Author: Raj Chandler • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Nov. 17, 2020
Workout frequency and protein intake are two of the most commonly-questioned elements of health and fitness today. Deciding how many times a week you will go to the gym and how much protein you should have can be tough, as can answering one of these questions without knowing the other.
It’s impossible to provide a blanket recommendation for everyone when it comes to protein intake and workout frequency. Everyone has their own unique goals and health concerns, plus responsibilities to manage in their day-to-day lives. A workout schedule and protein intake plan that works for one person may not work for someone else.
In this article, we’ll go over some baseline recommendations for determining how often you should go to the gym and how much protein you should consume. We’ll also provide you with rough formulas and metrics for helping you calculate a quantity of workouts and protein that fits your specific requirements. By helping you understand how protein intake and workout frequency are connected, you’ll be able to customize these elements to attain your health and fitness goals.
Some kind of physical activity is recommended for everyone who is healthy enough to participate. The CDC suggests that all adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of the two.
Beyond that, the specific number of times per week you hit the gym will vary based on a couple of factors that differ for each individual:
Fitness goals. Do you want to build muscle mass? Or are you more concerned with losing weight? Perhaps you are looking to increase strength or gain muscle for athletic competition. The particular things you want to achieve will dictate how often you hit the gym. People with a muscle-building focus may engage in heavy resistance training three times a week, while others may perform a lighter circuit with a higher frequency.
Age and experience. If you’ve never even touched a weight before, it’s probably not necessary for you to be lifting six days a week. Your body won’t adjust well to such a sudden increase in physical strain. Age is a factor too: an elderly person will have a different capacity for exercise than a college student.
Lifestyle preferences. Each individual has their own set of responsibilities, whether they are attending school, working full-time, taking care of a family or some combination of these things. A busy working parent may not be able to workout 5 times a week for 90 minutes the way that a professional bodybuilder can – and that’s okay! Both types of people can find a workout frequency and nutrition program that works for their needs.
As long as you are meeting the CDC’s recommended guidelines – again, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week – you can break up your workouts however you see fit.
Trying to get active at least three days a week is a good starting point. Remember to always listen to your body: while some feelings of exertion and fatigue will be normal when exercising, you should never feel excessive amounts of pain or tightness.
The bottom line is you should go to the gym enough times to meet your fitness goals but not so many times that you wear yourself out or risk injury. For most people, hitting the gym anywhere from three to five times per week is a good baseline goal to shoot for.
If your goal is specifically to increase skeletal muscle, you’ll want to program your schedule a bit differently. 2016 research shows that training each muscle group twice per week resulted in better gains in muscle mass when compared to training muscle groups just once per week. So if your goal is to add lean body mass by lifting weights at the gym, you may want to build your program on a foundation of hitting every muscle group twice per week.
Some people focused on gaining muscle divide up their routine into push and pull movements. Others use a three-day split or a five-day split where they have a certain number of workouts (often three or five) to hit each week, even if the specific lift days vary. This is typically one of the building blocks of serious bodybuilding-focused lifters who are interested in professional competitions.
Again, there is no set number of days that you must go to the gym to see results. Use this information and consult with your doctor, registered dietitian or other healthcare expert to come up with a workout plan that helps you adjust your body composition the way you want without adding undue stress to your normal schedule.
It doesn’t matter if you are going to the gym for muscle gains or for weight loss – everyone should be concerned with their daily protein intake. That’s because in addition to being extremely important for adding lean muscle mass, protein is also known as a satiating macronutrient that will help you stay full throughout the day. Protein is also associated with healthy skin, hair and nails. Besides protein supplements, you can also find branched chain amino acids, which are simply the foundational elements that make up protein.
People who are especially active will want to consume more protein. The general rule for calculating the minimum amount of protein that you need is 0.36 grams of protein per pound that you weigh, or 0.8 grams per kilogram that you weigh. The range is 0.8-1 gram per kilogram for healthy adults, and 1-1.2 grams per kilogram for an elderly person. Following that guideline, a 150-pound average person would need a minimum of 54 grams of protein per day.
But people who prioritize building muscle might want to have a minimum closer to 2.2 grams per kilogram, or around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Although there’s not one magic number and recommendations vary by person, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for athletes.
Another way people can calculate their protein requirements is by dedicating a percentage of their total calories per day to the three macronutrients – fats, carbs and protein. Consuming around between 10-25% of your total calories from healthy protein sources is the general rule of thumb.
Like workout frequency, the amount of protein your body needs will vary from person to person. The above information should give you a good starting point from which you will be able to plan a specific quantity of protein that will lead you to your fitness goals without making you alter your diet or eating habits too dramatically. Remember that in addition to planning your daily grams of protein intake around your workout frequency, you’ll also want to adjust your daily caloric intake based on your activity – plus your intake of carbohydrates and other nutrients.
The final consideration to make when thinking about your protein intake is the format. Many foods recommended for muscle growth such as chicken, tuna and other lean meats are high in protein, but there are other ways to get enough protein. Many high-protein diets incorporate protein shakes made with whey protein powder or another type, such as casein. These protein shakes are great for a post-workout treat that will help your body begin the muscle protein synthesis process by which you add muscle. If you are going to be incorporating protein supplements as part of a balanced diet, be sure to purchase them from a high-quality provider that uses the best possible ingredients.
Hopefully you now have a better foundation from which to build a healthy fitness routine that accommodates your lifestyle. Just remember the tips in this article – and other ones you find online – are generalized recommendations meant for a broad audience. Everyone’s goal should be to optimize their workout regimen as well as their diet around their own individual preferences, goals and day-to-day responsibilities. That means it’s okay if your resistance exercise frequency or daily protein target isn’t exactly like someone else’s. And if you still aren’t sure what kind of routine is best for you after independent research, consult with a fitness expert, trainer or nutritionist to get help creating a personalized plan that helps you unlock the healthiest version of yourself.
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