Protein Requirements For Bodybuilders
A Need For Re-Evaluation
Ever wonder where and how protein requirements are derived? When I first began bodybuilding, I really didn't question the supplement claims and just took what most supplements stated as tried and true. I mean, if the supplement had a research study backing the claim, what more do you need to believe it works, right?
If interested in getting a better grapple on the subject, you may want to continue reading. The purpose of this article is to educate and evaluate current dietary protein recommendations as well as many of the claims for protein powders and pills.
Research is a typical be-all and end-all advertising tactic used by supplement companies to provide irrefutable evidence on various acclaimed effects of protein supplements and other ergogenic aids (Lightsey & Attaway, 1992).
As many will not know, I believe research means, RE-peatedly-SEARCHing. In other words, research is a quest of repeatedly searching for the answer. This delineation of the term "research" is my own logical deduction I derived when I was 20-22 years of age as an undergrad at the University of New Orleans (UNO).
In fact, many would agree that this is a plausible definition. The point being that a research study is only the beginning of the quest for truth or logical sense.
Although beyond the scope of this article, there are several steps needed to evaluate a research study's merit (Butterfield, 1996; Rangachari & Mierson, 1995). However, I will provide one simple question one can enforce when coming to a decision on a supplement's effectiveness:
Power In Numbers
What Does The Long-Term Research Show?
Several supplements are being introduced to the mainstream, with very little data to back their existence up. In my opinion, research typically should have been conducted at least 10 years before the supplement can be tentatively rated as effective and safe.
What Are The Benefits Of Supplements?
For the intensive purposes of bodybuilding, supplements are good for 5 reasons.
Let's be honest, with most people working full-time, how can one expect to realistically eat 6-8 meals per day in this day and age? This is where the protein powders can certainly aid in permitting greater time-management and efficiency. Essentially, with whey, soy, egg and casein powders, we are getting the bare essential proteins we bodybuilders so desperately need.
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Protein Powders Can Certainly Aid In
Permitting Greater Time-Management And Efficiency.
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When prepping for a contest, one has to be in a caloric-deficit to deplete fat stores to precontest levels. And since in caloric deficit, protein needs are greater to prevent catabolism of endogenous protein (Lemon & Mullin, 1980). This is where protein supplementation through powders and pills can serve as a way to enhance the quality of calories and nutrients being consumed.
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With a protein supplement, you are essentially stripping any hidden fat that may come from whole food sources and also reducing and controlling caloric-density by having a measurable scoop to monitor just how much protein is being consumed.
Most foods have hidden carbs and fats, whereas a protein powder will have some carbs and fats, but it is quite trivial AND it is not hidden. Ultimately, it comes down to control over your food intake and with a protein powder, you know exactly what the macro and micro nutrient profile is!
3. Supplement Science:
This is a two-sided concept here. Research has shown that protein supplements due work at improving strength, nitrogen balance and body composition (Lowery et al., 1998; Mero, 1999; Nissen et al., 1996). However, other research has shown protein supplement usage to be suggestive or inconclusive (Grunewald & Bailey, 1993).
First of all, the science involved in sports and training today is light-years ahead of where it was before. However, this does not banish what's been accomplished through time. This is only a way of saying that supplements have certainly given us an edge. In other words, supplements merely add a small piece to the tip of the iceberg. However, this small advantage could be what makes all the difference (Mero, 1999; Nissen et al., 1996).
On the other hand, supplements also provide what is known as the placebo effect. Basically, the placebo effect is an effect that something has on you that makes you believe in yourself more than before (Crum & Langer, 2007). Thus, a supplement can perhaps stimulate your own brain to communicate what it needs to control or do to make the body improve.
In fact, a research study showed this effect (Maganaris et al., 2000). In this study, elite level powerlifters were divided into two groups. Both groups were told that steroids were approved and that they could use them to enhance their lift performance. In the end, both groups were not significantly different (Maganaris et al., 2000). But what I fail to mention is both groups saw astronomical improvements in their 1-RM and some went on to set personal records!!!
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However, when one group was told that they were taking a sugar pill, their performance dissipated, while the uninformed group continued to see improvement in their lifting performance (Maganaris et al., 2000)!!
The mind is a powerful thing and a certain supplement may make a 1% difference, but just the idea of improving, you may tap into an unchartered area in your own brain and believing may be enough to activate what's needed to get the job done (Langer, 1989).
If the supplement has long-term research conducted and is safe, proven and shown to enhance performance, then you are armed with what you need to know to make a better informed decision.
Lets face it, eating loads of chicken breasts, beef and poultry can be quite a monotonous experience. Protein powders today taste better and can provide a nice variety to one's protein source selection (Schwarzenegger, 1998).
