PROTEIN: HOW MUCH DO WE REALLY NEED?


When it comes to macros, protein is probably the most glorified of the three nutrients. While carbs and fats get a bad rep for causing unwanted weight gain, protein seems to be the fitness enthusiast’s best friend. If I had to take a wild guess it’s probably because the macro is associated with muscle mass and who doesn’t want more muscle, right? The quest for gains has inevitably lead to a protein obsession, which has many individuals consuming an inefficient amount of it.


THE BROSCIENCE

“1g/lb of body weight”


Ask around and you’ll quickly find out that a lot of people recommend consuming 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body weight or 1 gram of protein per desired pound of body weight in order to build muscle and get stronger. This seems to be the widely accepted belief in the fitness industry and the amount that far too many people are devouring.


If you are one of these individuals who believe in this intake amount, I'm sorry to inform you that you have been duped by broscience.


ACTUAL PROTEIN SCIENCE

Where that false recommended daily intake originated from, we may never know, but science has long cracked the code on how much protein the body needs for gains and it’s not 1g/lb of bodyweight. It’s less. In fact, study after study after study has repeatedly demonstrated that 0.4 grams to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is the magical range. If you consume anything less than 0.4g you’ll risk those precious gains but if you consume anything over 0.82g you’ll lose nutritional efficiency.


Though different individuals will fall at different points within the parameters of this spectrum, the range is valid for all persons and natural athletes at all levels of experience [7].


THE SEDENTARY PERSON

0.4g/lb of body weight


Protein is essential when it comes to good health. It is found in virtually every body part and is responsible for making up enzymes that power many chemical reactions along with the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood [17]. In order to continue on functioning properly, even the laziest person requires a certain amount of protein. For the sedentary individual, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends consuming no less than 10% of calories from protein [5]. Converting this into grams per pound, the Recommended Daily Allowance comes out to no less than 0.4g of protein per pound of body weight [1].


THE ENDURANCE ATHLETE

0.5-0.6g/lb of body weight


Endurance refers to the ability to exert ourselves over a period of time. This style of training is typically associated with sports such as soccer, basketball, long-distance running, and so on [21]. With a higher energy demand from the body, it only makes sense that athletes would need more protein than the average sedentary person. This is because exercise increases the oxidation of amino acids as well as the rate of protein turnover in lean body mass during recovery [4]. To avoid catabolism, the recommended protein intake for endurance athletes is 0.5-0.6g per pound of body weight [1, 4].


THE GYM ATHLETE

0.5-0.82g/lb of body weight


Although building muscle can be an aspect of endurance training, it's not typically the main focus of an endurance program. For most of us who are in the gym though, developing the skeletal muscle is our primary objective. We want to either get bigger or get stronger. Well, you know what they say, you gotta eat big to get big! With an extra emphasis on muscle, consuming more protein can be beneficial; BUT, only up to 0.82g of protein per pound of body weight [8, 11, 18, 20]. With that said, the amount that we gym rats need could quite possibly be even lower. Over 20 different studies have been conducted and each has failed to find any benefits for consuming over 0.73g of protein per pound of body weight [7]. In an attempt to squeeze out every possible gain, researchers took the highest average intake at which benefits were still observed and then added two standard deviations to that level to make absolutely sure all benefits from additional protein intake were accounted for [14]. The research paper concluded that 0.82g/lb was the upper limit at which protein benefits body composition. In laymen terms, there's absolutely no need for 1g/lb of body weight because researchers included a 0.09g (0.82-0.73) safety net to make sure we reap and preserve all of the gains. Thanks, scientists!


GYM NEWBS VS ELITE LIFTERS

Now, perhaps you're skeptical of the test subjects used in these studies, thinking that they could all have been newbs with lame newbie gains but YOU are an advanced lifter who needs that extra 0.18g/lb (1g-0.82g) of body weight. Well, my friend, you are cooler but it's not because you need more protein. It's because you need less.


When we lift weights, there is both a systematic breakdown and rebuilding of protein. As we progress in our training though, our body becomes highly efficient at stopping the breakdown process. With less focus on damage control, our body needs less protein for optimal growth. Furthermore, as we become more jacked we inevitably creep closer to our genetic limit. This means that less muscle is actually being built after training and, therefore, less protein is required for gains [6, 7, 13, 17].


CUTTING WEIGHT

In an attempt to preserve gains made during the bulking season, many people who cut for the summer will increase their protein intake. It is often believed that more protein is required to maintain muscle mass on a cut but, again, science refutes. In fact, in a study that was published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers had a group of athletes perform a thousand calories worth of training on top of their normal training regimen while consuming either 0.41g or 0.82g of protein per pound of body weight. Of course, the group that had a protein intake comparable to a sedentary person's requirement suffered from the huge deficit but the group who consumed 0.82g was completely protected from muscle loss [15]. In less extreme studies, researchers found that 0.73g/lb of body weight was more than sufficient to maintain lean muscle mass on a cut [7, 20].


NUTRITIONAL INEFFICIENCY

So, what happens if you consume 1g of protein per pound of body weight? Will you become ill? Will your kidneys fail? Will you die? Probably not. Research has really found no evidence in healthy individuals for some of the beliefs associated with high protein intake [9, 10, 12]. The problem with overdoing it on protein isn't that it causes afflictions but rather that it creates energy inefficiencies in the body.


