Can You Build Muscle Without Eating a Lot of Protein?

Man exercising on an exercise machine in a gymnasium
Young man lifting weights in gym. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Lifting heavy weights builds muscle, eating protein does not -- yet, just about all advice about gaining muscle says you must increase your protein intake. While active people should eat more protein than sedentary people to facilitate muscle repair and recovery, you don't have to consume pounds of chicken and steak or choke down protein shakes daily. According to National Institutes of Health statistics from 2008, most Americans already get 12 to 18 percent of their calories from protein -- enough to support an active, muscle-building lifestyle.

Protein Needs

The average sedentary person needs about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Athletes do need more, but not the 1 to 2 grams per pound of body weight that supplement companies and some fitness magazines prescribe. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletes should aim for between 0.6 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. For a 150-pound person, this amounts to between 90 and 135 grams of protein daily.

Building Muscle

When you work against heavy resistance, your muscle fibers break down and cells rush in to repair. During the repair process, the muscles grow stronger. The body uses amino acids, which are the components of protein, during the repair process -- but you don't need an overdose to facilitate growth. Aim for three strength workouts per week using weights that are equal to between 80 and 85 percent of your one-repetition maximum. At each workout, do an exercise for three to six sets of eight to 12 repetitions for each major muscle group.

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