Protein levels in Diet: what to aim for?

For most of my life I was underweight and had trouble packing on weight and muscle... until I discovered protein powders. The difference was dramatic once I started adding protein shakes into my diet, even though I thought I had a decent amount of intake through eggs and meat at most meals.

I'm not at all schooled on the dietary side of things, any suggestions on reading or basic information to keep on hand as a rule of thumb?

These days I just try to have 2 vegan protein shakes a day (way less distress for the digestive tract than Whey/Milk i've used) in the mornings and after workouts.
What is your goal(s)?

Almost all studies I've read fall into the .8 to 1 gram of protein per lb of lean body mass (IE, what you want to weigh) to build muscle. Some studies suggest as low as .6g/lb is enough to maintain current muscle if regularly working out. Some guys double or triple that number with good results, but the data supports .8-1gr just fine. Some studies suggest your body best metabolizes 30-40gr of protein at a time (IE, eating 100 grams in one meal may not be beneficial), so figure out your intake requirements and split them into 40gr "doses" with meals.

If your goal is to gain weight, the tried and true formula is an extra 500 calories above your maintenance level, make sure you get your 1g/lb of protein, and do the big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench, OHP, pullups, etc.
(Note, I am not an authority on this topic. Just a dude with a few years of strength training experience, a lot of reading, and some smart friends.)

I'm not sure what your current program/strength is, but I was lucky to receive the advice of some very smart people when I started power lifting a few years back. The best and most concise information I've seen is from Dan John, who is a renowned S&C coach. His litmus test for every strength program is his "Big five:"

- Squat movement (Barbell, Kettlebell, sandbag, front squat, back squat, box squat, etc. Just squat)
- Hinge movement (Deadlift, KB swing, rack pull, etc)
- Push movement (Bench, inline bench, dumbbell bench, pushups, overhead press, KB press, etc)
- Pull movement (Pullup, reverse pushup, lat pull downs, etc)
- Weighted carry (Pick up something heavy and walk with it. Hold it in your hand, put it on your shoulder, whatever)

As you can see, the exercises themselves are very non specific. Just find a way to do the movement and do it with proper form. If/when you're bored and want to do something different, make sure the new plan has the Big 5 and stop fretting on whether it's a "good program" or not.

Some programs I've had success with: (It's written like a sales pitch, but it IS free, and it IS excellent for starting strength training. Add pullups and weighted carries to get your 5 movements) 5/3/1 program. Intermediate program, and respected almost universally among strength athletes
Books from Dan John and Mark Rippetoe are recommended.

My personal pitfalls were wanting to bounce around programs too often, and thinking I could make a program better than the pros. If I could do it all over again, I'd go back and do the program all the way through, then do 5/3/1 as prescribed but without the max-rep sets. I hurt myself doing max rep deadlifts with weight that fit the mathematical matrix for my strength at the time, but in reality was way too much for me to be pulling like that. Chasing a few reps set me back nearly a year and a lot of strength.

Now, with limited time, I'm using a couple kettlebells and a pullup bar at home. I do goblet squats, pushups, and KB presses one day. KB Swings, pullups and weighted carries a different day. Rest days between, cardio when I feel like it. It hits all the big 5 movements, I'm done in 20-30 min and I need about 10 square feet of floor space to do most of the work. I'll get back into barbell powerlifting at some point, but it's not in the schedule right now.

TLDR: Do the big 5 movements, eat right, get good sleep, profit. It's so easy people overthink all of it.
Solid information from TomF.

I have worked and been in the fitness industry for a bit (trainer, martial arts coach, and I currently compete in olympic weightlifting), but of course always learning.

If you are looking for a good book to read on nutrition, I highly recommend "The Rennaissance Diet" by Dr. Mike Israetel. Do not let the name or their marketing fool you. The fitness industry is full of all sorts of books and shredded fitness celebrities telling you that you can get shredded if you buy their special sauce. I myself am leery of anything that notes itself as a "diet". The book does a great job of breaking down the science of weight gain or fat loss, no bells or whistles, just plain science (sh*t works). You can look up some excerpts from Dr. Israetels lectures online that cover some sections of the book as well. The book is available via Juggernaut Training (simple google will bring them up).

