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Does Everyone Need One Gram Per Pound of Protein?

  •   8 min reads
Does Everyone Need One Gram Per Pound of Protein?

Back in the nineties consuming one gram of protein per pound of body weight was the law of the land, but what we have learned over the last 30 years is that protein requirements really all come down to your specific goal.

This is one area of nutrition where I have changed my mind considerably in the last ten years, and I am currently unsure if the body recomposition protein number below will be tempered down into the 1.6 to 1.8 g/kg window. Honestly, I wouldn't even want to place a bet on how it will shake out.

Maximizing Muscle Gain:

If your goal is to maximize muscle gain, you likely want to be consuming at least 1.6-1.8 g/kg per day of protein, but more than that is unlikely to help you gain more muscle in the vast majority of circumstances. (It is plausible that being more trained may actually lower the amount of protein you need to still make optimal gains. This is essentially because you would be not be breaking down and building muscle to the same degree as someone who just started training, but the evidence here is limited and there is no real physiologic downside to covering your bets at 1.6 to 1.8 g/kg or even higher in a gain phase - unless overeating protein prevents you from getting into and staying in a caloric surplus. Conversely, those who are new to training who are potentially tearing down and building a significant amount of muscle mass may need slightly more protein...so one could make an argument that protein needs may decrease slightly as individuals become more trained.) [1-5].

Body Recomposition:

If your goal is to gain muscle while simultaneously losing body fat, it looks like you need to be hitting at least 2.2 g/kg per day of protein; however, we don’t have any studies directly testing ~1.6-1.8 g/kg yet, and while that amount may work, we just don’t know [6-8]. (If you are into protein by LBM...Longland et al., 2016 was around 3.4 g/kg LBM [6])

Fat Loss without Losing Muscle:

If your goal is fat loss and muscle maintenance, you may be able to take protein intake as low as ~1.0-1.2 g/kg with a lot of training on board [6, 9-11]. However, if you are highly trained with a significant amount of muscle it is likely in your best interest to stay above 1.6-1.8 g/kg during a cutting phase and, in my opinion, although it is potentially unlikely, in some circumstances why not try to shoot the moon and recomp anyways (this likely becomes increasingly less and less likely the leaner and more trained someone becomes) [12-16].

Weight and Muscle Maintenance with Endurance Training:

If you are not looking to lose or gain weight and just want to maintain muscle mass and you are into endurance training, you likely want to stay above 1.2 g/kg and with higher endurance training volumes you may want to keep it above 1.4 to 1.6 g/kg [17-19].

Weight and Muscle Maintenance for Life:

If you are not looking to lose or gain weight and just want to maintain muscle mass for functionality throughout the life course, and you are under the age of 60, you may be able to take your protein intake as low as 1.0 g/kg [20]. If you are over the age of 60, 1.2 g/kg per day is the lowest I would comfortably go [20, 21].

Those last three are probably significantly lower than most people in the nutrition and fitness world expected and I truly do embrace these lower amounts because they honestly give us more freedom to find individualized options that work better for more people!

All of the above scenarios are framed with the assumption that individuals are consuming high-quality, complete protein sources and strenuously fighting gravity (ideally through resistance training) multiple times per week. Vegan diets would likely need more protein while being mindful of food combinations to ensure a complete amino acid profile with enough leucine [20, 22]. However, with cooking and fermentation techniques [23, 24] coupled with food selection [25], it is very likely possible to meet these requirements with only plants.

As we have discussed previously HERE, without exercise the weight you lose on a diet will likely be 22-46% muscle [26, 27], and it does not appear that any amount of additional protein without exercise is going to completely attenuate muscle loss on a diet [28-32].

Additionally, without exercise, you will progressively lose strength and muscle mass as you age. However, with exercise, it is possible to maintain muscle mass throughout the life course [33, 34].

Finally, you don’t gain significant amounts of functional muscular tissue just by eating more protein. You have to challenge the system with resistance training and a program that invokes progressive overload.

Yet, in a significant state of overfeeding with higher protein intake, one can certainly gain fat and over time some the accrument of fat-free mass is likely (even without resistance training), and this makes sense given that in the general population BMI (Body Mass Index) correlates with FFMI (Fat-Free Mass Index) or more generally the bigger someone gets the more muscle mass and bone they will likely accumulate as they are potentially progressively carrying more and more load [35, 36].


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