How to meet your protein needs for muscle gain in 5 easy steps

  • 2 Minutes Read
Jacque Maldonado MS, RD, CDE - Registered Dietitian specializing in Sports Nutrition and USA Triathlon Certified Coach – Level 1

Whether you are a bodybuilder, trying to lose weight, or toning up, try these 5 tips from a top sports nutritionist to meet your protein needs for muscle gain.

Protein needs for muscle gain

Meeting protein needs for muscle gain partners with weight training

Building muscle can seem like the most delectable dish ever known for both athletes and people working on weight loss. The first and most essential ingredient is resistance training (a.k.a weight lifting), at least twice a week. Mix in a consistent cardiovascular exercise routine that includes some days of increased intensity. Fold in a recovery day and plenty of high-quality sleep, and muscles receive the signals and rest needed to build up, or at least not break down during weight loss.

The nutritional ingredients to support muscle growth have become more controversial, with much debate around protein’s role. Bodybuilders often consume excessive protein, while dieters may consume too little protein while keeping calories in check. The truth regarding the right amount of protein may fall in the middle of these extremes.

Research evaluating the role of protein in muscle growth has revealed key strategies that athletes and dieters can easily apply

1. Eat protein in the morning

After sleeping, overnight protein levels are low, meaning that muscle breakdown is more likely than muscle synthesis. An easy fix is consuming protein at breakfast, which may be essential if you exercise in the morning. Easy ways to add protein to breakfast include hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, or a milk-based smoothie.

2. Include protein in every meal and spread protein evenly throughout the day

Muscle, like other tissues in the body, is constantly changing—building up or breaking down. Eating regularly scheduled balanced meals is associated with more muscle growth than irregularly spaced or lower-protein meals.

3. Consume 20 grams of protein within 30 minutes after resistance training or strenuous exercise

A study on healthy males showed 20 grams of protein after exercise was the optimal dose with little additional benefit at higher doses. Muscles also need carbohydrates after strenuous exercise, so choose a recovery carbohydrate + protein snack, such as a fruit and yogurt smoothie.

4. Choose a quality protein source

Whey protein from milk has shown the best results for muscle growth. Whey protein is easily digested and contains all essential amino acids needed for muscle growth. Also, milk is a good source of the amino acid leucine, a preferred ingredient for muscle synthesis. Other good sources of leucine include tuna, soybeans, lentils, beef, and salmon. Soy protein is also considered a quality protein source.

5. Keep protein intake high while reducing calories for weight loss

The IDEAL (Improving Diet, Exercise And Lifestyle) for Women Study showed that women on a reduced-calorie diet could gain muscle mass and lose fat on a diet high in dairy protein. Women consuming 30% of calories from protein and 1700 mg calcium gained muscle, while women consuming 15% of calories from protein and 1100 mg calcium lost muscle mass. All study groups did five days of aerobic exercise and two days of light weight training. The high-protein-from-dairy group also increased significantly in strength.

So how much protein should I eat?

While engaging in resistance training at least twice a week, both athletes and dieters are more likely to maintain or gain muscle mass by keeping protein intake well above the RDA. Healthy people without kidney disease should strive for intakes of 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight. For a 150-pound (68 kg) person, this is 90-120 grams/day. Many people consume this amount or more from food, so don't assume you need to add protein powders, shakes, and supplements. Protein supplements may be helpful if you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions.

Here is an example of how you can easily reach a goal of 100 grams of protein per day, meeting most protein needs for muscle gain as well:

Track your protein intake with MyNetDiary to see how your protein intake stacks up. Need more ideas? MyNetDiary has 100+ high-protein (20 g protein or more per serving) Premium Recipes—select the High-Protein tag.

Related content

Protein powder pros and cons: What to look for to support weight loss and overall health

Affordable protein sources that don’t break the bank

How to meet your protein needs for muscle gain in 5 easy steps

Reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow on February 15, 2024.

Still new to MyNetDiary? Learn more today by downloading the app for FREE.

Exercise->Fueling for Exercise Exercise->Weight resistance Nutrients->Protein
Feb 16, 2024
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

Start Your Free
Food Diary Today

Sign up Devices