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With bodybuilding, timing is critically important in terms of eating frequency, amount of carb, protein and fat intake with respect to timing of exercise (Miller & Wolfe, 1999; Rasmussen et al., 2000; Tipton et al., 2001), pre-workout meal timing, post-workout meal timing, etc.
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With regard to protein powders, the logic to them offering an advantedge is based on liquid meals having a faster absorption rate AND a greater anabolic insulin response due to less digestive breakdown required since the meal is liquid, thus a faster gastrointestinal transit time to the growth-hungry muscles after a good resistance-training workout OR high-intensity cardio workout.
In fact, research has clearly shown this to be true, that supplement timing has a profoundly positive effect on the hormonal growth response right after a resistance training workout (Cribb & Hayes, 2006; Volek et al., 1998). This is another reason why protein powders are highly-effective when it comes to natural bodybuilding.
Protein Requirements For Bodybuilders
To grow or maintain muscle, you should consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. *Shaking my head. I can not believe that this is like gold to many out there. Believe me, I've done my research on this, not to mention my qualifications entitle me to extend my professional opinion on the matter.
What is about to follow may offend some or make some feel not so comfortable, my advice: Take it or Leave it.
1 gram/lb of bodyweight is essentially, in nutritional science terms, 2.2 grams/kg of bodyweight!!!
Ok, let's look at this from the beginning. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein for sedentary males has always been ~0.8 g/kg (Food and Nutrition Board, 1989). For physically active men, the protein requirements are higher, but this depends on the type of activity.
For example, it has been recommended that for endurance athletes, a protein intake of 1.2-1.4 g/kg be consumed while for strength athletes, 1.2-1.8 g/kg be consumed (Lemon, 1991; Lemon, 1995; Lemon, 1996). However, other research has shown that endurance athletes actually need more protein than strength athletes due to greater caloric expenditure (Brooks et al., 1996).
As far as 0.8 g/kg bodyweight, this was based on the minimum amount of protein to maintain structural integrity and be in nitrogen balance for ~97.5 % of the general population (Bilsborough & Mann, 2006). This is an important concept here.
Nitrogen balance is a method of determining protein metabolism via input-output efficiency and the outcome of being anabolic or catabolic in terms of protein synthesis, balance or degradation.
Now, there are 3 simple states one can be:
- Positive Nitrogen Balance: Protein intake is at a level that encourages weight gain.
- Nitrogen Balance: Protein intake is at a level that maintains bodyweight.
- Negative Nitrogen Balance: Protein intake is at a level where weight loss occurs OR muscle proteins are at risk of being catabolized to make up the deficit.
When Do Muscles Grow:
Key word above is WEIGHT. In no way, shape or form was MUSCLE or LEAN MASS mentioned here. Herein lies the problem, when do muscles grow? Typically in early years of life (~11-20 years of old) of growth and maturation (Malina et al.,2004). These growth cycles occur in rapid spurts and are strongly associated with peak hormonal surges as well (Malina et al., 2004).
In fact Bilsborough & Mann (2006) reported the following:
The practical implications for understanding this information is exemplified by a novice bodybuilder who may consume 250 to 400 g of whey protein isolate on a daily basis, in the belief that it will promote greater skeletal muscle anabolism, a debatable point at best (Calbet & Maclean, 2002; Volpi et al., 1999); however, a more important issue is how does the human body deal with these large (> 200 g/d) amounts of protein?
Sure 1 g/lb of bodyweight is fine (Bilsborough & Mann, 2006), but what research shows is that with the excess protein breakdown and accumulation of by-products such as ammonia, creatinine, etc. comes an adaptation of the kidneys to accommodate this excess load of protein (Manz et al., 1995).
The thought-provoking question is, "Is this a favorable adaptation?" My thought is that it is ok to have protein consumption at 1 g/lb bodyweight (2.2 g/kg of bodyweight), however, for those who consume less, they will not be catabolic or likely to be any different than those who consume 1 g/lb of bodyweight.
In a nutshell, the 1 g/lb of bodyweight appears to be more for comfort and peace of mind than anything.
If you look back at early year pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger (18-years of age), you will see that his muscle mass was not significantly greater than his adult years (19-33 years of age).
In fact, you will see that the main difference was his muscle maturity (i.e. vascularity, definition and density) and conditioning. This muscle maturity comes from the long-term adaptations of resistance training (Shoepe et al., 2003; Tesch, 1988) and NOT mainly from muscles getting bigger. This just further validates the science-based understanding of muscle mass growth being impacted more during the physiological-based growth years between 11-20 years of age (Malina et al., 2004).
