How muchprotein do you REALLY need per day to build muscle? Chances are that you may be actually overeating. But how much is enough to help maintain and build muscle? Is there a limit per meal that the body can use? Lets get started with 2 more recent studies that currently have many high protein eating bodybuilding communities panicking…..
and here’s another one
So according to the research above we are seeing that muscle protein synthesis maxes out after a meal at 20-30 grams and anything in over will actually not help stimulate more muscle protein synthesis, but rather just increase excess oxidation (burn for energy).
More Protein Does Not Mean More Muscle
While protein is of course essential to building up muscle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that just eating more and more guarantees bigger muscles. So how much do we really need in the first place? Well here’s some numbers for you:
*Note that most of these “body weights” for calculating protein are more based on “ideal” (or even “fat free”) weight.
These are interesting numbers and much lower than what you may hear out there. You can see that with more activity, then the recommended amount of protein will increase. What is also important to remember that the overall calorie intake is also increasing with activity level. So in essence, while the amount of protein may increase the % of protein per daily calories may actually be the same (or less). Just something to keep in mind, as calories also matter.
Intermittent Fasting and Protein Intake
Well if you look at the info above where only 20-30grams of protein are absorbed per meal, then what about many of us IF’ers who eat less number of but larger meals? Are we going to lose all our muscle when we fast and only eat 2-3x a day? Of course by now many who IF already know that is not true.
But it does call into question about “needing” 5-6 meals of 20-30grams of protein to maximize muscle protein synthesis. As much as every supplement company would love us all to believe that we need a 20gram whey protein shake every 2-3 hours (and fuel more supplement sales), in fact maybe the body works better when presented a randomized/stressed environment and not some set equally divided schedule day in and out.
Here’s a little outtake from Dr Eades on his blog comments (#2 to be precise) about protein turnover and IF that is very enlightening:
So by the looks of it, actually not eating all day long may help increase you ability to build more muscle on less dietary protein. By using IF and allowing the body to recycle old junk proteins ( remember autophagy? ) as well as enzymes, the demand for amino acids through diet could be less.
Protein Pulsing for Better Anabolic Responses?
Here’s another interesting outlook on how the body is actually able to use proteins in a larger meal vs several spread out ones.
My favorite big meal of protein usually involves lots of juicy steak....what' s yours?
So in this group it seems that when eating a “protein pulsing” style of having 80% of daily protein in one meal (and 20% later on), it actually increased nitrogen balance, protein turnover and protein synthesis …when compared to the equally spread out diet. In short…they became more anabolically responsive (for the muscle building nerds).
But to be fair, the same study was done on younger (mid 20s) women too, and this time the results were even between the pulse and spread diet. While there was no increases in the nitrogen balance or protein turnover/synthesis for the younger group, there was also no disadvantage from the pulsing pattern.
Lesson to be learned, eating protein in a pulsing style/larger meal (although through the studies up top would go against it) does not decrease the anabolic factors associated with muscle gain. In fact, as we get older and our anabolic sensitivities/responses start to decline (all downhill from 30 after all!), it may be more vital to use such strategies to help keep us more responsive (as the study for protein pulsing was initially done to try and help elderly people from losing muscle with age).
But Post Workout Protein Makes More Muscle … Right?
While eating protein is part of the building blocks for making more muscle, it is important to know that your body works in the long term and not minute by minute. With that in mind, how about the importance of the post workout shake (as we hear that eating right after a workout increases protein synthesis)? But that “microscience” ignores the overall bigger picture on whole body recovery that has us building muscle long after the “post workout” window. Here’s a study to help show that point:
Confused? Well I’m going to let my buddy Brad Pilon and author of the new ebook “How Much Protein” answer that one:
You can skip all the money you spend on protein shakes/powder and just eat enough protein with real foods, as you don' t need as much as you think you do.
When you have the right kind of recovery and still eat enough during the day, it seems the “hype” about the post workout window goes away. Honestly unless you are a hard training athlete who needs immediate glycogen replenishment to train again the next day, trying to intake protein (with carbs) during or right after a workout is not necessary.
If people are going to insist on something around workouts, then I would say only a small intake of BCAAs PRE-workout would be most the average person would need. Whether you eat or not immediately after a workout can be up to you, but I wouldn’t base it on some extra muscle building theory.
Higher Protein and Weight Loss
The other part of the equation when it comes to why you eat protein, is about your goals and how many calories you are intaking. Many people use the higher protein intakes when they are looking to lean out and minimize muscle loss. Protein being a harder macronutrient to convert to fat (than carbs or fat), makes it an easy choice to eat more of while keeping carbs/fat low.
Protein will also help you to feel fuller and less likely to overeat on any other macronutrient (fat/carbs). So even if you are intaking more than enough protein to maintain muscle, you are really doing it from another strategy that may include just trying to avoid excess calories and lean out.
So there you go. Did it make you rethink how much protein you really need? I wish someone had this talk with me when I was around 16 because I could of saved $1000s over the next 10+ years from not buying all sorts of protein powders/shakes/bars. When it comes to muscle building, having enough protein matters of course….but the amount is smaller than most would think (especially when you can get enough calories in from carbs/fats and have adequate training + recovery).
More reading: If you want more studies to understand how much protein you really need, then I highly recommend Brad Pilon’s How Much Protein ebook, as it is one of the best straight forward and scientifically (and not bodybuilding hyped) based reads on protein out there.