Just as a side note, I am not in any way tied to them. I was told about them by quite a few national level and US team weightlifters who use their consulting in making weight for competitions (up and down). I gave the book a read and now refer it to all my clients as almost a required reading if your interest is a good introduction to nutrition.
@TomF I just got done with the first day of the workout. I downloaded it to my iPhone. It was much more of an ass kicker than I thought it would be. I liked the fact that it will give you three lifts to do, and you're done.


Certified Derpologist
Big/Compound Movements equals a stronger overall body, not to mention a greater hormonal response when you work large muscle's and multiple muscle groups at a time. This means that even thought you may be working legs and back with Squats and DL, you will see the gains in strength everywhere over time due to the natural increase in testosterone.

Building muscle is one of the most effective ways to burn fat, which is why I always chuckle at people (usually skinny guys) who play the "I just wanna get cut, I don't wanna get big" when they would have better luck just running then lifting for achieving the former.

Just realize that once the muscle is there, you have to maintain the diet to a degree to keep it if your not able to actively keep exercising at the rate it took for you to get there (life gets in the way sometimes). Muscle is costly for the body to maintain. It will also prioritise fat over muscle as fat is more useful as a fuel source. Hence why it can be lost so quickly after spending months building it.

Regulate alcohol to a degree as well, overall not a good thing for building muscle if drank to excess, not to mention the calorie cost.
@TomF I just got done with the first day of the workout. I downloaded it to my iPhone. It was much more of an ass kicker than I thought it would be. I liked the fact that it will give you three lifts to do, and you're done.
Good deal. Make sure you start with just the 45lb bar as they prescribe. It may seem trivial at first, but I think that start is one of the most important aspects of the program. I was squatting 300lbs in about 12 weeks from zero background in strength training, so the program will get you there.

I helped a buddy get started on a few years back. We were at my local gym and he was squatting with a 45lb bar. The typical gym douches gave him some funny looks. Eight weeks later he was squatting 245 ass to grass 5x5 without any trouble. Gym douches hadn't gained any strength or improved their form in that same time. Give it time, it will pay off.
For most of my life I was underweight and had trouble packing on weight and muscle... until I discovered protein powders. The difference was dramatic once I started adding protein shakes into my diet, even though I thought I had a decent amount of intake through eggs and meat at most meals.

I'm not at all schooled on the dietary side of things, any suggestions on reading or basic information to keep on hand as a rule of thumb?

These days I just try to have 2 vegan protein shakes a day (way less distress for the digestive tract than Whey/Milk i've used) in the mornings and after workouts.
There is no free lunch. Medically speaking, "protein heavy" diets are bad for you. They stress the kidneys and increase the chances of various forms of cancer. Really, what you are doing is trying to tow a trailer with a corvette, when you treat your body this way. The human body was not meant to bench press its weight for reps, or squat twice its weight, or run marathons, or any other matrix you have for performance.

But we want extra performance...we crave it. Sometimes, professionally, we NEED it.

I was a "hard gainer", as well. I still am. Some people are genetically just not going to be monsters. This leaves you with two options...juice...or accept it.

That said, a lot of people view me as "big". I personally, do not. I am 195# and 5'10.5". Deadlift 315 for reps, squat 275 full ROM for reps, currently worked my way up to the 100# dumbells on the flat bench for reps. So I'm not a complete noodle, either, I guess. However, you, OP, may very well be a lot more robust than I am. Dunno. So take my advice with a grain of salt and don't roll your eyes too much at the little guy, if that's the case!

My advice is to eat 500 kCal more than you burn, and stick to about a 65% carb, 20% protein, 15% fat diet. This should not stress your system, and should be sustainable. You should be able to get this from a PROPER diet. Slacking on your diet? Get your protein from shakes. Cheat on protein...NOT carbs. Carbs need to be proper and complex. Sweet potatoes. Whole-grain cereals. Brown rice. That sort of thing. A "loose" Paleo (google it for more info than I know) diet is extremely sustainable and healthy.

