Protein – How much do you need, how much gets used for lean mass maintenance and what happens to the rest?

There is so very much chatter about protein. How much do we need? How much can we use at one time? What happens to the rest? All of these answers are out there and it is so very sad that 99% of people that are guiding others have no idea what the actual truth is. The truth is that the numbers are pretty well established and there is a massive amount of study that has gone into determining these numbers. This is an area that separates the people with training (myself I hold 3 separate Certifications in sports nutrition and will be registered as a Holistic Nutritionist by October of 2019) and those that just pick and choose certain articles, studies and magazines to read and glean what they can from it. If you take the time to get an actual education in nutrition, they lay out the material and the studies. You can go and read them. No they are not all correct but they provide you with a more broad picture of the whole story.

Lets Start with what is required on a daily level. This is where most people just dump a number and leave it at that. The truth is this is just the starting point. If you require 100g of protein a day and you eat all of it in one meal, you are not getting what you need, because there is a max amount we can absorb at once, and you will have to use your existing lean tissue to make up the difference for the rest of the day. We can only process a certain amount at one time to generate maximum protein synthesis (building of new protein). I digress. We will get to that later. Short story is, I am going to show you what you need but don’t eat it in one meal and call it a day. You will suffer.

The average person requires somewhere between 0.45g to 0.75g per KG of lean mass depending on which source you look at but I generally use a safe 0.8g per KG of ideal bodyweight as a buffer. This exceeds all of the standards. That means for someone whose ideal weight is 160lbs (72kg) they require somewhere in the range of 32 to 58g of protein per day. Again, don’t think you can consume that in one meal and that will be fine. You can’t absorb all of that in one meal. I’ll get to that. For an athlete or someone who exercises daily, you will want to increase that amount. The recommendation for these folks is 1.2g to 2.0g per KG of ideal bodyweight. That means that 160lb person would require between 86g to 144g per day of protein. This comes from the latest studies and research from the official position paper from The Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. (ACSM/AND/DC, 2016). This doesn’t mean you will get no muscle gain at the low end and max at the top end. It is a range and depends on your training and some genetics. You can still make gains at the bottom of the range. I typically sit at the bottom of the range and have put on nearly 60lbs of lean mass in the last 8 to 10 years.

So what happens if you get the minimum and work out or get less than the minimum? Well we have mechanisms to deal with that and I am sure you’ve heard of one of them. Short term we will use something that the fasting proponents love, autophagy. If we get less protein then we need in our diet, our body is so intelligent that it has a system to recycle less than perfect proteins to use for protein synthesis. Fasters seem to think they have the monopoly on autophagy. They do not and it is probably the least intelligent way to achieve it. You can read about autophagy here:

Now if we do this chronically it can be somewhat bad but, unless you are fasting alot, which I never recommend because there are better ways to achieve it without starving, then there is very little chance you will run out of cells worthy of autophagy that you can use. That being said, if you are an athlete, you want to use the athletes protein requirements and try to stick to them. Again, you don’t need to go to the max 2.0g per KG every day as you will want to get some level of autophagy just to keep things tidy.

Now that we have our requirements setup, lets look at how much is useful at one time.

This is why I hate OMAD (One Meal a Day) and Fasting. They assume if you get your protein in you are good. This is wrong. Dead wrong. There is a maximum amount of protein synthesis the body can handle at one time. This is pretty well established. It happens to be 0.25 to 0.3g of protein per Kg of ideal weight or as I prefer to use, lean mass. The following studies show this.

Beyond this amount there is no benefit to tissue building. The rest is converted to either intermediates of metabolism or turned to glucose for storage. Lets use the same 160lb person as an example. That means this person (72kg) can only use 21.6g of protein for muscle/tissue development. If said persons daily requirement is 100g and they consume all 100g in the same meal they are only effectively getting 21.6g for the day. The rest is either used for enzymes, energy production or converted to glucose for storage. That is 78.4g of protein not used for lean tissue conservation. Where is the rest of the needed protein going to come from? Well there are two options. One is Autophagy which is great but how much autophagy can we do before we start getting into useful tissue that we are using? Can we continually run at a deficit of almost 80g per day for long? Unfortunately nobody has this answer but my common sense tells me it is unlikely and we will start catabolizing our valuable muscle.

