The Nutrition of Building Muscles from Online RDN: How Much Protein Do You Need?

Strength training is gaining popularity across the country for all genders and ages. Strength training is a form of exercise that uses resistance to build muscle mass, anaerobic endurance, and overall strength. It is critical for top athletes to improve their performance, but it is also important for seniors to prevent the loss of bone mass and density and maintain independence. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done at least twice a week, and it’s possible to do them at home without a gym. Everyday activities like gardening, playing with kids, and carrying groceries can help build muscle.

The question of how strong an individual should be depends on various factors like age, weight, gender, physical health history, ability, and interest level. Professionals discuss the Strength-to-Weight Ratio (SWR) to determine an athlete’s strength and muscle-building ability. Body composition testing can give you a better idea of your muscle mass as well. The nutrition of building muscles depends on getting the right number of calories, protein, carbs, and fats. Today, we will focus on proteins.

Proteins provide the amino acids that our bodies need every day for almost all biological processes. While strength training, we create micro-tears in our muscles, and our body uses amino acids to repair them, making our muscles bigger. Therefore, getting enough protein is critical for muscle-building and strength training.

Americans, on average, eat more protein than they need. As online dietitians, in our experience, we see that our patients need to increase their vegetable and fruit intake more than proteins! (We’ll discuss plant-forward diets and building muscle next blog).

To build muscle mass, the body needs between 10 and 35% of its total calories to come from protein. For a 2000 calorie/day diet, to build muscles, 200 – 700 calories must come from protein (50 – 175 grams), and a sedentary adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. For adults over 40 or 50, increasing protein intake to 1 gram per kilo of body weight is recommended to maintain muscle mass.

Protein-rich foods like skinless, baked chicken, lean ground beef, grilled salmon, yogurt, cottage cheese, lentils, black beans, quinoa, and tofu are all excellent sources of protein. Most adults, except for high-performing athletes, those wanting to build muscle, vegans, or those with specific dietary needs, can get sufficient protein from six servings of protein foods per day. Beware of protein drinks, shakes, and other products. They are usually not necessary! (And they are very costly.)

Finally, portion distortion is a concern, and it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes. Next week, we will discuss the other nutritional needs for strength training and building healthier muscles.

Here’s a recipe for a high-protein snack for athletes:

Protein Energy Bars:

  • Ingredients:

    • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
    • 1/2 cup almond flour
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond butter
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
    • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans or modify with pumpkin seeds, chia seeds etc.)
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
    • 1/4 cup sugar-free chocolate chips
    • 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup (optional)
    • Pinch of salt


    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8×8 inch baking dish with parchment paper.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, almond flour, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, and salt.
    3. Add the almond butter and almond milk to the bowl and mix well.
    4. Fold in the sugar-free chocolate chips and optional honey or maple syrup.
    5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and press it down firmly.
    6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
    7. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing into bars.
    8. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

    Enjoy your delicious and nutritious homemade energy bars (without all the processed guck you get in many store-bought bars).