When strength training, it’s important to consume enough protein to help our muscles grow and recover. Here, expert fitness trainers explain how much protein you really need to eat when lifting weights.
The global protein supplements market was worth $18.91 billion dollars in 2020 (approximately £13.4 billion) which is a whole lot of money spent on shakes, bars and enhanced foods. Indeed, for many gym goers, getting a parcel from brands like MyProtein, Missfits and Awesome Supplements is the standard.
Protein is one of the essential macronutrients (alongside carbohydrates and fats) and is responsible for producing everything from tissue to enzymes and hormones. Because of that role in building muscles and aiding recovery, as the number of people weight training increases so does the popularity of high-protein diets.
In the UK, it’s recommended that people eat around 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight, but when we weight train we might need extra protein to help muscle recovery and tissue repair.
Here, fitness trainers Alice Miller and Tess Glynne-Jones clear up the myths about much protein you should really be eating if you’re strength training.
How much protein do you need when strength training?
“That depends on how much you weigh, and how often can you train. So I always say between 1.5-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That’s very broad, so try the lower end and see how that feels for a few weeks then you can always increase that. I weigh 72 kilos, I weight train five times a week and I have an average of about 110 grams of protein a day and have no issue putting muscle on. A lot of people always think that you need to have a lot more protein than you actually do. But I’d say unless you’re an athlete rather than thinking about numbers and grams just think about having protein at every meal.
“Ways to know if you’re not eating enough protein might include muscle cramping, not recovering well so still being sore days after my session and not feeling as strong in the sessions following. I get an upset stomach if I do eat too much protein, but it’s very hard to eat dangerously too much. Anything your body doesn’t need for growth will just be stored in your body the same way as any other food.”
“For women, I’d say anywhere between about 1.2-2grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That being said, though, it totally depends on the activity of your job, how many times a week you train, the intensity of your training, your basal metabolic rate – there are so many factors that come into it. If you have a really active job and you’re strength training three times or more per week, you probably want to be erring on the side of two grams per kilogram of body weight. So if you weighed 70 kilos, you’d be aiming to eat 140 grams of protein a day. But it’s really, really different for everyone. And the generic calculations might not work for everyone, of course, but I would definitely say it’s better to err on the higher side of protein.”
Do you need to have protein within 30 minutes of working out?
“I don’t finish my workout and immediately slam the protein shake. The whole ‘30-minute window of gains’ thing is myth. That goes back to like the top 1%: if you’re an athlete looking to beat the competition we might look at the exact time we consume things, and everything to the exact gram. But if you’re just the everyday gym goer, focus on getting a training session done and having a post workout recovery meal with carbohydrates to replenish energy and protein to help rebuild the muscle and help with your recovery.”
“I think it’s good to get some fast carbs and protein in within 90 minutes after you’ve finished training. That can be whey protein blended up with a bananas and fruit, for example. There is some science behind it, but it’s one of those controversial things. It’s not the be all and end all, but getting in calories, carbs and protein will speed up recovery and replenish the muscles. Your body’s so depleted when you finish training so you need to refill those glycogen stores.”
Do you need protein shakes to build muscle?
“My belief is you should aim to get all of your protein needs from your diet from wholesome foods. I personally sometimes just top up my protein amount with a shake if I know that I’m going to be a little bit short that day. I personally like vegan protein powder and I use Vivo Life which is just really yummy and it digests really well, but I have it if I want to have a top up. If I can hit my target with food then I always do that.
“I think a lot of people spend a lot of money on unnecessary supplements. For people who’ve just joined the gym, I would say don’t immediately go out and spend hundreds of pounds on supplements. Just focus on the basics of good training and a healthy diet. Alternative high protein snacks would be carrots and hummus or a handful of mixed nuts. I also like to get my protein in through a tofu scramble, tempeh or Mexican beans.”
“Protein powder is one of the very, very few supplements that has been proven to work 100% of the time. But it’s not necessary. It’s great because it’s fast acting, and so it’s good to have after you train. But it doesn’t need to be had, and without it you still get results.
“For good sources of protein that aren’t shakes, meat eaters should have red, grass-fed meat as it’s so nutrient dense and helps women with their iron levels, especially when we have our periods. Chicken breast and turkey and fish are all good sources of protein, too. If you’re having oily fish like salmon then you’re getting omega 3s in as well, which helps with recovery because it reduces inflammation in the body. You’re killing two birds with one stone. Eggs are also great because they’re a source of fat and protein.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).