Protein Intake Recommendations for Muscle Building

protein-rich-foodsThe Basics: Protien’s Integral Role in Muscle Building
Your body is constantly breaking down and synthesizing new proteins.  The building blocks of proteins are 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential in that your body cannot make them so they must be consumed.  This is why it is important to not only eat the right quantity, but the right type of protein to make sure you are getting all your essential amino acids.   If you ingest protein, this will be broken down into its amino acids components in the liver and stored, along with the amino acids that originated from inside the body called the amino acid pool which is in constant flux and used for a variety of things including energy production, and more importantly, for skeletal muscle protein anabolism.  Very little of protein is used for energy – this is the role for carbohydrates and to a lesser extent, fat.

Protein Intake Recommendations
Note that the recommendations are in kilograms rather than in pounds.  To convert your body weight into kg, divide by 2.2.  From the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise

Average Sedentary American   .8g/kg/day
Endurance Athletes: 1 – 1.6g/kg/day (elite athletes, or those who exercise for longer durations would be on the higher end of the scale)
Strength / Muscle Building / Power Exercise: 1.6-2.0g/kg/day

Determining your protein intake
The biggest factor determining your intake is your goals and the type of training you are doing.  More protein without training will not build muscle.   To narrow things down from here, lets only consider intake for strength training and muscle building.

  • Beginner Lifter:  You a a beginner lifter if you are new to strength training, or have been training for less than 6 months consistently.   You would increase protein only slightly above what is required for a sedentary person.   (.8g/kg/day)
  • Intermediate Lifter:  This is a wide range of people.  You are an intermediate lifter if you strength train regularly, but have no strength training or nutritional plan to take you to the next level. Your main goal in this stage is to first of all figure out your total calorie needs that match your goals and energy expenditure. From that, you would determine your protein intake, followed by the other macronutrient variables of carbs and fats.  At an intermediate level, protein intake of roughly 1.5g/kg/day will work for most people.  But if you aren’t eating enough, you won’t have energy for your workouts, and the more minor details like nutrient timing and quantity per meal will not make a difference if you don’t already have the more important factors in place like a solid training plan, total calorie intake, or adequate protein quantity. If you are vegetarian, or are getting your protein through grains and vegetables, you should up your intake a bit because these sources are not absorbed in your body as easily and you end up getting less protein from them.
  • Advanced Lifter up to Competitor: This is where is gets much trickier, and the smaller details end up mattering more, the more advanced you are.  This is for people who are trying to go beyond intermediate lifter, up to the  bodybuilding competitor where every single detail is dialed in and becomes important.  Below are a  few additional recommendations for advanced lifters, although this topic is extremely complex so this is more of a brief overview for some additional tools to use, than in depth analysis.
    • Total Protein Intake:  Protein intake increases at this level to support maximal hypertrophy and more volume of training.  Numerous studies have affirmed the 2.0g/kg/day as the upper limit for muscle building, yet other recommendations go beyond that, even up to 3.1g/kg/day.  The Nutrition for Sport and Exercise textbook claims there is no scientific validity to going above 2.5g/kg/day and that beyond that may be dangerous to your health as it builds up ammonia in your body that can only be processed and excreted so fast.  However, contest prep is unique, especially in the final stages.  Factors that increased the protein intake requirements beyond the upper level recommendations were having very low body fat percentage, and how much endurance exercise they were doing in addition to  resistance training, and how much of a caloric deficit.  Some studies have shown that bodybuilders at the very end of contest prep were seeing optimal results at 3.1g/kg/day (A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes)
      Individual Variations:  There are also various factors that decrease protein absorption like protein quality (plant and grain sources for example are not absorbed as well as animal based proteins), individual differences in digestion, and even altitude can effect absorption rates. If you are not consuming enough protein to support the anabolism of proteins into skeletal muscle, you will lose lean body mass.  So this is another reason why people consume protein beyond the recommendations, to give a buffer zone and ensure they are consuming enough.
    • Nutrient Timing and Quantity per meal:  Optimal meal frequency is debated, and the idea of the anabolic window post workout has been shown to be more like a door –  more recent research has shown this time frame to be closer to six hours post workout rather than 30 minutes to get your protein in.  But protein synthesis can be stimulated at every meal whether you eat 3 or 6 meals per day.  In addition to getting in your overall total in, consuming 20g of protein per feeding will stimulate muscle synthesis at near maximal levels, but eating up to 40g will add an additional stimulus, but not much more.  In addition, eating protein before bed will stimulate muscle synthesis while in a fasted state.  This amount of synthesis is quite small and will not impact you if you don’t have the  more important details already in place.
    • Protein Source:  We already covered a bit about protein source between animal and plant based proteins.  Reasons animal based proteins increase muscle synthesis is because it is absorbed faster, and has more essential amino acids.  Here is a graph comparing whey and casein.

NutritionTactics, specifically this post on protein, is a fantastic site for everything you wanted to know about protein synthesis

There is a lot of myths out there about supplements, and even the most effective ones would have a very minor effect.  Its also very easy to take the wrong dose or time it wrong, and waste a lot of money on these.  If everything is dialed in, supplements like caffeine, leucine, beta-alanine, and creatine have been shown to contribute to muscle synthesis.  Theres a lot more to be said on these, but its beyond the scope of this post.

A diet high in protein has a satiating effect
Finally, another reason to increase protein intake is satiety.  Research on satiety, or the feeling of being full after a meal, in the scheme of things is relatively new.  In 1995 a major study was done to measure the satiety of hundreds of foods, which forms the foundation of studies done on satiety and its underpinnings.  There are many different factors that influence satiety including volume, taste, nutrient content, among others.  Some studies have indicated that a diet higher in protein (30% of calories as opposed to 15%) increased satiety and contributed to eating fewer calories overall.  The hypothesis on this is that because protein has high satiety because it has a thermogenic effect when being metabolized, up to 22% more than most carbohydrates.  Essentially you are expending more energy, some estimates put it at 30 calories per hour, to digest a protein rich meal.

First, you need a training plan and to better understand your current capabilities and what you are trying to achieve.  Are you trying to maintain? Cut weight? Increase muscle mass? These factors are very important in creating the right training plan, but also matching your nutritional needs with your goals.  Secondly you will need to figure out your total caloric intake, which might even vary throughout the week.  Within this smaller unit, then you can play around with your macronutrient ratios, and make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of protein to match your goals.


About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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2 Responses to Protein Intake Recommendations for Muscle Building

  1. Musings over Coffee says:

    Reblogged this on ultranutrition.

  2. Pingback: Setting Macronutrient Ratios for Fat Loss – ultranutrition

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