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Mike Roussell, Ph.D.
Nutritional consultant and author

Ask The Macro Manager: How Much Protein Is Too Much?

Ask The Macro Manager: How Much Protein Is Too Much?

Ever wondered how much protein you need to maximize your muscle-building goals, or when you should eat it? The Macro Manger lays down the law.
Q

How much protein is too much? Is there such a thing, and can it hinder my muscle-building goals?

Great question! This one's sure to rattle some cages and ruffle some feathers. Put simply, yes: There is such a thing as too much protein, and overeating it can hurt your muscle-building goals.

Traditional bodybuilding dogma has always held that more protein is better. While this is true to a point, it can sometimes be more beneficial to decrease your protein intake and get those nutrients from other sources.

Dietary Displacement

Think about your diet as a pie chart: x percent of that pie will be made up of protein, y percent fat, and the remainder carbohydrates. Regardless of the percentages you pick, they will always add up to 100%. You can never eat above 100%, so increasing one nutrient source will always decrease your intake of another.

If you continue to drive your protein intake upward, chowing down on more dry chicken breasts, then the protein percent of your pie will get bigger and bigger. This shrinks the fat and carbohydrate pie slices, thereby reducing your intake of essential fats, fiber, fruits, vegetables, and grains -- all of which play important roles in a muscle-building diet. Depending on your fitness goals, there are actually ideal ranges for each macronutrient.

Synthesize, Don't Oxidize

We typically oversimplify protein, thinking it will always go toward growth. It actually does more than drive protein synthesis and provide amino acids for building muscle. Once those needs have been met, your body will actually break down and oxidize protein for energy. You don't necessarily want to be a protein oxidizer. You don't want to train your body to break down protein (dietary or muscle) and use it for energy. Just as switching from a high- to low-carbohydrate diet causes your body to increase the enzymes that burn fat as fuel, eating protein far beyond your body's ability to build muscle with it will cause increases in the enzymes that oxidize protein (both dietary and muscular) for energy.

Maximizing Protein Synthesis

Instead of offering your body excess protein to oxidize for energy, your goal should be to maximize protein synthesis by eating the proper amount of protein at the right times.

We now know that there is both a protein threshold and timing component to protein's muscle-building ability. For whatever reason, people have long assumed that you can only digest 30 grams of protein at a time. Perhaps people thought our intestines contain a magical sensor that stopped absorbing protein once it registered 30 grams. Whatever the logic, your body can certainly digest much more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting.

However, 30 grams may be the proper amount of protein needed to get blood amino acid levels high enough to flip the muscle-building switch. The switch analogy is appropriate here. Like a light switch, once you flip the muscle-building switch, you can't turn it "more" on. When you hit the protein threshold and initiate protein synthesis, you can't initiate it more.

The other component to protein synthesis is flux. Giving yourself an infusion of amino acids throughout the day via proteins shakes, eggs, steaks and chicken isn't actually maximizing protein synthesis. Instead, you need a change in your blood amino acid levels. To reboost protein synthesis, blood amino acids need to drop and then spike. This occurs naturally when you eat 4-to-5 meals per day, but not if you're drinking a protein shake at every turn. I know it seems counterintuitive, but skip the constant protein shake sip and you'll actually maximize synthesis.

So, How Much?!

To maximize protein synthesis (and muscle growth), you know your goal: eat the right amount of protein at the right times. There are no steadfast numbers that say that X grams of protein are enough, where Y protein is too much. Over time, however, I have found that hypertrophy is maximized when protein constitutes 30-to-35% of your total calories.

This gives you enough protein to maximize protein synthesis and build muscle, but not so much that you displace the opportunity to hit optimal levels of other essential nutrients. 30-to-35% of your daily calories is still a lot of protein, and essentially double the RDA, but it falls within the National Academies of Medicine's "acceptable macronutrient distribution range," so you don't need to worry about any adverse effects.

Instead, you'll be able to enjoy myriad benefits: a well-rounded diet that's great for overall health and still provides plenty of protein to support synthesis and muscle growth.


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About The Author

Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD is known for transforming complex nutritional concepts into practical habits...

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Jayce_

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Jayce_

Could we have a single source for anything you claim?

Jun 24, 2012 10:02am | report
 
lucia316

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lucia316

^^This. I'd be interested

Jun 24, 2012 1:23pm | report
deloachrd

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deloachrd

Should should help you. all clinician info.

http://www.freeproteinreport.net/

Jun 24, 2012 3:53pm | report
 
jstewart1

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jstewart1

The author doesn't seem to be in the great of shape himself... I'd like a source as well

Jun 25, 2012 8:18am | report
 
Matt282171

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Matt282171

I dont want to criticize, but this is not the first person I would go to for advice...

Jun 25, 2012 6:28pm | report
 
LALuLu

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LALuLu

Is that a banana in his hand or is he just happy to talk about protein?

Jun 25, 2012 7:13pm | report
 
rpdevito

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rpdevito

If he is practicing what he is preaching i am not sold.

Jun 25, 2012 8:20pm | report
 
Horus

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Horus

He's a Ph.D., he IS the source. Follow his advice or don't, but his condition is immaterial to his knowledge. Exceptionally fit people only know what worked for them, following advice that ultimately is traced back to academia. Honestly, I don't get some of you people...

Jun 26, 2012 1:07am | report
 
Bodice

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Bodice

One guy writes a book about what is technically the most efficient way to climb a mountain. Another guy has climbed mountains his whole life. Who do you want as your instructor?

