How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Dietary Clinic

Almost everyone trying to build muscle has heard that they need to eat a lot of protein, so they pack on the meat and eggs hoping for the best. There is truth to this, but experts say you need to be careful with this.

A study conducted at the University of Texas was conducted to see how much protein our body really uses to make muscle. The researchers studied how fast muscles were produced by different people eating different amounts of lean beef.

“We knew from previous work that consuming 30 grams of protein—or the equivalent of approximately 4 ounces of chicken, fish, dairy, soy, or, in this case, lean beef—increased the rate of muscle protein synthesis by 50 percent in young and older adults,” said associate professor Douglas Paddon-Jones, senior author of a paper on the study published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. “We asked if 4 ounces of beef gives you a 50 percent increase, would 12 ounces, containing 90 grams of protein, give you a further increase?”

They did this by feeding 17 young and 17 elderly volunteers either a 4 oz or 12 oz portion of lean beef. Using blood samples and thigh muscle biopsies, they then determined how much of the protein was turn into muscle.

They found that only the first 30 grams (just over an ounce) of protein consumed was used to produce muscle.

Douglas Paddon-Jones, a senior author of a paper on the study, shared the findings of the study and what we should take away from it.

“In young and old adults, we saw that 12 ounces gave exactly the same increase in muscle protein synthesis as 4 ounces,” Paddon-Jones says. “This suggests that at around 30 grams of protein per meal, maybe a little less, muscle protein synthesis hits an upper ceiling. I think this has a lot of application for how we design meals and make menu recommendations for both young and older adults.”

“Usually, we eat very little protein at breakfast, eat a bit more at lunch and then consume a large amount at night. When was the last time you had just 4 ounces of anything during dinner at a restaurant?” Paddon-Jones said. “So we’re not taking enough protein on board for efficient muscle-building during the day, and at night we’re taking in more than we can use. Most of the excess is oxidized and could end up as glucose or fat.”

“You don’t have to eat massive amounts of protein to maximize muscle synthesis, you just have to be a little more clever with how you apportion it,” Paddon-Jones said. “For breakfast consider including additional high quality proteins. Throw in an egg, a glass of milk, yogurt or add a handful of nuts to get to 30 grams of protein, do something similar to get to 30 for lunch, and then eat a smaller amount of protein for dinner. Do this, and over the course of the day you likely spend much more time synthesizing muscle protein.”

Another important thing to note is that the protein used was lean protein. Basically, lean protein gives you the most bang for the buck. It has the least amount of bad fats and it still delivers the same amount of protein. Even if you are not into physical training or body-building it is still important that you get your lean protein. In fact, elderly people seem to be the most deficient.

Spresd the protein around. Have smaller amounts but frequently throughout the day. Add a protein snack instead of a carbohydrate snack between meals.Buy some good quality protein powder to have a protein drink between meals. Learn how to make a smoothie with added protein. Where can you get good quality lean protein meat?

Click here to find good sources for quality lean protein.


University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (2009, October 27). Moderate Amounts Of Protein Per Meal Found Best For Building Muscle.

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