When I talk about protein and muscle building. Then I want a protein shake.
In all seriousness, I am often asked how many proteins are actually needed for muscle building. How much protein does it cost to build muscle mass? Probably not as much as you think. Is 1 gram per pound of body weight per day enough? If we eat more, will we build more muscle?
Or should we eat less than that? 1 gram per pound of lean mass, perhaps? Is that even more than we need?
Well, let’s find out. Table with content
Why your body needs proteins to build muscles
400 grams of protein per day? Serious?
The protein requirement of athletes
The type of protein is important
Is “Protein Timing” correct?
How do you think about protein numbers, types and times? Do you have anything else that you would like to share? Lemme knows it in the comments below! Why your body needs proteins to build muscles
You may already know this, but I want to give a short summary to make sure.
In the body, a protein is a special type of molecule that consists of substances known as amino acids. Think of amino acids as the “building blocks” of proteins – without the required amino acids the body can not create protein molecules.
Now there are many types of proteins in the body and they perform a wide range of functions, ranging from the replication and repair of DNA, to cell signaling (insulin is a protein, for example), to the formation of tissues and other substances such as hair and nails, and more.
The construction of “muscle proteins” (the types of protein molecules from which our muscles are made) requires a variety of amino acids, some of which must be obtained from food (these are known as “essential” amino acids).
When you eat a food that contains protein, your body breaks down the protein molecules in the food into the amino acids that make up it and then uses those amino acids to build its own proteins.
If you eat too few grams of protein every day, your body may fall short of the amino acids it needs to build up and restore muscle mass, thereby disrupting muscle growth.Now the body has certain protein needs, even if you do not train. Remember that cells die and regenerate every day, and this requires amino acids.
However, when you train, the body needs more amino acids to repair damaged muscle fibers and, depending on what you do, they grow bigger. That’s why athletes must follow a protein-rich diet to maximize performance.
How high do you have to go? 400 grams of Protein per day? Serious? Many years ago, before I knew what I was doing, I was stuck in a rut in the gym, and I thought my protein intake might be the problem.
I asked an ex-professional bodybuilder how much protein I should eat every day, and he said 2 grams per pound of body weight.
I was a bit overwhelmed – that would mean that I would eat almost 400 grams a day.
He was adamant that 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight was absolutely necessary to break through the plateau and start building muscle again, so I went for it.
I manned and doubled my daily intake to reach the 400 g / day number, and, well, it was bad. I was constantly full, more than sick of protein shakes, and food in general simply felt more and more like a task.
But I put it out … and did not build muscle to talk about.
Fast forward to today. Since that time, I have radically transformed my physique and I have not eaten more than 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for many years (do not worry, we’ll get straight into the figures).
The point of this little story is this:
If you have problems with muscle building, eating more protein is not necessarily the solution.
You do not have to eat excessive amounts of protein to efficiently build up muscle.
The bottom line is maximizing muscle growth, which requires following what is commonly known as a “high-protein diet,” but it does not have to chafe every day kilos of meat and cups of protein powder.
How much protein should you actually eat to build muscle? According to the Institute of Medicine, 10 – 35% of our daily calories should come from proteins. However, that is not very useful for us.
10 – 35% is quite a range to choose from, and even if we were 35%, if our daily caloric intake is too low, we will not get enough protein and if it is too high, we will eat more then we need.
Let’s look at some of the available clinical research on protein needs, and specifically with athletes.
Let us first look at research conducted by McMaster University.
According to their paper, protein intake of 1.3 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (.6 – .8 grams per pound of body weight) is sufficient to stimulate maximum protein synthesis. However, they note that more protein may be needed in the case of frequent and / or intensive training, and in the case of a diet to lose fat (limitation of calories).
A widely quoted study conducted by the University of Western Ontario concluded the same: 1.6 – 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight may be enough for athletes, but higher intakes may also be justified, depending on a wide range of factors, including energy intake, carbohydrate availability, exercise intensity, duration and type, protein quality of the feed, training history, gender, age, nutrient intake, and more.