The body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates [2]. Everything about us is a carbohydrate burning machine. Glucose is the body’s primary source for synthesizing ATP, supplying the brain and central nervous system with energy, regulating digestion, and assisting with the utilization of protein and fat [4]. Our bodies love carbs so much that our saliva even has carbohydrate digesting enzymes in it so we don't waste any time breaking them down and putting them to use.


Protein, on the other hand, is the body’s last resort for fuel. It does much better at providing structure in our bodies than it does at being energy. The process of converting protein into fuel is called gluconeogenesis (gluco meaning "glucose" and neogenesis meaning "the new formation of"). Our body will literally convert excess protein into glycogen which can then be used as the carbohydrate molecule glucose [7, 19].


ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the body’s energy currency and it takes energy to make energy. Converting carbohydrates into energy takes 2 ATP. Converting protein into energy takes 6 ATP [3]. This means that you're wasting an additional 4 ATP on a process that doesn’t need to.


You could have saved those for your next PR!


CONCLUSION

The 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight myth has long been busted when it comes to how much we need for gaining and sustaining skeletal muscle. There is absolutely no reason to consume that much protein if you're a natural athlete. Consuming 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight is enough to protect muscle from a 1,000 calorie deficit, which means that it’s definitely more than adequate during any other phase of training. Anything over 0.82g of protein is a waste of energy if the main objective is to build muscle and/ or get stronger.


Let your body work smarter not harder. Stop eating 1g of protein per pound of body weight and swap out those extra grams of protein for the fuel source that the body really wants, carbohydrates.






RESOURCES

  1. Barke, S. (2004). Protein: How Much Do I Need? Student Health & Wellness Center. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://www.canyons.edu/Offices/Health/Documents/Protein.pdf.

  2. Barke, S. (2005). Carbohydrates. Student Health & Wellness Center. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from http://www.canyons.edu/Offices/Health/Pages/Carbohydrates.aspx

  3. Blackman, D. (1982). The economics of gluconeogenesis. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 10(4), 141-141.

  4. Clark, M., Sutton, B. G., Lucett, S., & National Academy of Sports Medicine,. (2014). NASM essentials of personal fitness training.

  5. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies (2002/2005). -Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t5/?report=objectonly

  6. Hartman, J. W., Moore, D. R., & Phillips, S. M. (2006). Resistance training reduces whole-body protein turnover and improves net protein retention in untrained young males. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 31(5), 557-564.

  7. Henselmans, M. (n.d.). The myth of 1 g/lb: Optimal protein intake for bodybuilders. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://bayesianbodybuilding.com/the-myth-of-1glb-optimal-protein-intake-for-bodybuilders/

  8. Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Kang, J., Falvo, M. J., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2006). Effect of Protein Intake on Strength, Body Composition and Endocrine Changes in Strength/Power Athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 3(2), 12–18. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-3-2-12

  9. Juraschek, S. P., Appel, L. J., Anderson, C. A., & Miller, E. R. (2013). Effect of a high-protein diet on kidney function in healthy adults: results from the OmniHeart trial. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 61(4), 547-554.

  10. Landau, D., & Rabkin, R. (2013). Effect of nutritional status and changes in protein intake on renal function. In Nutritional Management of Renal Disease (pp. 197-207).

  11. Lemon, P. W., Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDougall, J. D., & Atkinson, S. A. (1992). Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders. Journal of Applied Physiology, 73(2), 767-775.

  12. Martin, W. F., Armstrong, L. E., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2005). Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & metabolism, 2(1), 25.

  13. Moore, D. R., Del Bel, N. C., Nizi, K. I., Hartman, J. W., Tang, J. E., Armstrong, D., & Phillips, S. M. (2007). Resistance training reduces fasted-and fed-state leucine turnover and increases dietary nitrogen retention in previously untrained young men. The Journal of nutrition, 137(4), 985-991.

  14. Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences, 29(sup1), S29-S38.

  15. Pikosky, M. A., Smith, T. J., Grediagin, A. N. N., Castaneda-Sceppa, C., Byerley, L., Glickman, E. L., & Young, A. J. (2008). Increased protein maintains nitrogen balance during exercise-induced energy deficit. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 40(3), 505-512.

  16. Protein. (2017). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

  17. Rennie, M. J., & Tipton, K. D. (2000). Protein and amino acid metabolism during and after exercise and the effects of nutrition. Annual review of nutrition, 20(1), 457-483.

  18. Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDougall, J. D., & Atkinson, S. A. (1988). Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass. Journal of Applied Physiology, 64(1), 187-193.

  19. Veldhorst, M. A., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., & Westerterp, K. R. (2009). Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 90(3), 519-526.

  20. Walberg, J. L., Leidy, M. K., Sturgill, D. J., Hinkle, D. E., Ritchey, S. J., & Sebolt, D. R. (1988). Macronutrient content of a hypoenergy diet affects nitrogen retention and muscle function in weight lifters. International journal of sports medicine, 9(04), 261-266.

  21. What is Endurance Training? (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://www.personaltraineredu.org/endurance-training/

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