Are you getting enough protein every day to support muscle growth and recovery?

When it comes to building muscle and supporting recovery after exercise, providing your body with sufficient protein is vitally important.

But, do you know exactly how much protein you need for optimal growth and recovery? Do you know what that figure equates to in terms of derived protein food and supplements? 

This article unpacks your daily protein needs with a practical look at the quantity of food and supplements you need to consume to ensure you hit your daily target.

Training to build muscle and getting stronger or faster is a fine balancing act. Resistance training and exercise typically cause some muscle protein breakdown (known as catabolism). 

Muscle growth happens when the training stimulus triggers a hormonally-driven response that repairs the damaged muscle to rebuild tissue and produce new fibres (this is called anabolism). 

However, a critical element in shifting the body from a state of muscle breakdown into an anabolic muscle-building state is providing sufficient protein to create a positive nitrogen balance.

Nitrogen is a key component of protein, including muscle protein. When protein breaks down, it releases nitrogen, but when we build muscle, we retain it. As such, nitrogen balance refers to the ratio between nitrogen intake and excretion and serves as an indicator of whether we are building or breaking down muscle.

A positive nitrogen balance is the ideal state for muscle growth. It occurs when you consume more nitrogen (through protein) than you excrete through muscle breakdown. This extra nitrogen provides the building blocks for new muscle tissue.

Conversely, a negative nitrogen balance occurs when you lose more nitrogen than you take in, leading to muscle loss as the body breaks down existing muscle to meet its nitrogen needs.

Consuming enough protein throughout the day, especially after exercise, is crucial to creating a positive nitrogen balance. But just how much is enough?

The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 0.8g/kg/day. However, this applies to healthy adults with a sedentary lifestyle and is not sufficient to maintain muscle and strength for active individuals.

Science-backed recommendations on daily protein intake for muscle growth typically range from 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/d).

In a meta-analysis¹ published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that reviewed a total of 49 high-quality studies, scientists at McMaster University determined that the optimal level of protein intake for those who train with weights to develop muscle is 1.6g/kg/day

While the researchers deemed this the upper limit above which athletes derive little additional benefit, other studies show positive results from higher intakes for athletes and those focused on muscle building.

Research² using the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation (IAAO) technique in young male bodybuilders recommended an upper limit of 2.2g/kg/day

And a 2018 study³ published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition affirms this range, stating that to maximise anabolism “one should consume protein at a target intake of 0.4g/kg/meal across a minimum of four meals in order to reach a minimum of 1.6g/kg/day. Using the upper daily intake of 2.2g/kg/day reported in the literature spread out over the same four meals would necessitate a maximum of 0.55g/kg/meal.”

Determining your needs within the 1.6-2.2g/kg/day depends on individual factors, particularly your daily activity levels, the type of exercise you perform, and your ultimate goals. However, this is the recommended range for athletes and active individuals.

But what, exactly, does eating 1.6-2.2g/kg/day look like? Well, it’s important to first establish that this figure is derived protein, which denotes the protein content of a whole food or supplement, rather than the net weight of the food source itself. For example, a 100g skinless chicken breast delivers 23g of protein. 

With that in mind, these meal plan examples indicate what an 87kg person could eat throughout the day to meet their daily protein requirements at either end of the range. 

  1. @1.6g/kg/day = 139g
  2. @2.2g/kg/day = 191g

Breakfast: 1 cup cooked oats (10g) with 1 serving Biogen Complete Protein (25g) = 35g
Snack: Apple slices with natural peanut butter = 8g
Lunch: Bowl of 1 cup quinoa (8g) with 75g bacon (19g) = 27g
Post-workout shake: 2 scoops Biogen Iso-Whey Premium Protein = 42g
Dinner: 1 cup buckwheat (6g) with 150g lean mince (21g) = 27g

Total daily protein intake = 139g of protein

Breakfast: 1 serving cream of rice (3g) with 1 serving Biogen Complete Protein (25g) = 28g
Snack: 25g serving lean biltong = 14g
Lunch: 1 cup quinoa (8g) with 150g beef strips (37g) = 45g
Post-workout shake: 2 scoops of Biogen Iso-Whey Premium Protein = 42g
Dinner: ½ cup brown rice (5g) with 150g skinless chicken breast (34g) = 39g
Before bed: 1 serving Biogen Night Feed Casein Protein = 23g

Total daily protein intake = 191g

  1. Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:376–84.doi:10.1136/bjsports-017-097608.
  2. Arash Bandegan, Glenda Courtney-Martin, Mahroukh Rafii, Paul B Pencharz, Peter WR Lemon, Indicator Amino Acid–Derived Estimate of Dietary Protein Requirement for Male Bodybuilders on a Nontraining Day Is Several-Fold Greater than the Current Recommended Dietary Allowance12, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 147, Issue 5, 2017, Pages 850-857, ISSN 0022-3166,
  3. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Feb 27;15:10. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1. PMID: 29497353; PMCID: PMC5828430.