How much muscle can you grow in one year?
You may have heard of protein before, but what exactly is it? Protein is a nutrient essential for the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body. It comprises smaller units called amino acids, which are held together by chemical bonds. 20 different amino acids can be used to make protein, and the specific sequence of amino acids determines the structure and function of the protein. Proteins play various roles in the body, including providing structure for cells, transporting molecules, building and maintaining lean body mass and catalysing chemical reactions.
You might think protein is your muscles’ version of a savings account. But unlike a savings account, protein doesn’t have a storage capacity like carbohydrates or fats do. Why is this important? Because it means that you should be more strategic with how you space out your protein intake to maximise muscle protein synthesis throughout the day. But I won’t go into that here as I wrote another blog post on muscle protein synthesis and protein timing that you can read here. So instead, I want to outline how much protein is optimal depending on your goals.
How much protein do you really need?
The RDA (recommended daily protein intake) sits at 0.75g-0.84g/kg/day. This recommendation only considers the amount of protein you need to consume to avoid deficiency and does not account for maintaining or building muscle mass. To maximise muscle growth, you should aim to consume 1.6-2.2g/kg/day of protein. Why the large discrepancy? We like to recommend the lower end if you are in a surplus or maintenance phase and the higher end if you are in a deficit. However, you may need to go as high as 2.4g/kg/per day if you are pretty lean and you are in an aggressive deficit.
Can you take your protein intake higher than this?
Will it be helpful?
As I mentioned earlier, protein doesn’t have a storage capacity, so the protein we eat needs to be used for physiological reasons or excreted. The problem with increasing protein intake above this threshold is that it doesn’t contribute to building muscle mass at a faster rate, and it eats into the number of carbohydrates and fats you can consume. Carbohydrates are essential for exercise performance. If you want to ‘tone’ or gain muscle, exercise performance and execution are crucial factors in this equation. In addition, fat consumption is essential to promote neurological and hormonal health.
What is your ceiling of muscle growth potential?
Some people assume that eating more protein will lead to a faster rate of muscle growth. Still, the amount of muscle we are actually able to gain as a natural trainee (someone not on performance-enhancing drugs) is far less than you’d think, and it depends on your training age. For example, a woman who has been resistance training for less than one year can gain a maximum of 5.4kg of muscle mass per year (as an absolute maximum). This is because the untrained person will gain muscle much faster than a trained person, and the more advanced you become, the slower the process becomes. So if we look at the muscle growth potential of a trained woman, it decreases to a staggering 680g!
Yes – that’s 680g of muscle mass over twelve months compared to 5.4kg in an untrained woman.
This is why Mark and I stress the importance of building for a long time. If your main goal is to build muscle, it takes time. It is also why we don’t recommend trying to ‘recomp’ if you are a trained person. Think about it, if you can only gain a maximum of 680g of muscle mass in one year, if you eat in a surplus, train with intention and prioritise stress management and sleep — what chance do you have of growing muscle in a deficit? So at best, we want to maintain muscle mass in a deficit, not increase it.
Your protein hierarchy of importance!
Protein consumption is essential, whether your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat. Mark wrote a recent post on choosing your low-hanging fruit and nailing that to save the ‘all or nothing approach. We also have a hierarchy of importance when it comes to protein consumption.
As you can see, your lowest hanging fruit here requires you to focus on your total daily protein intake. Yes, distribution matters. As explained in this LEARN blog. Protein distribution matters because there is a ceiling of muscle protein synthesis we can reach with one feeding of protein. Then we can consider where we consume protein relative to our training session. Again, this blog post talks a little more about the ‘anabolic window’. But the overarching priority is nailing your total daily protein intake before trying to nail protein timing.
As any gym goer knows, lifting weights is essential for building muscle mass. However, it’s not just what you do in the gym that counts – what you do outside of the gym is just as important. In particular, getting enough sleep is crucial for muscle growth. Sleep helps reduce cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can break down muscle tissue. As a result, getting a good night’s sleep is essential for anyone who wants to gain muscle mass.
Training with intensity and execution
Even the best training program will yield minimal results if you are not properly executing it. This is why my motto is ‘it’s not your training program. It’s your execution that ultimately builds your best possible physique’.
So what does training with intensity and execution practically look like?
It looks like taking most of your sets within 2-3 reps of actual muscular failure, dropping ego lifting and executing each movement with near-perfect technique.
Yours in health,
Head of Nutrition