How Much Protein Should I Take if I Exercise?

So you've started exercising and wondered how much protein to take in. In general, an adequate intake is essential to maintain muscle mass. Find out more in this article!
How Much Protein Should I Take if I Exercise?

Last update: 22 February, 2021

Have you ever wondered how much protein you need if you exercise? Proteins are essential for the body, as they perform structural, regulatory, and energetic functions. However, if you exercise, you should pay attention to the amount of protein you take in order to have a good muscle mass and a good performance. Keep reading to find out more!

If I exercise, how much protein should I take?

Proteins are essential nutrients to form new tissues during the growth period, as well as to replace the wear and tear of those already formed, during adulthood. This is demonstrated by research published in Nutrients.

Enzymes and many hormones are formed from proteins. In addition, some blood components such as hemoglobin and antibodies are combinations of proteins with other chemical structures.

Therefore, the body needs to ingest sufficient protein to meet the demands we just mentioned.

High protein meat.
When we exercise, we need to increase the consumption of protein sources. This way, we favor the gain of muscle mass.

What does a correct protein intake during exercise provide us with?

  • Delayed muscle fatigue: This is produced by the decrease in the production of lactic acid. As the limiting factor of fatigue in physical exercise is the production of large amounts of lactate, if we were able to reduce its production, we would increase the fatigue threshold and delay the point at which our muscular exhaustion would appear.
  • Improved body composition and maintenance of muscle mass: Research has shown that diets with a good amount of protein improve our body composition by reducing our body fat percentage and contribute to better maintain muscle mass.
  • Faster recovery after exercise: During physical exercise, a large amount of free radicals are produced. Thus, proteins facilitate muscle recovery and prevent the appearance of injuries. This statement is evidenced in an article published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
  • Improves insulin resistance

What is the right amount of protein if I exercise?

To maintain muscle mass and provide the above-mentioned benefits, protein intake should be between 1 and 1.5 grams (0.03 and 0.05 oz). So, intakes below this amount favor muscle loss with the consequent increase in fatigue and worsening of physical performance.

In other words, if you weigh 176 pounds (80 kg) and do sports, you should consume between 80 and 120 grams (2.8 and 4.2 oz) of protein a day.

A table with food with proteins.
The rule of 10 is a simple method for calculating how much food we should eat to get the required amount of protein. This is done by gram measurement.

How can we know if we are eating the right amount of protein without having to calculate it all day long? A very useful method is the rule of 10. This consists in that, more or less, the following amounts of food contain about 10 grams or 0.3 oz of protein:

  • 5o grams or 1.77 oz of meat, fish, cheese or peanuts
  • 1 medium chicken egg
  • 50 grams or 1.77 oz of Serrano ham, boiled ham, loin, etc.
  • 60 grams or 2.11 oz of walnuts, almonds, or pistachios
  • 1 large plate (350-400 grams or 12-14 oz) of broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, spinach, artichokes or green asparagus.
  • 2 yogurts of 125 ml

So, if you weigh 80 kilos or 176 pounds, you should consume between 8 and 12 servings that comply with the rule of 10.

Amount of protein you should take if you exercise and want to gain muscle mass

The amount of protein we need to take in to gain muscle mass is the one that usually matters the most. If we’re in caloric surplus it doesn’t take much protein to build muscle mass and the extra amount consumed usually displaces the consumption of foods that have other nutrients.

A woman making a shake.
The amount of protein needed to gain muscle mass depends on each individual. However, in general, you don’t need more than 2 grams or 0.07 oz per kg.

In volume phase, for most people, between 1.6 and 2 grams per kg (0.05 and 0.07 oz) of high biological value protein is more than enough to maximize protein synthesis, as stated in research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

For people with a more advanced level of training, as they have a good base of muscle mass (i.e., they can build much less tissue because they already have a lot), we can even lower this amount to 1.3 or 1.6 grams per kg (0.04 or 0.05 oz).

With women something similar happens. Their level of hypertrophy is lower, and we can lower the recommendation to the latter range. In addition, the best way to maximize muscle mass gain is to distribute the protein evenly throughout the day. However, between 3 and 4 intakes of 20-40 g (0.7 and 1.40 oz) is enough to maximize protein synthesis.

Include protein in your diet

As you’ve seen, proteins are an essential nutrient to ensure health and to maximize recovery after exercise. In conclusion, it’s important that protein intake is adequate to reduce the risk of injury.

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Developing muscle mass is a process that requires exercise and good nutrition. Both must work together in order to get the best results.

  • Landi F., Calvani R., Tosato M., Martone AM., Ortolani E., et al., Protein intake and muscle health in old age: from biological plausibility to clinical evidence. Nutrients, 2016.
  • McGlory C., Devries MC., Phillips SM., Skeletal muscle and resistance exercise training; the role of protein synthesis in recovery and remodeling. J Appl Physiol, 2017. 122 (3): 541-548.
  • Jager R., Kerksick CM., Campbell BI., Cribb PJ., et al., International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2017.