Jun 26, 2012 4:34pm | report
ricks350z

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ricks350z

Horus, exactly! If this guys credentials arent good enough, find your own. As adults, some of us anyway, we need to make that decision based on our knowledge what is credible and what isnt. Just because that girl is 5'0" and 98lbs (referring to jstewart1) doesnt mean she is a fitness expert. people just want to think they are smarter than everyone else. i dont have a Phd and am not a nutritional consultant, so i wont disagree with anything this expert has to say about nutrition.

Jun 26, 2012 10:41pm | report
Horus

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Horus

Bodice, I would definitely want the guy that wrote the book. I mean, that's a no brainer. If you asked which I would like as a climbing partner, the answer would be different. Of course, I'm assuming the guy who wrote the book wrote it based on accounts from guys that climbed mountains all their lives. That's how it works. With the guy that climbs, you get one source. With the other you get compiled and distilled experiences to show what works best on average. How is this even an issue?

Jun 27, 2012 3:10am | report
Horus

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Horus

But hey, mountain climbing isn't bodybuilding, It actually takes an instructor that climbs with you. That's definitely not the case with bodybuilding.

Jun 27, 2012 3:13am | report
Horus

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Horus

And this is just nutrition... can't really compare anything else with it.

Jun 27, 2012 3:14am | report
Bodice

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Bodice

Sure you can. That's why it's a comparison. Comparing things that are identical is pointless.

Jun 28, 2012 7:47am | report
Horus

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Horus

I'll rephrase... you can't compare nutritional advice with mountain climbing instruction if you don't want to look stupid in the process.

Jun 28, 2012 10:46am | report
sirex

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sirex

I find it amusing that every body jumps on this guy because he does not look like Arnold. If we were to stick to this mentality every strength or conditioning coach in professional sports must be a idiot. After all the majority of them don't look like the guys and girls they are training.

I seem to recall another PhD on this site who pushed consuming 2 grams of protein per lb of body weight (although in the same proportion as outlined in this article). The logic being you couldn't consume that much food so you would have to supplement heavy. I don't suppose its a coincidence that this site makes a good chunk of its profits from the sale of such supplements. He also mentioned saturated fats as having benefits but no one jumped down his throat. That being said hes ripped so he must know what hes talking about.

Jun 26, 2012 6:26am | report
 
20fourseven

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20fourseven

last time i checked, saturated fats were healthy for humans and especially athletes. Saturated fats are also anti-bacterial, anti-viral and helps with the absorption of vitamins. Its the vegetables fats which are to be blamed which turns rancid and turns into trans fat when heated. And also extra virgin olive oil, which people use to cook food instead of using it on or as salad dressing, etc. Just consume saturated fats from grass fed cows, or their natural diet, not grains to fatten them up.

Jun 27, 2012 8:41pm | report
debrabuchanan

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debrabuchanan

Saturated fats are great if your goal is to end up with clogged arteries and heart disease. And yes, there are plenty of studies to back this up.

Apr 23, 2013 7:09pm | report
tigger35

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tigger35

my shipping of protein make me refuel my body best

Jun 26, 2012 10:22am | report
 
Billbasch

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Billbasch

finally a article about not needing a diet that is spiked in protein , as a person studying nutrition ive been waiting for this and never thought i would see the day on this site

Jun 26, 2012 10:52am | report
 
thomasc83

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thomasc83

Every method doesn't work equally for everyone. If you aren't happy with your progress then try this out. What could it hurt. If it doesn't stop and try something else.

Jun 26, 2012 7:38pm | report
 
The Crush

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The Crush

Great information Mike. I enjoyed reading it, as always. And as the saying goes: Too much of anything can cause problems.

Jun 27, 2012 12:41pm | report
 
Raven2k360

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Raven2k360

I find it funny that some of you are saying he doesn't look ripped -- of course he doesn't, he's wearing a BLACK shirt and Khakis...both of which are loose-fitting. You can't tell if he's got a beer-belly or a six-pack under there. On top of that, everyone's body is different, and what works for one, may not necessarily work for another...that's why there are percentage ranges for these things, not hard numbers. You fiddle with ratios until you find something that works for YOUR BODY. All this advice on what to eat and when are just guidelines and can only get you close...you need to do the fine-tuning yourself.

Jun 29, 2012 11:55am | report
 
EusticeLives

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EusticeLives

What he is saying is backed by scientific evidence and what has long been studied by nutritionists for many years. Everyone has their story about how they took 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and they got jacked. However, what is to say that that person, having took maybe 1-1.5g per pound, would have been even bigger? That's my point. You're listening to Broscience. That's one way which worked for them, but they have no idea what the best way is. This man is simply stating that through his doctoral studies in Nutrition, he has seen that the best results come from a lower concentration on protein in order to avoid protein oxidation. Take it or leave it, it's that simple.

Jul 12, 2012 12:39pm | report
 
pinoiboi777

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pinoiboi777

This is a really good article and answers a lot of my questions, supplemented with knowledge I already have.
Protein, especially good quality protein, isn't exactly cheap nowadays. Knowing that I could essentially be wasting money by taking protein in excess is valuable info.

And seriously, don't bag on him. He doesn't need to cite anything. When you go to the doctor, and ask for his diagnosis do you ask him to cite everything? No. You go to the doctor because he has a Ph.D and studied his a$$ off and knows things you do not.

And one last thing, along the lines of what other commenters posted. The overall tone of the article is doing things in moderation and balance. Given that the site this article is posted on sells supplements, well you get the idea.

Apr 8, 2013 12:19pm | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 26 Comments

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