How Much Protein Should I Eat a Day? (Build Muscle, Lose Weight, Cut)

by: Aurora Smith

July 10, 2021

If there’s one thing the fitness community will never stop talking about, it’s how vital protein is to build muscle. After all, that stereotype of the super-jacked gym rat inhaling a protein shake right after his workout (before he’s even left the gym floor) is everywhere.

The other thing the fitness community won’t stop talking about (and may never agree on) is precisely how much protein you need to build muscle, lose weight, or maintain a cut phase.

Not anymore. We wrote this in-depth guide to finally answer how much protein you need to meet all three of those goals.

Let’s go.

so, What Is Protein?


Protein molecule

You can’t precisely calculate your protein intake without first understanding what it is. Protein is a macronutrient (a nutrient we need a lot of). It’s made of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of your body. These amino acids are the building blocks for pretty much every part of you: bones, muscles, hair, skin, nails, enzymes, hormones… you get the picture.

The amino acids in protein link up to form chains. Some of the chains your body can make on its own. They’re called non-essential amino acids. There are also nine essential amino acids your body can’t produce, so you need to consume them through food.

When you consume foods high in protein, your body breaks the protein down into amino acids. It then uses these amino acids to rebuild itself.

The current, general daily recommended intake of protein for adults is anywhere from 10% to 35% of your total caloric needs. That means a person on a 2000-calorie diet can eat 100 grams of protein, which is 20% of those total daily calories.

There’s also the US Recommended Dietary Allowance that says you should consume approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, that’s the minimum to prevent malnutrition and not the actual ideal amount.

As we’ll dig into, these guidelines are way too broad to be of much use. It doesn’t take into account wanting to build muscle, lose fat, or be in a cut phase.

TL;DR: Protein is an essential nutrient that you need to consume in adequate amounts to fuel your body’s daily functions.

What’s The Deal With Protein? Why Should I Care?


If your goal is to build muscle, lose weight, or enter a cut phase, you absolutely need to care about how much protein you’re consuming.

Building Muscle

Let’s start with building muscle. Without adequate protein consumption, your body doesn’t have the fuel necessary to pack on those gains.

Protein for muscle building

When you exercise (especially lifting heavy weights, which you need to be doing if muscle building is your goal), you’re making microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Your body repairs those tears to make the muscle stronger. Boom, building muscle.

Remember how proteins, aka amino acids, are the building blocks of your body? If you don’t consume enough, your body won’t repair those tears. Think of it like attempting to construct a house, but you don’t have enough bricks.

Losing Weight

Now, what about weight loss? If you’re not trying to bulk up, why should you care about protein?

Muscle requires more energy (calories) than fat to maintain. When you’re trying to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than you use). The more muscle you have, the more calories you’re burning during your day, even when you’re not exercising. And you can’t build that muscle without adequate protein intake.

Additionally, if you’re not tracking your protein (and/or your other macros), you run the risk of overeating. That undoes the caloric deficit you need to lose weight.

A Cut Phase

Last, the infamous “cut” phase. A cut phase is common for bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts to lose weight while preserving as much muscle mass as possible.

A cut phase basically balances the building muscle and losing weight phases. You need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight; however, you also need a high protein intake to preserve the muscle mass.

You’ll need to eat more protein than either of the other two situations. You’ll also need to track it carefully to ensure you’re not going over your daily caloric limit.

TL;DR: All three fitness goals require precise protein levels to reach. You won’t achieve your goals if you aren’t tracking protein.

How Much Protein Should I Eat If I Want To Gain Muscle?


dumbbell with protein packed foods

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of our three fitness goals, starting with building muscle. Resistance training is essential to meet this goal. If you don’t give your muscles a reason to grow, it won’t matter how much protein you are or are not consuming.

Follow a program with progressive resistance overload (consistently lifting heavier) and a light caloric surplus (anywhere from 370–800 calories above maintenance). This works your muscles and provides adequate nutrition to repair the tears.

