articles on the Basics of Nutrition. The previous article in the series was on Fat and the next in the series is on Vitamins and Minerals.

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