As you can see, the subject is actually quite complex and there may not be a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
“Gym Lore” can really offer some insight here, and it agrees with the above findings.
1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2 g / kg body weight) per day has been a rule of thumb for bodybuilding for decades.
Higher levels of protein intake, usually in the range of 1.2 – 1.5 grams per pound of body weight (2.6 – 3.3 g / kg BW) per day, are often recommended when you “cut” to lose fat.
If these songs sound really good to you, consider this study published earlier this year by AUT University. Here is the conclusion:
“Protein needs for energetically restricted, resistance-trained athletes are likely to scale up 2.3-3.1 g / kg FFM [1 – 1.4 grams per pound of lean body mass] with severity of caloric restriction and leanness.”
I have discovered that this is very true, not only with my body, but also with the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve worked with.
As you become slimmer, keeping your protein intake high is very important. If it falls too low (less than 1 gram per pound of body weight, in my experience), strength and muscle loss are accelerated.
And if you’re worried that eating so many proteins is bad for your kidneys, do not worry, it’s not. Not all forms of proteins are similar. There are three important factors that you should know:
Different forms of protein digest at different speeds.
Some forms of protein are better utilized by the body than others.
Different forms of proteins have different amounts of the essential amino acids that our body needs.
Beef protein, for example, is quickly digested and 70-80% of what is eaten, is used by the body (the exact number varies based on what you read, but they all fall between 70 and 80%), and have a large number of essential amino acids.
Whey protein is also rapidly digested and its “net protein use” (NPU) is in the low 90% s, which means that 90-percent of it can actually be used by your body. It also contains many essential amino acids and in particular leucine.
Egg protein digests much more slowly than whey and beef and the NPU also drops in the low 90% s. It also has a great amino acid profile.
NPU and digestive rates are important to know because you want to rely on high NPU proteins to meet your daily protein needs. Research has shown that a rapidly digestible protein such as whey is ideal for use after training.
What it boils down to is that if you get a lot of fish, meat, dairy and eggs in your diet, you will not have any problems to meet the protein needs of your body.
Vegans, however, have a bit more difficulty.You probably expect me to start talking about “complete” and “incomplete” proteins, but the “incomplete protein” myth and the defective research it came out of was thoroughly unmasked by MIT years ago. All proteins in vegetables are “complete”.
What is true is that some forms of vegetable protein are lower in certain amino acids than others, so that certain sources are better than others.
For example, the protein in peas and rice is superior to the protein found in hemp.
I advise vegans to eat a lot of grains (quinoa and amaranth are probably the most popular protein choices), legumes (where all kinds of beans are the most popular choice here) and protein-rich vegetables such as peas. I recommend that soya be eaten sparingly, for reasons mentioned in this article about protein powders.
Complementing vegan protein powders, such as Legion Thrive, also makes balancing your numbers easier. The last thing I want to touch quickly is protein timing. That is, if you eat proteins. Does it matter?
Do you have to eat protein every 3 hours? Is it necessary to eat proteins before or after exercise?
The frequency of protein intake does not matter if you only reach your daily number.
You will not go “catabolic” if you have no protein every few hours, and eating more protein will not help you build more muscle.
If you like to eat 3, larger meals a day with several hours in between, do it (do not worry, your body can absorb a lot of proteins at the same time). If you are like me and prefer smaller meals during the day, that is fine too.
(Check out my article about intermittent fasting if you want to know more about the irrelevance of meal timing.)
Having proteins before and after work probably does, it can help you build more muscle.
The reason why I say “probably” and “can” is that the research is contradictory at the moment.
Some studies, such as conducted by Victoria University, Baylor University, and the University of Jyväskylä point to pre- and post-workout protein consumption helps to build more muscles; while other studies did not show such benefits as those performed by The College of New Jersey and Manchester Metropolitan University.
Personally, I eat proteins before I train (unless I train quickly), but also afterwards, because I believe there is enough clinical and anecdotal evidence to support this (and other smart people in this sector do so).
Eating protein at bedtime is also a good idea. Not to prevent muscle breakdown, but to help with muscle repair.