Protein Intake for Strength Training
An undeniable fact about strength training is that your muscles need protein to repair themselves and grow. It doesn’t matter whether you’re currently cutting weight, trying to bulk up, or cruising in maintenance mode; you’re still going to need adequate protein intake.
But just how much protein intake for strength training do you really need?
It seems like everywhere you turn for advice, you’ll get a different answer. So in order to simplify things for you, we’ve created this quick one-stop reference guide that you can consult to find out exactly how many grams of protein you should be aiming for on a daily basis.
The Importance of Protein
Most people think of muscle growth and repair when they think of protein. The truth is that protein is important for every single cell in your body. Not only does it help to build and repair muscle tissue, it also helps your body to make the hormones and enzymes it requires to function properly.
Unlike fats and carbohydrates, your body doesn’t store protein to draw from when it needs a new supply. What this means for strength training is that you need to be vigilant in ensuring that each and every day you are consuming enough protein to help you achieve your fitness goals.
When involved with strength training, it’s particularly important to pay attention to your nutrient timing — especially when it comes to protein. Your biggest, and most protein-dense meal, should be consumed within a few hours of your workout.
With that being said, it’s a good idea to take some form of protein immediately post-workout, usually in the form of a protein drink. There are a couple of key reasons for this.
The first is that since muscle protein synthesis is already elevated from your workout, when combined with the consumption of amino acids found in protein, you’ll be able to encourage more muscle growth.
The second reason is to purposely spike your insulin levels in order to send the amino acids and glucose into your muscle tissue. Insulin will also help to prevent further muscle tissue breakdown and reduce exercise-induced stress. (1)
Aside from these two meals, the remainder of your meals should be spread evenly throughout the day when following a strength training program.
Calculate Your Protein Intake Based On Goals
Before we can dive into the nitty-gritty and provide exact recommendations concerning protein intake, you’re going to have to first figure out exactly what your strength training goals are.
I would imagine that the majority of our readers are currently either bulking up to gain mass or trying to cut weight to shed some fat. If you’re already completely satisfied with your physique and just going off maintenance — then you probably don’t need this guide to begin with!
Going with the base assumption that you’re either bulking or cutting, you’re obviously going to have different caloric requirements. From personal experience, I’d recommend sticking with either a caloric deficit or surplus of between 300-500 calories depending on your goals and/or your training intensity and frequency.
How Much You Need
When it comes to strength training, a good general rule of thumb to follow for protein intake is for men to aim for 2g/kg while women should go for 1.2g/kg of body weight. For very intense strength training (e.g., on the Olympic level), it is recommended that you increase your protein intake to ~4g/kg of body weight.
If you are also trying to build mass and bulk, in addition to strength, one important thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t just about protein intake — you need to cover all of your macronutrient bases as well…
If you’re trying to gain weight, you’re going to need both protein and carbs to grow. A minimum of 40% of your total caloric intake should be coming from quality carb sources. (2) For your remaining macro split, I would recommend focusing on 25% coming from lean protein sources and the remaining 15% coming from a mixture of high-quality fats.
When it comes to cutting weight, it’s generally a good idea to lower the amount of carbs that you’re consuming while increasing the amount of protein and fat. In that case, I would recommend going with 40% of your daily calories as protein, with another 40% from quality fats, and the remaining 20% as carbs.
Guide to Protein Sources
The type of protein that you’re consuming definitely matters. That’s true even beyond avoiding the obvious unhealthy sources of protein like processed meats. Let’s take a quick look at some common protein sources to compare them.
Animal vs. Plant Protein
I generally prefer to opt for animal sources of protein over plant-based sources. The reason being is that plant proteins are considered to be ‘incomplete’, as they lack the amino acids that help to optimize muscle protein synthesis. There’s also the fact that soy protein can actually hinder your strength training goals, as it can actually lower testosterone and decrease muscle strength (due to its estrogenic nature).
In general, liquid proteins are a better option than solid ones due to the fact they absorb quicker. Among liquid protein options, I would recommend either whey isolate or whey concentrate. The reason being is that whey contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that make sure your insulin is maximally stimulated. There are also many other great health benefits to be gained from using whey, making it an ideal choice.
Another reason why I prefer whey protein is because it ranks the highest on the bioavailability index. This ranks the amount of protein absorbed that can actually be used by your system. Whey isolate and whey concentrate each have a score over 100, while plant-based options all rank under 75. (3)
If you’re going to be participating in any kind of serious strength training program, then it’s essential that you provide your body with an adequate amount of protein to help your muscles recover and grow. However, it’s equally important to pay attention to your other macros as well! Don’t neglect your carbs and healthy fats either — success in the gym comes from both a well-structured routine and a well-balanced diet plan. However, also remember that individualization is key. Certain populations do better strength training and gaining mass when on a lower carb protocol (e.g. insulin resistant individuals).
If you aren’t experiencing the gains you desire, try altering your protein/carb ratio.
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