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 like 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:
Today we will put the bullshit to one side, so you know once and for all know 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;
There are a couple of reasons people overstate your protein needs:
Nonetheless, this doesn’t change the fact that protein is an important part of the diet, but why do we need it?
Protein is 1 of 3 macronutrients that provide calories to the body. It’s the building block of the body’s tissue and works to repair and rebuild your muscles.
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, in total there are 21 (9 essential and 12 non-essential) and they can be categorised as either 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.
Protein’s role in the context of fat loss or muscle building is to;
Of particular importance to anyone trying to change their body is its role in a process called muscle protein synthesis.
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the technical way of saying building muscle and it’s a process that works in opposition to muscle protein breakdown (MPB) which as you can tell by the name has the opposite effect. These 2 competing states can have 3 outcomes;
These 2 processes are continually happening in your body with muscle tissue being broken down and rebuilt. However, it’s the rate at which MPS and MPB occur which will determine whether you’re building, maintaining or losing muscle mass.
Across any normal day, you will naturally switch between being in a positive protein balance where the rate of MPS is greater than MPB and a negative balance where the opposite is true.
The key to building muscle is to spend more accumulative time in a positive balance than a negative one.
There are a few factors that play into being able to do this;
Of these factors, 2 of the most important are training (specifically weight training) and calorie intake with a focus on total protein intake.
This is because weight training is the stimulus your body needs to either build or maintain muscle, however, it also increases muscle protein breakdown.
This is where protein intake becomes so important as sufficient protein intake helps increase muscle protein synthesis and keep you in a positive balance.
Let’s take a look at the research;
A study (1) found that 0.6 – 0.9g per lb of bodyweight 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 because 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.
This 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 that your actual daily protein intake is only 0.8g – 1g per lbs of body weight 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.
To keep it straightforward let’s, use a 150 lb male as an example.
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.
Protein is undoubtedly an important part of the diet but where should you get your protein from? Here are 4 main sources of protein and examples of food items from each.
Protein from animal sources contain the 9 essential amino acids you require in your diet and includes meat, seafood & dairy products.
Protein from plant sources contains a mix of the amino acids you require in your diet but to get all 8 vegetarians will need to combine food groups. Plant proteins include nuts, seeds, pulse, legumes, cereals and grains.
A good addition to the diet for vegetarians and vegans, meat alternatives can help to provide all 9 essential amino acids in the diet and assist you in meeting your daily protein intake goal.
Protein supplements, although useful in some circumstances are not essential to getting your daily protein intake. However, if you choose to use them they contain all the essential amino acids you need and often have the highest protein amount per 100 grams.
Shop the best protein deals here.
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 bodyweight 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.