Aside from weight loss, the second most popular goal we see is (understandably) to build muscle. We all want good-looking body composition!
For this goal, we need to talk seriously about protein. This underrated macronutrient is a game-changer and absolutely essential for your body to be able to gain more lean muscle tissue.
Chances are, you’re probably not eating enough protein. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. The key here is to understand that this is simply the minimum amount of protein needed to function and prevent diseases related to protein deficiency.
Talk about a low standard (in my opinion). If you’re interested in going above and beyond survival mode, my recommendation for protein is 0.6-0.8 grams per pound of body weight.
As an example, if you’re someone who weighs 200 lbs, you’d want to shoot for 120-160g protein per day.
Research shows us that we need to be hitting closer to this target in order to build and maintain muscle tissue. Not to mention, this will significantly increase your metabolic rate and be one of the first lines of defense against the aging process (AKA your longevity).
If you’ve heard of the recommendation to have 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight before and wondering if this is too much….it’s not. We sometimes recommend this in Metabolism Makeover or VIP coaching because protein is notably the most satiating macronutrient and it’s absolutely wonderful for weight loss.
Choose a target that sounds more feasible to start with! If you find yourself hungry with a lower target, slowly increase your protein over time.
Let’s talk about leucine!
Since we have muscle gains on the brain here, we need to talk specifically about leucine.
Leucine is an essential amino acid, meaning we need to get it from food (our bodies will not make it on their own). It is critical for overall healthy muscle tissue, and it stimulates muscle protein synthesis (the gains). It also reduces muscle tissue breakdown after strenuous workouts.
Think of leucine as the light switch for muscle growth after a workout, and in order to activate the light switch, you want to get around 3 grams of leucine per meal.
Having a protein target of ~0.8g per pound helps you do this! Alternatively, getting at least 30 grams of protein per meal will help too.
Some of the highest-containing leucine foods are:
- 1% cottage cheese (1 cup): 28g protein, 2.9g leucine
- Skinless chicken breast (4oz): 36g protein, 2.7g leucine
- 1 serving whey protein isolate: 23g protein, 2.5g leucine
- Canned tuna (3oz): 28g protein, 1.6g leucine
- Black beans (1 cup): 15g protein, 1.2g leucine
- Firm tofu (½ cup): 11g protein, 1g leucine
- Peanut butter (2 tbsp): 7g protein, 0.5g leucine
For my vegans and vegetarians, please know that leucine is primarily found in animal sources of protein. I know, bummer. Dairy sources can be a really good way to get leucine, but not helpful if you’re vegan obviously. You may want to consider adding an amino acid supplement like Kion Aminos Powder (not sponsored). Code MEGAN is 10% off.
What’s the deal with essential and nonessential sources of protein?
This just refers to what amino acids are present in different foods. We need all amino acids in our diet in order to thrive and really support healthy muscle tissue.
If a food is a complete protein, it simply means it has all the amino acids our bodies need. These will be from all animal protein sources like meat, eggs, and dairy.
Foods are considered incomplete sources of protein if they don’t have all the amino acids. They still count toward our protein goals though! Any plant source of protein falls into this category. All this means is that variety is your friend in order to get all your amino acids.
You can actually pair different sources of plant proteins to create a complete protein. For example, brown rice and beans on their own are incomplete, but together they make a complete protein.
People ask me all the time: “does collagen count as a protein?” Yes! It’s not a complete protein, but it still counts! All the more reason to have a variety of protein sources in your day.
If you are not vegan or vegetarian, you can still absolutely choose plant-based sources of protein, and I highly recommend you do! Plant sources of protein like edamame, beans, nuts, hemp seeds, lentils, and more are extremely nutrient dense and have so much good fiber for the gut.
Other factors to consider when it comes to building muscle
Protein really is the name of the game for building muscle, but I do want to mention a few other factors to support your goal:
- Make sure you’re eating enough in general!
I can’t tell you how often I see women not eating enough to support their metabolic needs. You can be eating really high protein, but if you’re not getting enough healthy fat and carbohydrates as well, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Your workout performance will be affected big time and you simply cannot grow new muscle without enough fuel to support it.
- Follow a progressive-overload-style strength program
Think of it like this: random workouts = random results. You need to be following a strategic plan to encourage the muscles to grow. A progressive overload program slowly increases your reps and weight over a period of time (about 12 weeks). The key is consistency here and also repeating the same exercises week to week. Give your body a chance to master certain exercises and perform better and better over time!
We know how critical this strength-style programming is, which is why we include it for our monthly members.
- You need to rest. It’s non-negotiable.
Kiss your gains goodbye if you’re not giving yourself enough rest days. More workouts is not better. Read more about this here.
Tips to hit your protein target:
- Aim for 30-40g of protein at breakfast! Start your day off on the right foot and if you’re new to eating more protein in general, this is the meal I would recommend you start with.
Check out this instagram post if you need help getting more protein at breakfast.
- Prioritize protein at each meal! Instead of thinking about such a big protein goal for the day, just make it a priority at every meal. Break it down into smaller goals.
This instagram post shows you how to get at least 100 grams of protein in your day in 3 different ways!
- Meal prep a protein source for the week ahead. Nothing is more of a pain than having to make a protein for dinner from scratch in my opinion. Having shredded chicken, taco-seasoned ground beef, or a protein-packed dish ready to go is a total game changer (see recipe ideas below too).
- If you are plant-based, you could supplement with BCAAs (take it around your workout or morning) to get enough protein for the day!
- If you’re new to the world of protein: check out this post that breaks down all the major sources and how much protein they will provide you.
- High-protein chicken alfredo
- Chocolate cherry chia pudding
- How to pick a protein bar for fat loss
- High-protein snacks
- 25 foods to pack in the protein
- 7 easy ways to get in more protein
I’ll leave you with this: the sooner your mindset shifts to getting in ENOUGH protein vs. eating as few calories as possible, things will start to fall into place! The stronger we strive to be, the better we’ll feel, look, and live our lives.