Protein and muscle growth Everything you need to know

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You already knew that proteins are important for building muscle mass. But in what ways exactly should you use proteins to take optimal advantage of it from the point of view of muscle growth?


First and foremost, you need to make sure you eat enough protein.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average person needs 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.8-1 g/kg/d) daily to function properly.

However, that 0.8-1 g/kg/d is not enough to build a lot of muscle mass, let alone to maximize muscle growth. How much you need as a bodybuilder depends on the mode you are in: bulk, cut or recomp.


During the bulk, your body receives more than enough nutrients and will therefore not quickly break down muscle mass. That is why you should not overdo it with your protein intake.

Many studies show that a protein intake of 1.6 g/kg/d is enough to maximize muscle growth. We use 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg/d as a general recommendation for protein intake during bulk. This means that 1.6 g is already sufficient in most cases, but that depending on training status, age and diet, you may need a little more to optimally facilitate muscle growth.

bulk: 1.6-2,2 g/kg/d

Eating more protein is of no use for muscle growth.


When you ‘re cutting, not only does your body get less energy through calories, it also has less body fat and glycogen available as fat stores. As a result, your body is more likely to break down muscle mass as an alternative source of energy.

To ensure that your muscle mass remains untouched despite the energy deficit, you eat slightly more protein than in the bulk: 1.8 g/kg/d. Depending on the situation, according to coach Jeff Nippard, this can go up to 2.7 g/kg/d. The following applies: the lower your fat percentage, the more you go to the top of this margin.

cut: 1.8-2.7 g/kg/d

You can read more about protein requirements in the cut in this article.


With body recomposition (recomp for short) you try to build muscle mass and lose fat mass at the same time. You eat at maintenance level or just slightly below that. Your protein intake is the same as in the bulk (1.6 g/kg/d), except you have a little more margin towards the top (2.2 g/kg/d). The following again applies: the leaner you are, the higher your protein intake.

recomp: 1.6-2.2 g/kg/d


Rest assured, eating a lot of protein will not harm your health, even if the amount is even higher than the recommendations.

From a bodybuilding perspective, however, we do not recommend eating too much protein, since carbohydrates and fats are also very important for muscle growth.


Although the total protein intake in a day is by far the most important, the distribution of those proteins over different meals also plays a role.

Unlike carbohydrates and fats, proteins cannot be stored and preserved until the times when they are needed most. Your body is therefore much more dependent on acute protein intake to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

It is important that a minimum of proteins is needed to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. However, there is also a maximum amount of proteins that can be used in one go to increase that synthesis.

According to a meta study by hypertrophy expert Brad Schoenfeld, muscle protein synthesis is best stimulated if you divide your protein intake into four to six meals daily, with a time span of three to four hours between meals. You eat 20 to 40 grams of protein per meal.

Have four to six meals daily. Eat 20-40 g of protein per meal.

20-40 grams is still a wide margin. Keep in mind that with 20 grams you probably already achieve a large part of the muscle protein synthesis (~90%). Our advice is to keep the larger protein shots, ie from 30 to 40 grams, for ‘special’ moments, such as right after training or just before bedtime.

You can read more about the distribution of proteins in this article.


Not so long ago, it was common in bodybuilding land that you should eat a significant dose of protein within 30 minutes of training, preferably whey protein in a shake. If you don’t, you’ll miss the gains from that workout.

Today, many studies later, we know that the timing of protein intake is not so close. This is because there is a difference between protein intake and absorption. If you eat four meals a day (or five, or six) and you schedule your training between two of those meals, your body can always have enough protein for optimal muscle growth. The condition is that such a meal contains at least 20 grams of protein.

As shown in the figure below, make sure that the pre-workout meal and the post-workout meal are less than 4-6 hours apart.

The only exception to this is if you train on an empty stomach. Then it is best to consume proteins immediately after training.

Schedule your workout between two protein-rich (20-40 g) meals.


Another often-heard piece of advice is to take a large portion of protein just before you go to sleep. That way you could stimulate muscle protein synthesis when you sleep, the most important period in which muscle recovery takes place.

Several studies suggest that pre-night protein intake is good for muscle growth, although the results could also be (partly) due to a higher total protein intake.

The anabolic effect seems more real if you take a somewhat larger ‘shot’ of protein, of at least 40 grams, and if you use the slowly absorbing casein protein.

Eat 40 g (‘slow’) protein before bedtime.


To optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis, the protein source must contain all essential amino acids, preferably with a high content of leucine, the most important amino acid for muscle growth. For optimal muscle growth, you should consume about 2.5 grams of leucine per meal. A larger dose has no further positive effects. The proteins that provide relatively the most leucine are whey protein, chicken breast and eggs. Vegetable proteins have a much lower amount of leucine, but this can be solved by using protein powders, such as pea protein and brown rice.

In addition to leucine, the biological value, in other words the total amino acid profile of a protein, must also be considered. A high biological value means that there are relatively many essential amino acids in the correct ratio (corresponding to that in the human body). Proteins with a high biological value include milk, eggs, whey isolate and chicken. Look here for other good protein sources.

In practice, a somewhat healthy and varied diet will automatically provide a sufficient anabolic response. You also don’t have to buy supplements with individual amino acids.

Only if you are vegan you will have to make a little more effort to get all the necessary amino acids. As a vegan, you would do well to eat a little more protein than normal – about 20-30% on top of 1.6 g/kg/d.

If you are cutting, pay extra attention to the calorie density and fat content of the protein source. Look here for the best protein sources in the cut.

Choose products with a relatively high proportion of proteins, especially the amino acid leucine. These are generally foods that are already abundantly present in a normal diet.


Protein provides you with the building blocks for muscle growth, so it makes sense to pay a lot of attention to it from a bodybuilding perspective.

However, we should not make it more difficult than it is. The most important thing is that you eat enough protein on a daily basis, which you can easily check with a calorie app.

The other aspects are less and less important, as the pyramid below shows. Still worth it for the optimists among us.

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