Protein. Do you eat enough?

The age-old question every person trying to build muscle faces... How much protein do I need? A quick Google search will take you down a rabbit hole of misinformation, delusional influencers, and 'magic protein shakes'. So what is the right answer?

Questions

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The age-old question every person trying to build muscle faces... How much protein do I need?


A quick Google search will take you down a rabbit hole of misinformation, delusional influencers, and 'magic protein shakes'.


So what is the right answer?


Protein puzzle solved!

Well mostly solved... unfortunately its not as easy as putting some numbers into a calculator and getting a precise answer. Each person experiences a great degree of individual variability in nutrition and exercise, we aren't robots at the end of the day... well not yet at least.


However, this comprehensive review will give you a starting point you can be confident in. Equipping you with the knowledge to make informed decisions about your protein intake.


Protein targets.

It's time to stop talking about what isn't true and start looking at what the current literature says. It's about to get scientific up in this review... I'll try to keep the technical terms and numbers to a minimum for my fellow meatheads who just want to know how much chicken they need to get massive.


The muscle-building bible of protein targets is a systematic review completed by Morton et al. (2018). This included 49 studies with over 1800 participants. All studies included were randomized controlled trials using humans as the subjects with good quality control methods. It should be noted that all trials included resistance training... this is quite obvious that you aren't going to gain muscle without training, but some studies show you can grow without training. especially if you are a juicy athlete.


In the graph below it can be seen that increases in fat-free mass peak with a consistent cluster at 1.6g/kg/day, think of this as the sweet spot for muscle gain. There is an increase at most ranges from 1g/kg/d to 2.2g/kg/d. However, it seems to have diminishing returns past 1.6g/kg/d and it may not be worth ingesting the extra calories just to hit this upper limit. It would be like adding strobe lights to your bike, you're doing a lot extra just to end up at the same place in a more difficult way.


This higher intake should be considered for more intermediate-advanced lifters though. Due to it being harder to gain muscle at this stage, the higher protein may encourage further growth. But for the newbie in the gym put down that 3rd protein shake for the day and save yourself some discomfort.


The study suggests that the training stimulus is more important for muscle mass and strength increase. There were greater increases in both 1 rep max and fat-free mass when training compared to just eating enough protein. This does not mean that protein is not important, the combination of the 2 is necessary for optimizing muscle gain and increasing strength. Unfortunately eating copious amounts of chicken wings in your underwear on the couch won't make you huge when you skip the gym part.


The studies looking at older populations found that the upper limit of protein was required per meal/ day as they are anabolically resistant (basically means their muscles are stubborn). This means for the seasoned gym warriors the days of meal prepping only get worse but at least you have more time to cook in retirement.


The International Society of Sport Nutrition supported these numbers. In 2017 they published a position stand on protein suggesting 1.4-2g/kg/d, accompanied by resistance training is the optimal number for muscle hypertrophy.


In terms of the required amounts of protein for maximizing muscle, these studies are the best of the current literature. Since 2018 there has not been a surge in this area of research. However, due to the extensive amount of work completed compiling this sample size of data, an evidence-based estimate can be formed.


Recommendations.


I think from the evidence and from my personal experience the 1.5-2g/kg/d number is right around where you want to be for building muscle. There are exceptions to this rule of course. If you are on anabolic compounds you can experiment with higher limits because your body can use the protein more efficiently and even increase protein muscle synthesis. Another population is those who are severely obese. You can use a number that is lower for protein, and closer to lean muscle mass percentage. The rule I use is their height in centimeters. For example, if you are 160cm tall, you would eat 160g a day. The main goal will be losing weight so you don't want to be using too many calories and getting in unneeded protein, as they will still be able to gain muscle even in this deficit.


feeling lost still? No worries! Here's a cheat sheet:

-Newbie lifters: Start with 1.5g/kg/day and adjust as needed.

-Intermediate to advanced: Begin with 1.8g/kg/d and tweak based on your progress.


Author:

DR Fitness,

Building Brains and Biceps


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Disclaimers: Dylan Russell (DRfitness) trading as Dylan

Russell Fitness, is not a doctor or a medical professional. Always consult a

physician before starting any exercise program. Use of this information is

strictly at your own risk. Dylan Russell will not assume any liability for

direct or indirect losses or damages that may result from the use of

information contained in this blog including but not limited to economic loss,

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References

Carbone, J. W., & Pasiakos, S. M. (2019). Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients, 11(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051136

Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. T., McKellar, S. R., Schoenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E., Aragon, A. A.,

Devries, M. C., Banfield, L., Krieger, J. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and

strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(6), 376-384. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608


Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., … Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8


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