How much protein is required to build or maintain muscle mass? In order to make life easier, Fitness Savvy has developed a unique protein calculator like no other – and thrown in some advice on incomplete proteins for good measure.
Much confusion still exists regarding optimum levels of protein required to build or maintain muscle. The level depends on many factors such as lean body mass, whether you are in a caloric deficit, how often you train, your sex and body fat percentage.
Beneath the calculator, we have explained the logic underpinning the complex calculations, along with references to those studies and review papers used to build the formulas. We have also included a section covering the facts around complete and incomplete proteins. The purpose of this calculator is to provide something more tailored to your needs and circumstances than the “1 gram per lb” advice often thrown around.
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Below, we have explained the logic behind the protein calculator, along with scientific studies to support the calculations.
- If not partaking in exercise, we believe the standard recommendation (government and nutritional guidelines) of protein intake to be sufficient.
- The debate regarding optimum protein intake tends to relate to strength and hypertrophy training; the latter being the one most associated with higher protein requirements.
- If engaging in endurance or cardio based exercise, protein requirements will be higher than standard recommendations, but lower than levels required for strength and hypertrophy; at around 1-1.6g/kg per day1,2.
- Many studies have conflicting conclusions: one of the most comprehensive reviews we discovered3, found that many of the papers concluding there to be little or no benefit of increased protein consumption had very narrow spreads compared with those whose results concluded the opposite – 66.1% g/kg/day between group intake spread compared to 10.2%.
- The same investigation found greater benefits when the level of protein consumed was much higher (+40-80%) than habitual intake of protein. Due to this, we have incorporated a field within the protein calculator for you to enter your habitual protein intake.
- Many of the studies which found lower protein to be of benefit were looking at nitrogen balance, which is not the best marker when looking at the benefits of protein intake.
- Under caloric deficit, protein requirements tend to be higher4. In this study, the spread is high (i.e., the high protein group is consuming 100% more than the low protein group), and the higher protein consumption is at levels typically above average habitual intakes. However, a further review by Helms, Zinn, Rowlands and Brown, 2014, found higher levels of protein during caloric restriction to be beneficial, and that requirements increase further, the leaner one becomes5.
- Greater than 4.4g/kg per day has been shown to be of no benefit in strength and hypertrophy6, 3.4g/kg to be of benefit compared with 2.3g/kg7, and another found no beneficial difference between 2.6 and 3.3g/kg. This final study compared habitual consumption with increased levels in experienced, resistance trained men. It showed no benefits of 3.3g/kg per day8. This leads us to our high-end number of 3g/kg per day within the calculator. This is for very lean individuals, working out more than 5 times per week, who are also in a caloric deficit.
When counting calories and recording macros, you must remember that protein requirements refer to complete proteins – i.e., those containing the full chain of all nine essential amino acids.
Complete Protein Sources:
- Animal proteins – meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs & milk (whey protein & casein protein)
- Some plant proteins – potatoes, chickpeas, black beans, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, cauliflower, quinoa, pistachios, black-eyed beans and soy.
Incomplete Protein Sources:
- Some legumes such as peanuts and baked beans
- Most vegetables
When calculating your total protein intake, you should only count “complete” proteins. However, a combination of incomplete sources can form complete protein chains. Such examples are as follows:
- Beans on toast – baked beans lack enough Methionine+Cystine, but this is complemented by the levels found in bread, which is lacking in Lysine
- Peanut Butter Sandwich – peanuts lack enough lysine, but with bread, enough is present to make a complete protein.
- Chilli and Rice – rice lacks enough lysine, however, when combined with chilli (which is typically made using kidney beans), the kidney beans fill in the gap
If in doubt, there is a fantastic site called SELF Nutrition Data where you can search food types and it shows how complete the protein is. Scores of less than 100 mean the protein source is incomplete. You can click to view complimentary sources to transform your incomplete proteins into complete proteins. How about that, then?!
The Fitness Savvy protein calculator will often produce lower figures than other online tools. However, Fitness Savvy founder, Robin Young, added over 8lb of muscle and lost 6lbs of fat doing this workout, and using the figures this calculator provided.
If you are still struggling to consume adequate levels suggested by our protein calculator, check out the supplement section of our price comparison for a huge range of protein products – and not just protein powders – how about some tasty chocolate snacks to get your protein content up – check them out below:
Tasty Chocolate Protein Snacks – Compare Prices
- Lemon PW, Proctor DN. Protein intake and athletic performance. Sports Med. 1991 Nov;12(5):313-25.
- Tarnopolsky M. Protein requirements for endurance athletes. Nutrition. 2004 Jul-Aug;20(7-8):662-8.
- John D Bosse, and Brian M Dixon. Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9: 42.
- Longland TM, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):738-46.
- Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Apr;24(2):127-38.
- Antonio J, Peacock CA, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B, Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:19.
- Jose Antonio, Anya Ellerbroek, Tobin Silver, Steve Orris, Max Scheiner, Adriana Gonzalez, and Corey A Peacock. A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women – a follow-up investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12: 39.
- Antonio J1, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, Vargas L, Peacock C. The effects of a high protein diet on indices of health and body composition–a crossover trial in resistance-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 Jan 16;13:3.