How Much Protein Per Meal for Max Muscle?
Protein is famous for the body bulging muscle role it has. However, there is a lot more that meets the eye than this outward pretty appearance of protein.
Key roles include:
- growth and development for organs and tissues from birth through teens
- muscle maintenance and new growth in adults
- fullness and hunger signals
- making hormones like insulin (regulates blood sugar) and appetite
- making enzymes that break down food to help digest it and do many key reactions in your body
- immune system worker bees like antibodies
Protein is in every cell in your body. It does amazing stuff when you look at that list above. When I went to nutrition school (just shy of 100 years ago) we were taught to prevent deficiencies with protein. This is an outdated approach.
Now, the story is different. We want to know how to get the most muscle building, fighting off disease and controlling for hunger from protein.
We also want to watch for too much protein since too much could mean more fat. The protein your body doesn’t need is converted to fat. No matter if you are eating to loose weight or just want to eat for health, storing fat sounds scary.
The recent research out on protein is telling us protein on a per meal basis is much better to focus on. The idea is hitting the sweet spot where the maximum muscle growth and appetite control is and avoid into storing protein as fat.
So how much do you need?
The sweet spot is 20 grams protein per meal (for healthy and active adults) and if you are 50 or older your needs go up and 25 gram of protein for your sweet spot.
What about getting too much?
Bone health and kidney problems are the two big cited concerns. However, unless you have kidney disease, too much protein is not a problem. For bone health research has found getting enough protein is as important as getting enough calcium and vitamin D. So watch to be sure you are getting calcium and vitamin D along with your protein.
How much protein are most eating now?
Unfortunately, most people are eating over 60% of their protein at one meal, you guessed it, the dinner meal. The average American only intakes 15 grams of protein at breakfast and many are much less than this.
What does this mean in real foods?
To make it really simple, use your palm. Everyone’s palm is a little different. Those that are taller tend to have bigger palms and vice versa if you are more petite. Also, it is a guide that you always have with you.
I recommend for healthy, active adults (male and female) at lunch and dinner you eat protein equivalents equal to your palm size. If you are a serious athlete (working out 5 times a week 60 minutes vigorous activity) then one and a half times your palm.
▣ Protein Needed for Lunch and Dinner = Palm ▣
▣ Protein Needed for Breakfast = Palm Minus Thumb ▣
▣ Add an ounce per meal if 50 years or over ▣
For those 50 years and older, bump it up an ounce of protein equivalents every meal. Wow – yes, you need to be getting more to overcome the resistance to building new muscle your body starts to experience around age 50.
For breakfast get yourself to at least palm size minus your thumb. If you want to go for your full palm size, that is fine. It is just that most people struggle with protein at breakfast. Again, if you are 50 years or more add in an ounce equivalent of protein at breakfast which makes it your full palm size of protein equivalents.
If you are a serious athlete then you should see a dietitian for individual recommendations. It is not vastly different, but you do want to strategize with your timing of protein and workouts and intensity.
I know some of you are thinking, how am I going cut back to a palm size at dinner meal. Unfortunately, our culture has evolved to our largest meal at dinner.
I first recommend you look at buying smaller cuts of meat and portioning out smaller portions if you are doing double your palm size regularly. Chances are your total calories are your dinner meal could be setting you up for being out of whack for the entire day.
I recommend you top out at 4 ounces for females and 6 ounces for males of protein at dinner. That is my ultimate upper limit. The rest of your plate should be lots of veggies and some high fiber carbohydrates. Keep in mind too that if you eat more protein than your body needs, you are going to pack it in as fat.
Is animal or vegetable protein better?
Go more for the vegetable protein sources since we know they do better for hunger and fullness. Research has compared them back-to-back. People end up feeling more satisfied with their meals eating the same amount of vegetable proteins as animal proteins. You can do a combination of animal and protein too.
Give vegetable proteins a chance if you haven’t tried them. Even one or two meals a week with vegetable proteins like a bean soup, eggs, or nuts have awesome benefits.
Here are some proteins to bulk up your meals to easily get to the recommended palm size minimum.
ANIMAL SOURCES (1 ounce lean protein equivalents)
1 oz turkey or chicken, skin removed
1 oz fish (Salmon, swordfish, herring, flounder, sole, scrod, cod, etc.)
1 oz lean beef or pork (flank steak, London broil, tenderloin, roast beef)
1 oz canned tuna in water
1 oz shellfish (clams, lobster, scallop, shrimp)
VEGETABLE SOURCES (1 ounce lean protein equivalents)
3/4 cup Cottage cheese, nonfat or low-fat
1 egg (can just use egg white)
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 oz fat-free or low-fat cheese
1/4 cup beans, cooked (black beans, kidney, chick peas or lentils):
1/4 cup baked beans, refried beans
1/2 ounce nuts (7 walnuts, 24 pistachios, 12 almonds)
1 tablespoon nut butter spread (peanut butter, almond butter)
2 tablespoons hummus
1/2 ounce seeds (pumpkin, sunflower roasted)
1/4 cup tofu (2 ounces)
1 soy or bean burger patty (4 ounces)
1/4 cup roasted soybeans or edamame without the shell
1 oz. tempeh, cooked
½ cup Greek yogurt or high-protein yogurt (avoid regular yogurt as too much sugar for the protein in regular yogurt)
¼ cup plus tablespoon high protein granola
High Protein Breakfast Ideas
Breakfast is the meal most struggle to get enough protein at. Here are some quick ideas to try out that have 20 – 25 grams of protein:
Breakfast Bean Burrito: Fill a corn tortilla with two scrambled eggs, 1/4 cup diced sautéed onions, and 1/4 cup of black beans. Then top with a tablespoon of pico de gallo (or more to taste).
High-Protein Oatmeal: Cook 3/4 cups of dry oatmeal with 1 1/4 cup of skim milk. Add 1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries and 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts. Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle with honey.
Breakfast Parfait: combine 1 cup Greek low-fat vanilla yogurt, with half a chopped apple and an ounce of chopped almonds. Top the parfait with a dusting of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.
Berry Smoothie: blend together 1 cup Greek low-fat vanilla yogurt, 1 cup frozen berries (strawberries and mango are my favorite), 1/4 cup orange juice, 1 leaf kale torn into pieces, 1/4 cup silken tofu until smooth. Eat with a hard boiled egg and skip the tofu in the smoothie. Note: for most blenders let the frozen berries sit on the counter for 30 minutes or take out from the freezer into the refrigerator the night before. Straight from frozen is often too hard to blend to a smooth texure.