If you are a bodybuilder looking to maximize your muscle gains and recovery, you must already be aware that protein is a key component of a bodybuilder’s diet.
But how much protein do you really need?
Is there such a thing as too much protein?
This article covers everything you need to know about the ideal protein intake for bodybuilders and what factors you should consider when determining your own needs.
So let’s get started and find out how you can optimize your protein intake for optimal performance and results!
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Protein for Bodybuilders
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.84 g/kg for adult men. This means a 75 kg average sedentary adult male will require 63 g of protein per day.
However, bodybuilders need higher protein intakes to support muscle growth and repair.
Research suggests that bodybuilders may need anywhere from 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to optimize muscle protein synthesis and recovery. This means that a 75 kg male bodybuilder may need anywhere from 105 to 150 g of protein per day, depending on their training intensity and other individual factors.
A study by Sports Performance Research in New Zealand observed that bodybuilders respond best to consuming 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein/kg of body weight/day (3).
Have 3 to 4 protein-rich meals throughout the day
Dividing your protein intake into several meals throughout the day can help maximize muscle protein synthesis.
A Canadian study suggested that consuming 1.3 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, spread out over 3 to 4 meals, all containing equal amounts of protein (isonitrogenous meals), can be an effective strategy for promoting muscle growth and recovery (2).
Protein Needs are Based on Targets and Performance
So between the above-mentioned two studies, we are looking at a large window of 1.3 to 3.1 grams of protein/kg per day.
So how much protein should you really take?
As far as bodybuilders are concerned, the recommended protein intake is not a constant.
It varies according to targets and performance.
Are you a beginner? Are you getting ready for a bodybuilding competition? Are you focusing on muscle growth and strength or is your focus on weight-cutting while retaining muscle?
Targets: Bulking and Cutting
As a bodybuilder, you must be familiar with the terms bulking and cutting.
- Bulking: The primary goals of bulking include building muscle, and increasing strength. For some people, this includes gaining weight.
- Cutting: The goal of cutting in bodybuilding is all about losing body fat and getting leaner.
Protein Intake During the Muscle Building Stage (Bulking)
In a bulking state, where you are trying to bulk up or build body mass, you need to focus on your carb intake also – not just protein.
Bodybuilders should aim for a diet consisting of 55-60% carbohydrates, 25-30% protein, and 15-20% fat, during both the off-season and pre-contest phases (3).
The off-season phase, which makes up the majority of the year, is when bodybuilders focus on increasing their muscle mass without any competitive events to prepare for.
To ensure muscle synthesis and maintain training intensity, bodybuilders need to make sure they have a positive energy balance. This means they need to consume enough carbohydrates, which should make up about 55-60% of their total energy intake.
Adequate protein intake is also essential, with a recommended range of 1.3 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This provides all the essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle growth and repair.
So, make sure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients to support your bodybuilding goals!
Protein Intake During Calorie Restrictions (Cutting)
Did you know that bodybuilders often try to reduce their body fat levels before a competition to achieve a leaner and more defined look? This is called cutting!
This typically happens about 6 to 12 weeks before the competition, during what’s known as the pre-contest phase.
During this time, bodybuilders need to get into a negative energy balance to help burn off excess body fat. This means reducing overall calorie intake, especially from carbs and fats, while maintaining a relatively high protein intake to prevent muscle loss.
A high protein intake of around 30% of energy intake can help reduce lean mass loss during energy restriction, compared to a lower protein intake of around 15% of energy intake.
In fact, a Canadian study also found that consuming increased levels of protein, as high as 1.8-2.0 grams per day, can be advantageous in preventing muscle losses during periods of calorie restriction aimed at a fat loss (3).
So, if you’re a bodybuilder preparing for a competition, make sure to maintain a relatively high protein intake to help retain your muscle mass while reducing body fat levels.
Body Weight Considerations
As a reference point, let’s take into consideration the ideal weight of a 5’8” man – it ranges from 125 to 163 pounds (56 to 73 kgs). But at 163 pounds, he’s bound to be looking plump, not muscular. His weight is coming from fat, not muscle.
According to legendary bodybuilder Steve Reeves’ book “Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way”, his base model for a serious bodybuilder stands 6’ tall and weighs about 200 pounds.
Image: Steve Reeves
The ideal weight increases by 10 pounds for every inch above that and vice versa. A male 5’8” male would be aiming for a muscular 160 pounds with Reeves’ chart.
Keep in mind that Reeves played Hercules in the 1950 movies and his concept of how bodybuilders look is quite different from what you may see on stage today.
Image: Larry Scott
The winner of the first Mr. Olympia contest in 1965, Larry Scott was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 205 pounds.
Image: Ronnie Coleman
Close to thirty years later, Ronnie Coleman won the same title from 1998 to 2005. He was 6 feet tall and competed at 300 pounds.
In competitive bodybuilding, the pros seem to be getting heavier than ever. But if you want to look like the Golden boy Larry Scott or the Herculean Steve Reeves, aim for the weight ranges mentioned in Steve’s book.
The Simple Answer to “How Much Protein?”
For those who are looking for a straightforward answer, I’d say having about 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kg of your body weight/day constitutes a high-protein diet that is helpful for bodybuilders.
You can up this to 2.5 to 3 grams during your weight-cutting phases, while lowering your carb and fat intakes, to lose body fat and reduce muscle loss.
Let’s calculate how much protein a bodybuilder of height 5’8 weighing 160 pounds, needs.
160 pounds is approximately 72 Kg. At 1.5 to 2 grams per kg of body weight, that’s – 108 to 150 gms of protein a day. This works out to roughly 30 to 40 gms of protein per meal, 4 times a day.
Make sure two of these meals are timed before and after your workout to ensure maximum muscle synthesis.
Now that you know the ‘why’, ‘what, and ‘how much’ regarding protein intake for bodybuilders, let’s take a deeper look at ‘when’ to eat the protein, for maximum bodybuilding impact.
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