A study at RMIT UNiversity, Austrailia, measured the rate of MPS during a 12 hour recovery period following resistance training when volunteers consumed 80g of protein either as 2 x 40g every 6 hours, 4 x 20g every 3 hours or 8 x 10g every 1.5 hours (Areta et al., 2013). They found that MPS was 31-48% higher when 20g was consumed every 3 hours compared with all other protocols.

Similarly, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, found that evenly distributing 90g of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner resulted in 25% higher rates of MPS compared with a meal pattern that skewed most of the protein towards dinner (63g) with small amounts at breakfast (10g) and lunch (16g) (Mamerow et al., 2014).

If you consume more than 0.3g per KG you will not gain a single shred of extra benefit in terms of muscle growth. Again that equates to 21.6g for a 160lb (72kg) athlete. The average person will be more like 20g. That is the effective dose. If you are eating 50g per meal then your daily effective dose is more like 75g total for the day as opposed to 150g that you are eating. You are just converting the rest to either energy, only in the absence of adequate fat or carbs for fuel, intermediates of metabolism or glucose.

So the average person (160lbs) that isn’t an athlete needs about 58g of protein a day. Don’t eat it all at once as only about 20g of that will be used for lean mass. The best strategy is to split it into multiple meals. As I have previously discussed, this should be geared towards your morning meal as the largest to honor the circadian rhythm. So about 20g each meal roughly. I hope this helps to illuminate some of the confusion around protein. We can see how quickly all of this gets out of hand with all the people who love to state all these crazy ideas like eat all the protein you like it has no effect or eating one meal a day is great. You can see that protein has an effect and it has an effect in many different ways. Make sure to listen to people with actual training in nutrition science and not just someone who thinks they know. There is a big difference and it can easily lead you down the wrong path.

If you need help getting past a stall, getting your hair to stop falling out or on the other end of the spectrum you need help increasing exercise performance and body composition I have strategies for all of the above. 

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Keto ON!

Coach Jack

2 Replies to “Protein – How much do you need, how much gets used for lean mass maintenance and what happens to the rest?”

  1. Thanks Jack

    As I posted on your YouTube video “Breakfast Not a conspiracy propagated by the Kellogg’s Corp” That I could not follow this protocol as it caused my to have hypo’s in the evening.

    Trying to work out why, this video Benjamin Bikman inforgraphic at 31:50 offering the caveat as to why some people may have to do low protein high fat. Gave me my answer I display all the symptoms of Hyperinsulinemia

    I’m now back to eating twice a day lunch and dinner and lowered protein to around 18-20g midday and no higher than 25g in an evening. Now no more hypo’s and yipee 3 month weight loss stall ended 5lbs lost, getting closer to my upper ideal weight now.

    Can’t wait for my celebratory steak dinner, confirmed carnivore whom’s virtually vegetarian to keep protein in check!

    So this post on protein just confirms what I’ve been doing this past 2-3 weeks and using up the spare protein I have [autophagy],

    Hoping once at ideal weight the insulin resistance will be less problematic so I can eat more meat. But will be wary as I developed the T2 diabetes on 14.5 yrs of Atkins, BUT never did I get to weight I am today, which is back in my early teens.late 20’s not bad for a 52 yr old!

    1. Yes protein can and certainly will cause you issues if you do too much. 25g is still way too much for a woman. The most you can use for actual muscle protein synthesis is 03g per kg of ideal weight. I am 205lbs and very lean and 25g is the most I can do. I would keep protein below 20g at all times and likely would recommend no more than 15g at dinner and make dinner as early as you can then don’t eat again until breakfast. If you want to do two meals, which I don’t recommend because you will become sarcopenic eventually since you are only getting maybe 40g of protein in 2 meals, then do breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is the most critical time to eat and you are going to have an insulin spike in the morning regardless if you eat or not due to the dawn effect.

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