How much greater are these protein needs, then? Last year, a couple of big names in the evidence-based, fitness and nutrition world (Phillips SM, Henselmans, Alan Aragon, Brad Schoenfeld among others) published a massive meta-analysis of all studies done on supplementation and muscle and strength gains.
Here’s the key takeaway from that study:
Supplementation beyond total nutrient intake of 1.62 g/kg/day resulted in no further RET-induced gains in FFM.
Or put another way, eating ~1.6 grams of protein per kg body weight, or about 0.73 g per lbs, will maximize your muscle and strength gains. Any more than that didn’t seem to have any further positive effects. Or did it?
You see, there can actually be rather large differences between individuals in how much is needed just to maintain muscle mass (13).
This review found 1.6 g per kg to be the mean optimal amount, which basically means that for most people it will work optimally.
However, there are always outliers, and some individuals may do better with more protein, and some with less. The authors bring this point up and recommend another number that would cover the needs of any outliers:
It may be prudent to recommend ~2.2 g protein/kg/d for those seeking to maximise resistance training-induced gains in FFM.
And so with taking into account this inter-individual variance in protein needs: a range of 1.6-2.2 g per kg (or around 0.7-1 g per lbs) would be appropriate to cover the needs of the majority of vegan fitness athletes, bodybuilders, and crossfiters.
Don’t believe me?
So, if you want to maximize your muscle and strength gains, go with:
1.6-2.2 grams of per kilogram per day.
An important thing to realize here is that these numbers do not expect all protein types you consume to be super well-digested and exceptionally rich in EAAs.
You see, protein recommendations are based on ‘normal’ diets – i.e. where some protein is animal-based, a lot of it is plant-based, some well-digested and some not so much.
This means that it already factors in some of the shortcomings of vegan products.
However, to indulge in speculation, I would recommend shooting for the higher end of this range seeing as:
- Animal protein contains ~10-15% more essential amino acids than plant protein.
- Animal protein is digested ~10% better than plant protein.
- Animal protein, generally speaking, is more anabolic (contains less leucine) than plant protein (14).
Personally, I aim for 2 g of protein per kg so that I know I get in all the EAAs and muscle-building leucine every dietl. Beyond maximizing muscle protein synthesis, higher intake can also provide other benefits, including:
- You’ll lose less muscle mass during cutting (15)
- Makes you feel fuller by increasing satiety (16)
- Provides a thermic effect that may aid in reducing body fat (17)
- Helps with reducing body fat during energy restriction (18)
So feel free to go higher on protein if desired, but do it within reason so that you don’t need to drastically cut down carbohydrate or fat – both of which are required for optimal health and physical performance.