You don't sound like a pro lifter to me. These are the guys slamming 1.5g protein/body weight pound. They are hitting the needle, and doing massive amounts of lifting every day, and need it. You, I presume, are not in that category. All those magazines you read are written by guys like this, or for guys like this, or about guys like this. They aren't written with people like US in mind, typically. As far as a training schedule, man, that is so personal I don't know where to start. Some people do upper/lower splits, some people isolate body parts, some people do compound lifts only.

My philosophy is a whole-body/whole performance one. I got into weight lifting because I got into fighting. I needed speed, stamina, and power. To get that, I do plenty of cardio, and I do complex/compound lifts like dead-lifts and squats, along with isolated lifts, like leg extensions and leg curls. Also, lets not lie, "pretty muscle" gets the ladies going, so yes, I do also perform isolation curls and the like. However, when I would lift back in college, I rubbed elboes with Kendrick Farris (Google him if you want, multiple Olympic medalist, powerlifter). The guy was about 183# and 5'7ish when I met him. He was shredded. He was clean and pressing 215kg. Not lb. KG! He was a damn monster. He simply did complex lifts. He looked just like he sounds---beastly and shredded. I never saw him doing isolation curls. The closest I saw him come to "training a body part" was playing around on the bench. For those guys though, they got arms and everything else from big, complex lifts. My shoulders bother me when I do a clean and press, so I don't. If you can PROPERLY DO ONE, I suggest the clean and press as the best lift of all time. If you can't properly do one...then learn to, or don't do it.


If you sacrifice form, you WILL HURT YOURSELF when you get to the big boy weights. I ended up giving myself a grade I/II shoulder separation. I got off light, but it took me outo f the gym for a year almost.

The exceptions here are "cheap" lifts, such as not going full ROM on a squat when "learning" the feel of a heavier weight, or "slinging" (in a controlled manner) or not going full ROM on a curl, to get the last 1 or two done in the set that you otherwise wouldh ave not even attempted. Cheating is okay...if you cheat SMART! But cheating because you are lifting too heavy, or don't know how to performt he lift will bite you in the arse every time.

Just my .02

Building Block Lifts:

Pull-up (over-hand and under-hand. I do under on arm days, over on back days)
Bench press
Over-head press (I prefer dumbells for all of my lifts but squats and deadlifts)

If you are beastly in all of've got it made. The rest is just filling in gaps, having fun, and/or looking pretty or correcting symmetry issues.
As others have pointed out, it's ideal to figure out your macronutrient (aka "macros") requirement and meet them with respect to proper proportion of protein, carbs and fat. I will reinforce that what Unobtanium said about the importance of carbs is very much accurate, and that many people do not understand the importance of carbohydrates. People have been made gunshy of carbs by the popularity of diets like Atkins, and to a certain degree a strict paleo diet is somewhat misleading as well (a "loose" paleo is a different matter).

You have to define your goals for muscle development. There is a distinct difference between muscle mass developed during general fitness training (like Army/USMC pushups, situps, pullups, etc) and recreational exercise/lifting, and muscle mass developed by dedicated weight lifting/bodybuilding. Your protein intake should match your goals. It's not bad to be taking in 1-1.75g of protein per lb of body weight, provided that you are doing it with a purpose. You should only be doing it if your goals are substantial mass increase and muscle/strength development. The .06-1.0g should be used for general fitness and recreational strength training.

The reason why you had such benefit with protein shakes is related to the bioavailability of the protein.
Different proteins have different bioavailability. This means that your body can digest and utilize different types of proteins at different rates. Your body most efficiently uses whey protein and egg protein. It can utilize a greater percentage of these proteins with the least amount of waste when compared to other proteins. This is rated by Biological Value, or BV. (BV is a relatively arbitrary ranking, but it has merit for describing bioavailability). The higher the BV, the more amino acids and nitrogen your body is retaining.