To build muscle, you need to balance your macros carefully. In terms of protein, most people should aim for 1.6–2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

It’s important to note that simply piling on the protein won’t help you build muscle more quickly. (We’ll dig into “how much is too much” later on in the article.)

TL;DR: 1.6–2.4 g/kg of body weight per day is optimal protein intake for building muscle.

How Much Protein Should I Eat If I Want To Lose Weight?


Remember that you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. In general, you should aim for 1.6–2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

If you’re brand new to fitness or just beginning your weight loss journey, begin at the lower end of the range. The leaner you get, the more you should up your protein levels to preserve that lean muscle mass.

Athletes can go even higher. To minimize lean muscle mass loss, they should aim for 2.3–3.1 grams per kilogram of their body weight.

Additionally, protein is difficult for your body to store as fat. There will likely be times during your weight loss journey when you exceed your caloric limit. Doing so with protein (rather than your other macros) means your body is less likely to put that extra energy away for a later day.

Last, protein is more difficult for your body to digest. That means it takes more energy for your body to process protein than carbs or fats. Even that tiny extra bit of extra energy usage can help with your weight loss goals.

TL;DR: You need slightly less protein for weight loss than building muscle. Aim for 1.6–2.2 g/kg of body weight.

How Much Protein Should I Eat When I’m In A Cut Phase?


A cut phase is an even more important balance than building muscle or losing weight. Most bodybuilders respond well to 2.3–3.1 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Note that protein intake recommendation is higher than the other two fitness goals? Remember, however, that a successful cut also needs a caloric deficit.

Prioritize protein in every meal and snack while ensuring you don’t go over your daily calorie goals. After protein, most bodybuilders focus on getting the next 15–30% of their calories from fat and the remainder from carbs.

Maintain a regular strength training routine and boost your cardio exercise for an optimal cut.

TL;DR: Keep a careful eye on your caloric deficit. Aim for 2.3–3.1 g/kg of body weight during a cut phase.

How Do I Calculate My Personal Recommended Daily Protein Intake?


There are dozens of online calculators you can find to help you figure out exactly how much protein you need. The problem is finding ones that are accurate and backed by science.

Instead, here are three popular DIY methods you can use.

Percent of Daily Calories

This method begins with knowing what your daily caloric needs are for your particular fitness goal. Building muscle will have a higher daily caloric requirement than weight loss or cutting.

Start with figuring out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight. Use a basal metabolic rate calculator (BMR) to determine how many calories your body needs just to maintain its functions. Then, figure out how many calories you burn through activity (likely using a fitness tracker or an app like MyFitnessPal) and add that number to your BMR.

Then, decide what percentage of your daily caloric intake will come from protein. This will vary based on your goals and your current fitness level, age, biological sex, body composition, etc.

Once you’ve decided, multiply that percentage by the total number of calories your body needs for the day. Finally, divide that number by 4 (there are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein).

Let’s go through an example. Say you’re a 190-pound male who is very active. You’re aiming to consume roughly 3400 calories per day and decide you want 30% of it to be from protein.

  • 3400 calories x .30 = 1050 calories from protein
  • 1050 calories / 4 = 255 grams of protein per day

That may seem like a lot, but it’s a solid estimate for bodybuilders or those trying to build muscle.

TL;DR: Figure out your total daily calorie needs and choose your desired percentage you’ll get from protein. Multiply the percentage by the calories and divide by 4.

Current Weight and Physical Activity

Another popular method is using your current weight and activity levels. To determine your protein needs in grams, you have to calculate your weight in kilograms. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.

Here’s where activity levels and fitness goals come into play. If you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight but are just starting out, opt for the lower end of the 1.6–2.4/2.2g recommendation.

If you’re entering a cut phase, you’re likely already decently fit, so you can start in the mid-to higher-end of the 2.3–3.1g range.

Then just multiply your weight in kg by the number of protein grams.

