If you’re following the current dietary recommendations, then chances are you’re not getting enough protein. That’s a big problem because we lose 3–8% of muscle mass per decade starting at age 30 and the rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.
In this article, you’ll learn: i.) the bare minimum amount of protein you should be eating each day, ii.) how much protein your body can absorb each meal, iii.) the best time to drink your protein shakes, and iv.) the number of grams of protein per day you should be eating if your goal is to build muscle and lose fat.
Why do we need protein?
Protein is found in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part, tissue, and cell. It makes up the enzymes and hormones that power many chemical reactions, the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood, and the amino acids needed to build and repair muscle and bones.
At least 10,000 different proteins are responsible for making you what you are and keeping you that way.
Bottom line: proteins are an essential part of all living organisms and form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues, so it’s vitally important to ensure your cells are getting enough to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
How much protein do you need each day?
Your daily protein requirements depend on several factors:
1. How much muscle you currently have. The more muscular you are, the more amino acids your body needs to maintain your current body composition levels.
2. Your activity level. The more you exercise, the more protein your body needs.
3. Your age. The older you get, the more protein your body needs to maintain muscle.
4. Your hormones. If your body has high levels of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), it will use protein more efficiently than someone with low levels. These hormones decrease as you age, which is one of the reasons why older adults need more protein.
Current Dietary Protein Guidelines
The current recommendation based on the 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines and National Academy of Medicine for protein intake is 0.8 g/kg (or around 0.36 g/lb) of body mass in generally healthy adults.
That’s around 50 grams per day for the average adult.
However, this probably isn’t enough for most of you reading this. According to a 2019 paper published in the scientific journal Nutrients called Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit:
The current protein RDA, however, is often incorrectly applied when used as the definition of recommended intake, rather than its true designation as the required minimum intake.
How Much Protein Should You Eat Each Day?
Protein researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., says that 1.2 – 1.8 g/kg is a better number to strive for when it comes to overall protein intake and that protein needs to be a higher percentage of your overall calories as you age (jump to the section at 43:03 “Is the Protein RDA Sufficient” in the video below).
Protein Requirements for Older Adults and Elderly to Optimize Muscle Protein Synthesis
According to a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition called “Defining meal requirements for protein to optimize metabolic roles of amino acids”:
Research suggests daily needs for older adults of ≥1.0 g/kg and identifies anabolic and metabolic benefits to consuming at least 20-30 g protein at a given meal.
A 2016 paper published in the journal Nutrients recommended a protein intake between 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg/day for elderly adults, which is close to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
How much protein can you eat and absorb at one time?
A 2018 study from Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that 0.55 g/kg/meal would be around the upper limit most people can absorb, which translates to 35-45 grams of protein for the average person per meal.
Here’s a good overview from protein scientist Don Layman on Peter Attia, M.D.’s podcast (jump to the section at 1:20:02 “Muscle protein synthesis: ideal timing, small meals vs. big meals, and more”):
When should I drink a protein shake for best results: pre- or post-workout?
You may have heard that you need to ingest protein immediately before or after a workout.
However, in a 2013 study called “Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?”, the research team had this to say:
Despite claims that immediate post-exercise nutritional intake is essential to maximize hypertrophic gains, evidence-based support for such an “anabolic window of opportunity” is far from definitive.
Here is the position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN):
- Meeting the total daily intake of protein, preferably with evenly spaced protein feedings (approximately every 3 hours during the day), should be viewed as a primary area of emphasis for exercising individuals.
- Ingesting a 20-40 gram protein dose (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) of a high-quality source every three to 4 hours appears to most favorably affect muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rates when compared to other dietary patterns and is associated with improved body composition and performance outcomes.
- Post-exercise ingestion (immediately to 2-hours post) of high-quality protein sources stimulates robust increases in MPS.
A 2017 study called Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations concluded the following:
Pre- and post-workout protein consumption had similar effects on all measures studied. These findings refute the contention of a narrow post-exercise anabolic window to maximize the muscular response and instead lends support to the theory that the interval for protein intake may be as wide as several hours or perhaps more after a training bout depending on when the pre-workout meal was consumed.
How much protein is needed in grams per day to build muscle?
A 2018 study called “Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training” found that to grow or build new muscle, daily protein intakes should be:
1.6 g/kg/day – 2.2 g/kg/day.
In other words,
~1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is optimal for gaining muscle.
To improve or maintain your current body composition, aim for at least 1.2 – 1.8 g/kg of body weight (or 1 gram per pound if you’re an older adult, avid exerciser, and/or want to lose weight) with 30-40 grams of protein each meal spread out every 3-4 hours.
If you’re looking to boost your protein intake quickly and efficiently, try Pure Food Protein Powder.