BV ratings of common proteins >>>

Whey Isolate : 157
Whey Concentrate: 104
Whole Egg: 100
Cow Milk: 91
Egg White: 88
Fish: 83
Beef: 80
Casein Protein/Calcium Caseinate: 80
Chicken: 79
Soy protein: 74
Wheat gluten: 54

The rate of protein intake is designed to take into account bioavailability. It's important to note that you will get greater benefit from 200g of whey protein or egg protein than you will from say, 200g of chicken or fish protein. Your body will more efficiently and effectively use the protein. This is why you gained so much benefit from taking protein shakes, assuming that you were taking whey protein. If they were soy protein, I would have to surmise that it is because your protein levels were so low before-hand that any increase was benefit.

Keep in mind that while vegan protein powders have limited amounts of BCAAs, they do not have them in the more substantial quantities that you will find in animal-based protein, including whey protein. I would suggest looking into beef protein powder, as it has higher bioavailability than plant-based protein, and it has higher amounts of BCAAs.
I'm not at all schooled on the dietary side of things, any suggestions on reading or basic information to keep on hand as a rule of thumb?
If you're looking for a science based guideline on protein recs for athletes/active populations, the position paper of the ISSN is a good place to start:

International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise

Position Statement

The following seven points related to the intake of protein for healthy, exercising individuals constitute the position stand of the Society. They have been approved by the Research Committee of the Society. 1) Vast research supports the contention that individuals engaged in regular exercise training require more dietary protein than sedentary individuals. 2) Protein intakes of 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg/day for physically active individuals is not only safe, but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training. 3) When part of a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, protein intakes at this level are not detrimental to kidney function or bone metabolism in healthy, active persons. 4) While it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through a varied, regular diet, supplemental protein in various forms are a practical way of ensuring adequate and quality protein intake for athletes. 5) Different types and quality of protein can affect amino acid bioavailability following protein supplementation. The superiority of one protein type over another in terms of optimizing recovery and/or training adaptations remains to be convincingly demonstrated. 6) Appropriately timed protein intake is an important component of an overall exercise training program, essential for proper recovery, immune function, and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass. 7) Under certain circumstances, specific amino acid supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA's), may improve exercise performance and recovery from exercise.

Full paper:
Just a quick side note for those who are considering adding a protein supplement to their diet. Not all proteins are created equal. Read the labels! The vast majority of protein powders are loaded with excipients, fillers, oils and other crap. Seek out a whey isolate without all the added garbage. For those looking to dive deeper into the subject of protein check out Jerry Brainum's YouTube vid "proteinaholic".
For someone trying to loose body fat and replace it with muscle, what should my calorie intake look like? Without a doubt my diet should consist of foods that the body needs but, what amount of good nutrition should I be consuming? Im not really sure if this is something there is an out right answer to or if it just depends on the person. To effectively reduce body fat and still give myself a healthy amount of nutrition to build muscle and perform on, is there a certain caloric number I should stay around per day?
Yeah too much protein gives me farty pants as well lol @WeaponOutfitters And I'm probably too obsessive about the quality of literally everything, hence how i found labdoor and P&S.

@Falco There's a lot that goes into finding that out but it's really not as hard as it seems. All you need to know is your height and weight to find your BMR. I like the myfitnesspal BMR calculator because it is one of the most accurate ones I've found. Also your activity level and training play into the equation as well. Look up the mifflin st jeor equation and you'll have to do a little math to find that out. This will only tell you how many calories you should be eating on a daily basis though, not the content of those calories. For that you will need to know what your training goals are like losing fat or gaining muscle, and if you are going to be in a deficit or surplus. I would start with your protein requirements, then your fats, and the rest gets filled in with your carbs. Remember one gram of protein is 4 calories, one gram of carbs is 4 calories, and one gram of fat is 9 calories. If you need more help with any of this please ask and I'll do my best.