The argument about additional protein has raged for decades, and has provided us with a number of myths some of which refuse to go away. I’ve recently been banned from an old school bodybuilding facebook group for having the temerity to suggest that trainees do not need to ingest protein every two hours. Admitedly I also stated that the deadlift was the most functional back exercise which didn’t go down too well with some of these older ex- bodybuilders.
I remember “the body can only absorb 20 grams of protein at one time ” myth which is still prevalent and believed today. Im sure that myth was started by a protein supplement manufacturer. The Weider mags perpetuated a lot of protein myths and supplement advice too and anyone from the 1970s who purchased Joe’s stuff remembers how ghastly it tasted. Oh but you persevered, at least most did, because not doing so was the reason that the Olympians looked different from you ( at least that’s what Joe’s ads said).
Most of us newbies who bought the mags knew nothing of the real bodybuilding world at that time and were easily fooled by Joe’s marketing genius.
Is additional protein necessary?
There is no doubt that a diet high in protein is beneficial for athletes especially if the goal is muscular hypertrophy. But how important is it really? and how much protein does a natural athlete need ?
Historically, the “Golden Rule” of protein consumption has always been one gram of protein per pound of body weight. This figure however becomes inaccurate when applied to big athletes who carry a large percentage of body fat and one gram per pound of lean mass is probably a more accurate gauge of protein requirement.
The Chemically Enhanced Bodybuilder
For the athlete using anabolic steroids this is not the case however. Competitive bodybuilders, in their efforts to force additional growth, will in addition to training use from 1.5 to 2.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
For a 200-pound guy, this can be 300 to 500 grams of protein per day. In the off-season, this is only a portion of the 4,000 to 7,000 calories a day a bodybuilding athlete may eat. Often this kind of food intake may be necessary considering the intensity of their training, their body’s need to recover, and PED use.
Therefore If you’re chemically enhanced, with nitrogen retention agents (anabolic steroids) in order to acquire more muscle, then yes, additional protein is undoubtedly beneficial and indeed necessary to optimise the anabolic effects of the drugs. Steroids enable the body to utilise this extra protein to build muscle. Enhanced athletes systems are thus able to acquire muscle mass and strength much more quickly and effectively than their natural counterparts.
Ironically chemically enhanced bodybuilders do not need to train as hard, as their body is optimised to respond to a lesser intensity of exercise. They can piss about on machines and make great gains whereas the natural bodybuilder has to plan his workout far more meticulously and fight for every inch of growth.
The Natural Bodybuilder
If you’re natural and thinking that these mass building supplements will work to increase your muscle mass then you are in for a rude awakening.The protein requirements of a natural athlete are easily attainable from a normal healthy balanced diet.
Some of the natural bodybuilders I encounter ingest in excess of 3 grams per kg of bodyweight per day in the belief that the additional protein will accelerate muscle gains. This mistaken belief only benefits the magazines and supplement manafacturers who espouse this nonsense.
For newbies and natural trainees the muscle media fuelled obsession with additional protein is not backed up by research and is frankly ridiculous.
Having said that a high level of protein in the diet can be beneficial especially for athletes. Multiple studies have suggested that higher-protein diets result in greater weight loss, greater fat loss, and higher preservation of lean mass than diets poor in protein.
However, additional protein contrary to popular belief will not be utilised for hypertrophy in the natural athlete after optimal dietary requirements have been ingested.
There is some evidence that nutrient timing can be utilised to increase assimilation of muscle tissue. Muscular hypertrophy has been shown to be enhanced by ingesting a protein shake post exercise utilising the so called “anabolic window”
Increasing overall protein intake via supplements however has not shown to be of any benefit unless you are a chemically enhanced athlete.
Protein supplements have there uses, they are convenient if they need to be used as meal replacements “on the go” and as already stated – when ingested immediately or soon after your workout.
See my article on choosing the best protein supplements
Evidence based research
So leaving aside the chemically enhanced advanced bodybuilders what about natural trainees who want to increase lean muscle mass – how much additional protein does research indicate they actually need?
A study in the Journal of Sports Science recommends that dietary protein intake for an athlete is 1.3-1.8 g of protein per each kg of bodyweight to allow for optimal adaption.
The study also found that increased protein consumption – as high as 1.8 – 2 g of protein per kg of body weight – may help prevent muscle loss when restricting calories to promote fat loss.
Most research shows little benefit to consuming more than 2.2g of protein per kg of lean body mass.
No matter what the “meat heads” in the gym or the articles in the muscle magazines “report,” you will grow tremendously just by eating a good diet, so long as it’s the nutrition your body needs.
While protein supplements are a convenient option to assist you in consuming the protein necessary for consistent growth, they are not a prerequisite for success, neither is additional protein from the diet once optimum amounts have been ingested.
For insurance purposes 2.2g protein per kg of lean muscle should be considered an optimum amount for the natural athlete.
In addition, train hard, maintain a healthy balanced diet, and ensure you get sufficient recuperation in the form of sleep. These are the primary factors necessary to optimise your training results.
Phillips, S. (2006). Dietary Protein For Athletes: From Requirements To Metabolic Advantage. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 31(6), 647-654.
Phillips, S., & Loon, L. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29, S29-S38.
The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals