Determining the right protein needs for an individual is a topic which is often discussed in the realms of exercising and there are many misconceptions following this topic today.
Exact protein needs will, of course, vary from individual to individual.
The current RDA for protein intake is 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. What we have to take into consideration though is the fact that this number pertains to inactive sedentary individuals for preventing protein deficiency and is thus ineffective for individuals undergoing resistance training.
If you want to maximize muscle protein synthesis levels you should definitely be eating more protein than that.
But how much more is the real question?
Optimal Protein Intake
The optimal protein intake for most people who want to maximize results in regards to body composition is high but not as high as most people make it out to be.
Most bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts, in general, recommend a protein intake of 1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (or 2,2 g of protein per kg of body weight per day) which may be a bit too much.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of protein intake in regards to muscle mass and strength gains which included data from 49 studies found out that eating above 1,62 g of protein per kg of body weight per day doesn’t offer any additional benefits for strength and muscle mass development.
As you can clearly see if your intention is to gain muscle mass and strength optimally you should opt for a higher protein intake than the standard RDA of around 1,6 g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
For example, for an individual weighing 70 kg who is actively trying to put on muscle mass, this would equate to around 112 g of protein per day.
Do You Need a Protein Supplement
Whether or not you need a protein supplement will largely depend on the fact of whether or not someone has a difficult time attaining his/her daily protein needs.
If we have another look at the above mention individual weighing 70 kg and having to consume around 112 g of protein per day.
If this individual simply can’t attain his daily protein needs through “real” food like meat, eggs, dairy products, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes etc. then a protein supplement might not be a bad idea.
Keep in mind that:
- 100 g of chicken breast contains approximately 25 g of protein
- 1 medium sized egg contains approximately 6 g of protein
- 100 g of lentils contains approximately 25 g of protein
- 100 g of beans contain approximately 8 g of protein
- 100 g of tuna contains approximately 25 g of protein
- 100 ml of milk contain approximately 3,5 g of protein
If you have a sound diet containing the above-mentioned foods and other high protein containing foods you most probably won’t have to resort to any protein supplements.
Otherwise, there is no problem in using protein powder as a muscle building supplement
How Much is Too Much?
You’re probably wondering by now if this amount of protein is not healthy for our body.
Research shows that in people with healthy kidneys a higher protein intake of even up to 2,8 g of protein per kg of body weight per day doesn’t cause any kidney dysfunction.
This is an extremely high number which wouldn’t be recommended to anyone and as we’ve established earlier there is no inherent benefit of protein intakes higher than 1,6 g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
So, as long as you do not have any type of pre-existing kidney dysfunction than eating a higher protein diet won’t cause any problems.
People trying to actively put on muscle mass should strive for a higher protein intake of around 1,6 g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day.
This is a protein intake which won’t cause any health issues provided the individual doesn’t have any pre-existing kidney dysfunction problems.
Whether or not someone needs to use a protein supplement will depend on the individual and his ability to get the protein required for real food.
Brändle, E., H. G. Sieberth, and R. E. Hautmann. 1996. “Effect of chronic dietary protein intake on the renal function in healthy subjects.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 50, 11: 734
Knight, Eric L., et al. 2003. “The impact of protein intake on renal function decline in women with normal renal function or mild renal insufficiency.” Annals of Internal Medicine 138, 6: 460-467
Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 11 July 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
Poortmans, Jacques R., and Olivier Dellalieux. “Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes?” International Journal of Sport Nutrition 10.1 (2000): 28-38.