Ah, protein, the lifeblood of the fitness industry.
There probably isn’t a gym in the world that isn’t selling some type of protein supplement. We seemed obsessed with it, which means you’re probably obsessed with it and I don’t blame you.
You're sold the dream that protein can provide you with untold muscle gains and superb leanness.
More protein = more progress...
Are you right to think this?
In my experience, the sheer amount of information including the biased misinformation means you never really stood a chance. I know I never did.
When I first started working out, I believed that protein shakes were as important as my workouts.
I would knock them back in the name of high protein diets and progress, whilst neglecting proper fat and carb intake.
Thinking back the amount of money I spent on egg whites, protein shakes and the meat was obscene but I did it anyway in the name of health and fitness.
Shame on me for not knowing any better, for not questioning the methodology and following blindly. Props to you for seeking out answers and educating yourself.
All it takes is a quick google search to see:
There is a hell of a lot of information out there on this topic
Your recommended daily protein intake will vary widely depending on who you ask
It can all be a bit overwhelming and confusing trying to cut through the BS
Today we will put the bullshit to one side, so you know once and for all what you need to do.
Here's the problem;
Overstated protein needs, (by what is usually an unnecessary amount) makes no difference to your rate of muscle gain or fat loss and can be to your detriment in the long run.
You see, if a larger part than required of your daily calorie allowance is taken up by protein it leaves less room for both carbohydrates and fats which play important roles in your diet.
Carbohydrates are the bodies primary energy source and are needed for physical activity, brain function and the operation of organs. They are also important for intestinal health and waste removal.
Fats are used as a backup fuel source when carbohydrates are not available but day to day are used to absorb and store certain vital nutrients. Specifically, fat-soluble vitamins that make up an essential part of your diet.
Why Do People Recommend Too Much Protein?
There are a couple of reasons for this:
The influence of bodybuilders on the mainstream fitness industry. Bodybuilders on steroids may need more protein than the recreational weightlifter and often this idea skews perception of protein needs
The idea that more is better. Protein is vital for building and preserving muscle so people wrongly assume that the more they consume the better their results will be
The power of supplement companies in the industry. They have a clear financial incentive to misrepresent the amount of protein needed daily
Why Do You Need Protein?
Proteins are essential to the human body, they are the building blocks of the body’s tissue and work to repair and rebuild your muscle. It provides 4 calories per gram, which is the same as carbohydrate and significantly less than fat which provides 9 calories per gram.
Protein is made up of chains of amino acids which can be categorised as essential, meaning the body cannot produce them and you must get them through food sources and non-essential which means the body can produce them itself.
Overall, protein is a major structural component of your body’s muscle and is used to build and repair muscle tissue.
How Much Protein Do You Need to Build or Maintain Muscle?
Let's take a look at the research;
A study (1) found that 0.6 - 0.9g per lb of body weight is adequate for maximising protein synthesis.
The study also goes on to say that experienced athletes may require less than this, whereas less experienced athletes will benefit from protein intake at this level.
Additionally, the researchers go on to say that protein intake within the 0.6 – 0.9g per lb of body weight may be advantageous when in a calorie deficit to help prevent the loss of muscle mass.
Another study (2) also concluded that 0.8g of protein per lbs of body weight is an optimal daily intake to building muscle for people doing regular strength training, whilst those doing endurance training could probably get away with 0.5 – 0.6g.
Finally, another study (3) concluded that their results were;
“unable to show any significant evidence indicating that protein intakes above 2.0 g per kg per day [was effective] for enhancing strength and body composition changes in college strength/power athletes.”
This last study, in particular, is very interesting for the following reason;
It highlights the fact that given that even under the physical demands of their training, college strength and power athletes gained no additional benefits from a protein intake over 2g per kg which is the equivalent to 0.9 or 1g (if you like to round up) per lb.
Which goes to support the conclusion that protein intake above 1g per lb of body weight is not necessary for the recreational to the semi-serious weightlifter.
All this adds up to mean;
Your actual daily protein intake is only 0.8g – 1g per lbs of bodyweight if you are strength training.
This is probably quite a lot less than you are used to, but don’t worry it’s a good thing as it will give you more flexibility in your diet by freeing up some calories for carbs and fats.
Note: if you are heavily overweight or obese then your protein needs will be overstated and you should use 0.8g per goal bodyweight instead.
How To Calculate Your Protein Needs
To keep it straightforward let’s, use a 150 lb male as an example.
Firstly, to work out what 0.8g per pound of his 150 lb body weight is we need to do the following calculation: 150 x 0.8 this gives us 120.
This 120 is the daily protein gram allowance our 150 lb guy wants to shoot for.
To work out what this is in calories we just need to multiply his daily protein gram allowance 120 by 4* - 120 x 4 = 480 *(4 is the number of calories per gram of protein)
Using these calculations we can see the total gram allowance is 120 g and this equals a total of 480 kcal of protein per day.
To calculate your protein intake based on a different weight you can use the same calculations, substituting 150lb for your weight and if you want to calculate a different level of protein intake you can substitute 0.8g for the new gram amount per lb of body weight.
Should You Take Protein Supplements?
The answer to this question really depends on who you ask, the supplement industry is a big money business so you’ll always find someone who will tell you it’s a must. In my opinion, protein supplements are optional as they are not essential to your overall success.
Sure, some people find it easier, quicker and perhaps ultimately cheaper to use protein shakes but the truth is you can easily reach your protein needs using food sources.
Using food sources has the additional benefit of keeping you fuller for longer and being more satisfying as a meal. Not to mention that in comparison drinking your calories will always be less satisfying and will never keep you as full.
High Protein Food Sources
Protein can be found in a huge amount of different food items including but not limited to;
Meat – chicken, turkey and beef
Seafood – Tuna, prawns and scallops
Legumes – Soybeans, flaxseed and kidney beans
Meat alternatives – seitan, tofu and Quorn
Protein supplements – whey, soy and casein protein powder
Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat protein is undoubtedly an important part of the diet.
However, your actual protein needs are often overstated. The research shows that your protein needs are between 0.6 - 1g per lb of body weight depending on your goal.
By sticking to these guidelines you allow yourself more room in your diet for carbs and fats which also play important roles in the body and contribute to both your health and in turn your fitness.