One question I get asked a lot is "how much protein do I need to eat to get buff?" My response is always "how much weight are you lifting?"
Unfortunately, eating protein alone will not build the bulging biceps and glutes of steel we all desire (but wouldn't it be nice if it did? Bring on the steak!). In order to build muscle you have to include weight-bearing exercises in your weekly training routine. Weight-bearing exercise isn't just important to get those rippling muscles, it also helps strengthen your bones, and can help you burn more fat.
Once you start weight-bearing exercises your protein needs do increase slightly from before. However, most Americans get about double the amount of recommended protein, so your diet probably doesn't need to change all that much. As a general rule, make sure you get a serving a protein at every meal, and make sure it's high quality protein (which are those complete proteins I've talked about before) like meat, milk, eggs, chicken, fish, soy, or quinoa.
Carbohydrates are just as important as protein when it comes to building muscles. That's because before your body can worry about building and repairing your muscles it first has to make sure it takes care of everything else. That means you need to provide your body with enough calories (from anything - carbs, fat, or protein) to keep you alive before those calories will be used for anything else. To calculate a rough estimate of how much that is take your weight in pounds and multiple by 10. Example - I weigh 130#; my body needs 1300 calories for general functioning.
That number is probably more than you were thinking it was. That's how many calories your body needs just to keep you alive every day. Then you need to add additional calories for your daily activity and fuel during your training sessions. Once all of those calorie needs are met, your body can start building and repairing the muscle your building.
If you try to meet your calorie needs by eating mostly protein and fat you're not going to be able to do it. Both protein and fat are digested more slowly by the body and make us feel fuller than carbohydrates (not to mention carbohydrates are the body's main source of fuel, pretty important when it comes to training). So, while low carbohydrate diets aren't something I recommend in general, I really discourage them for people who are training and trying to build muscle.
If you aren't seeing the results you want from your training, you may need to fine tune your diet. To get the best diet for you and your individualized needs, I recommend making an appointment with a dietitian that specializes in sports nutrition.
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.