Another example: Say you’re a 160-pound male who exercises regularly and lifts weights. However, you’re not trying to body build or compete at an elite level. Your math would look like this:

  • 160 pounds / 2.2 = 72 kilograms
  • 72 kilograms x 2.0 grams of protein = 144 grams of protein per day

TL;DR: Calculate your weight in kilograms and choose your protein requirement based on your current fitness levels. Multiply your weight in kilograms by the protein requirement.

Lean Body Mass

A third DIY way to figure out how much protein is perfect for you is to use your lean body mass. This is arguably the most accurate but can also be the most difficult to get right.

Why use your lean body mass and not the current weight method above? Because your body fat doesn’t burn any calories. Your muscles do. So removing body fat from the equation actually gets you a more accurate protein intake measurement.

To find out your lean body mass, you have to measure your body fat. Skinfold calipers and a personal trainer are usually the most accessible, but the skin calipers are also the most inaccurate. You can also use a handheld electrical impedance monitor, which is slightly more accurate.

Your best bet is to see if you have a fitness center or university nearby with a BodPod device. This device uses air displacement and is the most accurate.

However you figure out your body fat, it’s easy to figure out your lean body mass once you know it. Multiply your weight in pounds by the percentage of body fat. Then, subtract that number from your total body weight.

Our final example: Say you’re a 175-pound male, and you learn your body fat percentage is 22%. Your math would look like this:

  • 175 pounds x .22 = 38.5 pounds of body fat
  • 175 pounds - 38.5 pounds = 136.5 pounds of lean body mass

Now you multiply the lean body mass by your desired protein grams per day, like the “Current Weight and Physical Activity” method discussed above.

How Much Protein Can My Body Absorb In One Sitting?


Whole lotta of protein foods

Too much??

At one point, science thought there was such a thing as a protein intake ceiling. Early studies found increased nitrogen in urine when protein intake was increased. They thought the nitrogen (a component of amino acids) in urine was “wasted” protein.

However, more recent studies have found that increasing the protein you consume in one sitting actually increases your body’s protein breakdown and synthesis.

Essentially, your body doesn’t use the protein you consume right away. Instead, it breaks it down into amino acids (as we mentioned earlier) and uses those to make its own protein.

Now, does all this mean you can go to town and have 100 grams of protein in a single meal? Not necessarily.

There’s another process your body goes through when you consume protein called muscle protein synthesis (repairing your muscles, great for if you’re trying to build them). A few studies have shown eating more protein during a single meal didn’t boost muscle protein synthesis by any significant amount.

The last piece of the puzzle is your small intestine. It’s capable of storing large amounts of amino acids, ready to be used when your body needs them.

So, what’s the verdict on how much protein you can absorb per meal? All of it.

TL;DR: Technically, there’s no limit to how much protein your body can absorb during a meal. However, consuming extra or excess amounts doesn’t necessarily have any benefits, so you’re better off spacing your protein intake throughout your day.

How Much Protein Does The Average Man Or Woman Need?


We’ve dug deep into calculating how much protein is right for you based on your individual needs. But what if you don’t want to do all that math? What if you’re an average Joe or Jane who just wants to know how much protein they should eat?

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is a set of nutritional guidelines developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. It recommends 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.8 grams per kilogram) of body weight.

On average, this amounts to:

  • 56 grams per day for a sedentary man
  • 46 grams per day for a sedentary woman

Keep in mind the calculations we dug into earlier if you want a more specific amount.

TL;DR: If you’re like most folks and lead a sedentary life, 56 grams of protein for men and 46 grams for women per day will be, on average, a good amount for you.

What About Supplements? Can I Build Muscle Without Them?


South park - beefcake

Ah, the wonderful world of supplements. The fitness industry is CHOCK full of them. But the question is, do you really need them?

The answer is: it depends. As a general rule, no, most people eating a wholesome diet of nutritious foods won’t need supplements to build solid muscle.

Plus, most supplements on the market (including protein powders) haven’t been scientifically studied. There’s no proof that they contribute to muscle growth in a significant way. That’s why it’s important to prioritize getting your nutrition in order.

