We get this question a lot: “How much protein should I consume and when should I consume it to optimize the work I’m doing in the gym?”

This article seeks to convey some simple rules for protein intake.  If you are interested in reading the support literature, you can find links at the end.  To answer the question above, we will break it down into two parts; how much to take and when to supplement.  As part of how much, we will look at what types of protein works best as well.  So let’s get started!

How much protein should I take?

The general recommendation for protein intake is between 1.3 – 1.8 g/kg of body weight/day, or even slightly higher for high level athletes.  Said another way, for those exercising 2-3 times per week at moderate intensity, 1.3 to 1.5 g/kg/day should be sufficient.  For those exercising 5+ times a week at moderate to high intensity, 1.8-1.9 g/kg/day should provide sufficient protein for muscle building and repair.  As an example, here is how the math works out for me.  I exercise at moderate to high intensity 5 days a week and weight 200 lbs.

(200 lbs) / (2.2 lbs/kg) = 90.9 kg body weight

(90.9 kg) x (1.8 g/kg/day) = 163.62 g protein per day

In addition, athletes should limit their intake of protein at any one time to ~ 0.4 g/kg/meal since any higher dose will probably not lead to an increase in benefit to the athlete.  Again, as an example:

(90.0 kg) x (0.4 g/kg/meal) = 36.36 g protein max per meal

To find out how many different servings of protein are needed, simply divide the total protein requirement by the max protein per meal.  In my case this works out to 4.5 servings.

164 g protein per day / 36 g protein per meal = 4.5 servings

I prefer to keep my servings of protein closer to 30 g, so I end up with ~ 5-6 servings of protein per day.  But not all servings should be the same type of protein.

In general, 3-4 servings of protein should be from normal food sources: meats, nuts, cheeses.  The other 2 servings can come from supplementation.  Based on available research, whey protein is the protein type of choice for immediately after a workout due to elevated levels of leucine, an essential amino acid, and rapid digestion.  Microcellular casin, on the other hand, is the best protein for supplementation just prior to sleep.  It is a slow digesting protein that best mitigates or prevents muscle wasting while you sleep.

Next, we will look at when to work the additional servings of protein into your day.

When should I take the protein?

When planning protein, start with your normal meals and make sure that you get at least a serving of protein (calculated above) in each meal.  Add up the total protein consumed in your normal meals and subtract from the total required calculated above.  This is the amount you need to add to your day to reach your protein intake goal.  Now subtract the post workout whey protein and the just before bed casin protein.  This final number is the amount of protein you need to ensure you get through between meal snacks.  Here is an example:

Protein Goal: 164 grams protein per day

Protein consumed in meals: Breakfast – 30g, Lunch – 30g, Dinner – 30g = 90g

Protein from supplementation: Post-workout – 24g, Pre-sleep – 24g = 48g

Additional protein required: 164g (goal) – 90g (meals) – 48g (supplementation) = 26g

The consumption of this additional protein should be spread out between other protein intake.  For example, a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack may work (depending on when you workout and take your post-workout protein).

And that’s it.  Keep an eye on your protein intake to ensure you are feeding your muscle growth and repair.  If you want more of the science behind these recommendations, check out the study below.  Leave your thoughts/questions in the comments section.

[1] Morton, Robert W., Chris McGlory, and Stuart M. Phillips – “Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy” Copyright © 2015 Morton, McGlory and Phillips. Front Physiol 2015; 6: 245. Published online 2015 Sep 3. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2015.00245

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