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How Much Protein Do We Really Need for Muscle Growth?

Dr Darden, when reading up information about protein intake I sometimes find very high recommended amounts. In other occasions I’ve read that you really don’t need such high amounts of protein. In my personal case I’ve been able to gain muscle throughout my life by just eating regular food & not even minding my protein intake.

In your book Mens Health Killing Fat I remember you talking about the subject. However, I have the audio version of your book and haven’t been able to find it. Can you tell us what amount is really needed? Like a calculation similar to the standard 1 gram per lb or what not?

Also, what are your thoughts on BCAA’s for muscle growth?

Thanks for the help.

My research some 50 years ago showed me that you don’t need much protein for muscle growth to occur. Generally, if active men in the United States get one thing from their daily food consumption . . . it’s an abundance of protein. Instead of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, half of that amount (0.5 grams per pound) would be more than sufficient.

The key factor in muscular growth is to stimulate growth at the basic cellular level FIRST. Then rest adequately SECOND. And then consume enough water, calories, and protein THIRD.


Talking about successful training, I think it was the actor Dolph Lundgren (Ivan Drago, Rocky IV) who said that “you always have to manage two out of three” referring to excercise, sleep and nutrition.

This “saying” has been my rule to follow, as my busy life with work and little kids, makes it impossible to perform at the top. It is kind of a mental excercise going on here. I often manage excercise and nutrition (…to sleep when I am dead). :wink:

That being said, I find it very interesting that Dr Darden has rest before nutrition in priorities! This means I will try to prioritize sleep more!

I could be wrong but I think the rest part isn’t just the sleeping part but also the recovery time between workouts? As of late I have a hard time getting enough sleep . I’m working from home so I can sleep when ever I want and as late as I want but unlike before this virus stuff started where I would get a good nights sleep I am lucky now to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep . I often wonder if I’m banging my head against a wall lifting hard and not getting enough sleep or if my body can deal with the lack of sleep and grow anyway !

Hi Scott,

We should probably start a “sleep” thread - or even this belongs to “pharma”?

Anxiety or stress are well known reasons for sleep disorder. I’ve met quite a few people lately having Covid-19 related difficulty sleeping. Periodically we can deal with sleep depravation (for how long varies depending on individual factors, as well as previous mental issues). I do sleep less, about 6 hours/night, but compensate with a very deep sleep, which I find ok.

If you are otherwise healthy, you could always try any GABA supplement? Perhaps even get a prescription (maybe non-prescription in the US?) for melatonin, which is a very safe, non-addictive alternative? If neither of these work for you, I would consult a physician for discussion.

I did talk to my doctor and he prescribed melatonin but twice packages came to the house ripped open and the pills gone. Mail around here is nuts these days at least 5 things we ordered in 5 weeks just don’t come. People have gone crazy! This is not the place to discuss sleep disorders , I should never have brought it up but Dr. Darden’s ZMA is helping. Thanks

Interesting. That would mean only about 13% of my calories would come from protein (360 cal from protein out of 2800). Do recommend to go higher carb or higher fat to get up to one’s daily calorie needs?

The knowledge of human protein needs has been available for decades. Logic dictates adults need little protein. Who cares what obsessive-compulsive bodybuilders think they need. Short term studies on increasing protein intake are just naive-foolish attempts to control human behaviors. There are lots of protein turnover in the gut-Hello-and-protein metabolism of producing protein from carbohydrates. Professor Russell Henry Chittenden, Dr. William Rose studied human protein needs decades ago. Starved people die due to depleted fat storage supplies for energy, not to proteins being pulled from bodily systems. Protein over-nutrition is just simply foolishness.

The first book I authored was called Nutrition and Athletic Performance (1976). It went through at least 30 printings. My ideal eating plan described in the book was composed of 13% proteins, 59% carbohydrates, and 28% fats.

Those percentages are still on-target.

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Dr. Darden,

So you are saying only 13% protein is sufficient in gaining lean muscle mass?

Yes, 13% protein is sufficient if you are consuming a normal number of calories per day – which would be from 2,800 through 3,500 calories daily.

That’s quite interesting. Everything you see in the bodybuilding world is a minimum of 1g/lb of body weight and sometimes as high as 1.5g/lb of body weight. I always thought thats a really large amount of protein to be consuming per day. I am a Neurotype 3 (from CT’s Neurotyping) so the more carbs the better for me mentally. I’ve found consuming around 60% carbohydrates has always been a lot better for me than consuming lower carbohydrates and higher protein.