That said, for a variety of reasons, some folks may not be able to make a well-balanced diet work. Perhaps they don’t have access to enough fresh foods, need to follow a certain nutrition plan for medical reasons, or something else.

People in categories like this may benefit from upping their protein intake with high-quality supplements. Look for protein powders with all-natural ingredients that you can pronounce. Try to avoid protein bars as they’re often loaded with sugar.

BCAAs

You may have heard of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and their supposed effect on muscle growth. The prevailing theory in the fitness world is that consuming BCAAs right after your workout boosts protein synthesis and reduces soreness.

Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on this one. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) did a deep dive and found no studies in human subjects in which orally ingesting BCAAs achieved a quantified muscle protein synthesis response.

The key word there is “quantified,” which means the JISSN didn’t think the results of the studies that have been done were significant enough to count.

This study by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) found that consuming BCAAs alone after exercise did, in fact, boost muscle protein synthesis. Also, from the NLM, this study found that consuming BCAAs and whey protein boosted muscle protein synthesis even more than just BCAAs alone.

It’s important to note that all these studies were done on young, trained men. That means the sample is extremely limited in terms of whether or not BCAAs help build muscle in, well, more than half the population.

TL;DR: Think “nutrition” rather than “supplementation.” Consume BCAAs after you work out or not—the science isn’t conclusive.

When Is The Best Time To Consume High-Protein Foods?


The fitness world likes to claim there’s a magic window after your workout. If you consume protein within this window, your body can better utilize it to repair your muscles and build strength.

How big is this window? That depends on who you ask. Some folks say half an hour, some say an hour, and some an hour and a half.

Unfortunately, this is yet another area in which the science is mixed. The American Heart Association, for example, emphasizes consuming carbs over protein (because your body uses carbs as fuel during a workout). They only say to “eat things with protein” to help your muscles repair anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes post-workout.

The Mayo Clinic recommends eating a meal containing both carbs and protein within two hours of your workout for optimum recovery. The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) says you should take into account your lifestyle and personal preferences as well as nutrient timing.

Once again, the majority of these studies are done on men. Until the science is more balanced and solidified, there’s no clear answer.

TL;DR: It probably doesn’t hurt to consume a balance of protein and carbs within a few hours of your workout. Just don’t freak out about losing your potential gains if you can’t.

How Much Protein Is Too Much?


Good news: this is finally an area in which science agrees. Basically, there is no upper limit on protein. There is no “too much.”

Now, as we stated above, you can consume large amounts of protein at every single meal. Remember, though, that there’s no scientific benefit, so it’s rather pointless. This is especially true if you’re trying to lose weight, as consuming more protein than you need can lead to a caloric surplus rather than a deficit.

Your best bet is to follow the amount of protein you calculated that was right for your goals. Adjust the levels as you get leaner or lose weight.

What About My Kidneys?

Consuming large amounts of protein has been inaccurately blamed for a number of health problems, from osteoporosis to kidney disease. The truth is, the science just doesn’t support the claims.

If you’re in general good health, your kidneys will be fine with a shift to a higher protein diet. In fact, consuming more protein can lead to lower blood pressure and help fight diabetes. Those are two big risk factors for kidney disease, so eating more protein may actually help.

TL;DR: There is no “too much” protein physically speaking. Just keep in mind consuming excessive amounts has no added benefits. Oh, and your kidneys will be fine.

How Do I Get More Protein?


We’ve established why protein is important, how much protein you should eat for your goals and covered supplements. Now, where should you get all this protein from?

The best sources are lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products. These protein sources naturally contain all nine of the essential amino acids your body can’t produce on its own.

There are also a lot of plant-based sources high in protein. Quinoa, legumes, and nuts are excellent places to find this nutrient.

Certain grains and other carbs are decently high in protein. Look for whole wheat, buckwheat, amaranth, or millet.

A typical day might look like:

  • Breakfast: two-egg omelet with one turkey sausage and feta cheese, one slice of whole-wheat toast, and a cup of fruit.
  • Morning snack: a large handful of almonds and dried apricots
  • Lunch: a mixed salad topped with seared ahi tuna steaks and roasted chickpeas with a side of wild rice
  • Afternoon snack: cheese and crackers
  • Dinner: roast chicken breast, steamed asparagus, and a side of quinoa

That day (depending on your serving sizes and brands of food) gets you about 140 grams of protein. Without a single supplement!

TL;DR: Make sure to have at least one palm-sized serving of protein at every meal and prioritize protein in your snacks.

What Can I Do If I’m Vegan?


Vegetarians can still benefit from dairy products, though vegans don’t have that option. However, you still have plenty of ways to get enough protein.

Vegans (and vegetarians) will likely need to incorporate protein sources like tofu, seitan, and tempeh. The good news is you can use these in much the same way you’d use meat.

For example, a typical vegan’s day might look like:

  • Breakfast: a tofu scramble, tempeh bacon strips, a slice of whole-wheat bread topped with avocado, and a cup of fruit.
  • Morning snack: a large handful of almonds and dried apricots
  • Lunch: a mixed salad topped with roasted chickpeas, black beans, and marinated tofu, with a side of wild rice
  • Afternoon snack: lightly salted edamame
  • Dinner: lentil loaf with a maple glaze, steamed asparagus, and a side of quinoa

Again, depending on your serving sizes and brands, that comes to about 115 grams of protein. Granted, it’s not quite as high as the meat day, but without supplementation, that’s still plenty of protein!

It’s worth noting that edamame is one of the few vegan protein sources to contain all nine essential amino acids. Many other vegetarian and vegan protein sources need to be combined with another to get all nine (think beans and rice).

TL;DR: Even without supplementation, with a balanced diet, vegans can reach their protein goals.

What Are Some Protein-Rich Foods?


Excellent sources of protein include, on average and per serving:

  • Chicken breast: 27 grams (half a breast, bone and skin removed)
  • Turkey breast: 29 grams (half a breast, bone and skin removed)
  • Ground beef: 22 grams (85% lean meat, 15% fat)
  • Tuna: 27 grams (~ ½ cup)
  • Eggs: 6 grams (per egg)
  • Feta cheese: 14 grams (½ cup)
  • Cheddar cheese: 7 grams (1 ounce)
  • Quinoa: 8 grams (1 cup)
  • Edamame: 17 grams (1 cup)
  • Almonds: 6 grams (1 ounce)
  • Oats: 11 grams (1 cup)
  • Broccoli: 3 grams (1 cup)
  • Lentils: 18 grams (1 cup)
  • Whole wheat bread: 4 grams (1 slice)
  • Pumpkin seeds: 9 grams (1 ounce)

Notice how only the first 4 items out of the 15 are meat? While meat is very high in protein, it’s not essential to reaching your goals.

TL;DR: Was this one really too long that you didn’t read it?

Wrapping It Up


Let’s bring it all together.

  • Protein is made of amino acids that repair and replenish basically everything in your body, from your muscles to your hair.
  • If you want to build muscle, lose weight, or enter a cut phase, you must care about how much protein you’re eating.
  • To calculate your daily needed protein, you can use a percent of your daily calories, your current weight, and physical activity levels, or your lean body mass.
  • There is no such thing as “too much” protein, but it won’t hurt you to consume excess.
  • Supplements aren’t necessary. Prioritize your nutrition instead.
  • The science is mixed, but it can’t hurt to consume protein within two hours of your workout (include some carbs, too).
  • Get protein from as many sources as you can, including lean meats, dairy products, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Vegans can get in on the fun, too!

Now go forth with all your new protein knowledge and maximize your health!


Aurora Smith

Aurora Smith's detailed research skills and curiosity have given her a wide base from which to approach many topics. She delights in providing in-depth blog posts and articles in hopes of helping you change your life around. That's why she's our In-House health and fitness expert, but she would be overjoyed to find someone who’d pay her to write about Halloween. Seriously!

Aurora Smith

Don`t copy text!