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With all due respect, there have been many additional studies done on protein requirements since then, and there is some disagreement about what is ideal. In particular, there is a consistent theme emerging that protein needs increase with advanced age (65+). Even researchers who generally favor low protein intake for longevity (e.g., Victor Longo) will recommend higher protein intakes in older subjects.

There is also the recent work on the “protein leverage hypothesis” to consider. This theory came from 30+ years of research conducted by two zoologists. They have observed that in many animal species, protein intake is prioritized over macro nutrients. Many animals will overeat total calories on a protein deficient diet to get to their threshold or optimal level of protein intake. There is some evidence that humans follow the same pattern.

The authors of the protein leverage hypothesis (Raubenheimer and Simpson) have argued that the natural range for protein intake in humans is 15-20% of total calorie intake. They recommend a minimum of 15% for middle aged adults, but think 20% is more appropriate for seniors.

I’m not taking a position on who is right, but there are legitimate experts (scientists, not body builders) who would say that 13% is too low.

Well, 13% or 15% isn’t something to worry about.

The above text makes it clear.
15% is the lowest protein intake for a non active person. Definitely not a body builder / power lifter / strong man. Who needs more protein than non athletes.

Simple maths:
On a 2,800 calorie diet - 13% calories = 364.
4 calories / gram of protein. 91g of protein
2,800 calories for maintenance is about maintenance for a 185lb guy.
So this is about 1/2 g / lb.

For cutting at a 500 calories / day does this ratio still stand?
2,300 x .13 = 299 / 4 = 75g of protein daily.
This seems low. I can eat this for breakfast. (6 eggs and 250g of gammon 2 toast)

And can I ask if there a detriment to changing these % toward protein?
Say an athlete wanted to swap some carbs for protein. Swapping to a 20/25% protein diet - what detrimental effects could you expect (in either gainingweight or fat loss).

Imo, seniors lose muscle because of lack of activity not lack of getting 20% of protein per day


All I say is that this is overthinking. In reality you probably don’t weight EVERY single protein on a LONG TERM basis.
And you definetly eat enough protein with pretty much normal diet
The point here in my opinion is that even someone who wants to build muscle like you and me probably don’t have to strive to super extra protein intake.
Just my 2 cents toward big perspective.

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The 0.5 g/lb seems lower than any other research source I have seen. I don’t believe in super high protein either (over 1.25g/lb). I say between 0.75 and 1.25 g/lb. It gets expensive going much above the 1.25, and it is hard to accomplish with anything resembling a normal diet. I also worry about kidney issues long term if going ultra high. I just set the 0.75 as my minimum and if I go over that is fine, but I don’t stress getting any more than that. YMMV.

Short term protein studies lead to naive foolish assumptions. Older folks gravitate to “something sweet”! There are reasons why! The body consists of many systems. The adult human body does not have youthful growing needs, so protein needs are minimal.

There are large successful civilizations based on high carbohydrate intake. Argue that one. Where massive protein diets are prevalent, are there subsequent utopias of health?

Long before modern hypertension medicines, Dr. Walter Kempner’s rice diet treated successfully diabetes and hypertension. For all of you Irving Johnson disciples, Dr. Kempner’s diet consisted of about 94 % carbohydrate, 2 % fat, and 4 % protein. 150 mg of sodium, as calories were restricted in regards to a patient’s body weight.

There is also the myth that foods need to be combined to get All of the essential amino acids. This is another lie. No food combining is necessary. The gut recycles lots of amino acids, and plants contain all the essential amino acids.

Joe Weider and Bob Hoffman would hate this post!

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I don’t believe you.

It could be based on more than diet. I don’t think the ultra high protein diets are necessarily healthy. I guess I am not convinced it is because a high carbohydrate intake (unless it is because carbs are cheap, and that was the only way to feed a large society).

Ultimately I think a balanced diet makes the most sense. Keto is a good diet kickstart, but I tried it and it wasn’t sustainable for me. Ultra high protein I can’t do very long due to price, I am not convinced it is healthy, and it has a big environmental impact. I am a believer in removing crap from my diet. Crap being sugary foods, high calorie dense junk food, drinks with calories other than milk and occasional booze.