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Now, muscle growth isn't this thing where, oh I need to be in positive nitrogen balance 24/7!!! For adults, muscle growth is more simple than you think. F3 is what makes muscles grow. F3 stands for "Form Follows Function."
Get stronger and faster, have hypertrophy and power workouts, eat balanced and sufficiently, apply nutritional science principles (i.e. nutrient timing, partitioning, etc.) and get plenty of sleep.
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This entire protein power approach is straight-up nonsense. Furthermore, muscle growth or accretion in adult years is very, very hard to accomplish. In fact, to gain 1-lb of pure muscle in a year as an adult without body fat gain would be astonishing.
The truth of the matter is, muscle growth should be perceived differently. I would rather say muscle development or quality. Muscle development should be perceived as simply stimulating muscles to become stronger and with a higher functional capacity.
In other words, work to enhance the QUALITY of muscle with patience and diligent and persistent effort. And I know this is a hard thing to stomach for many of you, but the fact of the matter is, when I write article's, I bring the science with them (all my article's have a reference list below), not just hear-say.
Unfortunately, many of the kudos for views or perspectives in bodybuilding are based on one's reputation, hear-say and speculative status-quo.
Some may think of protein consumption along the lines of more is better. I believe more is more. More is not necessarily better. However, I can say that better is better. In other words, train smarter, not harder. We are what we eat? Well I also believe in the motto, "We are what we DO."
Remember also, carbohydrates spare protein, so if you are eating right, there is no need for a protein intake of 1 gram/lb of bodyweight (Brooks et al., 1996).
Oh by the way, not 1 gram/lb of bodyweight, 1 gram/lb of MUSCLE. And last I remember, you are not 100% muscle! I believe the logic to using bodyweight as a reference for protein recommendation is for simplicity purposes when generalizing to the general population.
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Quality Protein Consumption:
Sure protein is composed in our organs, membranes etc., but stop the nonsense, muscle is protein's greatest reservoir. With that being said, we actually need less than 1 gram/lb of bodyweight.
In fact, research clearly shows we can consume 1.05 grams/kg of bodyweight (~ 0.47 g/lb of bodyweight) and still be in nitrogen balance (Tarnopolsky et al., 1988)!!! These were elite bodybuilders and they did just fine with 1.05 grams/kg of bodyweight (Tarnopolsky et al., 1988).
In further support, Tarnopolsky et al. (1992) also found in another sample of bodybuilders that 1.4 grams/kg bodyweight (~0.63 g/lb of bodyweight) was enough to sustain nitrogen balance, while 1.76 g/kg bodyweight (0.8 g/lb of bodyweight) was suggested as being optimal. In fact, Poortmans & Dellalieux (2000) showed that nitrogen balance in bodybuilders became positive when protein exceeded 1.26 g/kg of bodyweight (~ 0.57 g/lb of bodyweight)!!!
These studies are prime examples of QUALITY protein consumption (getting the best bang for the buck). Now listen, most people are not fast-twitch genotype specimens who need protein to be 1 gram/lb of bodyweight to grow. Most people need much less than they actually consume.
My advice is: Get most of your protein through more natural means such as whole foods. Research has shown this to range from 1.05-1.8 g/kg of bodyweight (~0.5 - 0.8 g/lb of bodyweight) (Tarnopolsky et al., 1988, 1992; Lemon, 1991, 1995, 1996).
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Consuming greater than 1.8 g/kg of bodyweight is more for peace of mind, but if that floats your boat, then fine. But for me, I'm happy with 1-1.8 g/kg of bodyweight, at least this way I'm not stressing over trying to load protein into every meal. Instead, my eating will be with more balance and less extremes.
Oh and for those who like the 1 gram/lb of bodyweight because of the simplicity, and this is probably why it is generally accepted, a better way to calculate protein intake would be to simply come up with your bodyweight as the protein in grams and subtract ~ 20-80 grams from that and you would still be getting more than enough protein.
The key is to eat healthy carbs in amounts dictated to either maintain bodyweight (off-season) or lose bodyweight (precontest), include protein at each meal to lower glycemic index, enhance satiety and stay in nitrogen balance and include healthy fats to maintain bodyweight (off-season) or lose bodyweight (precontest).
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Save the protein supplements for the top 5 reasons above. Supplements have a place in bodybuilding, but moderation is the key here. But above all, eat healthier and with more moderation and variety. You will eat less, but gain more! It's about QUALITY, not quantity.
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- Brooks et al. (1996). Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, CA.
- Butterfield, G. (1996). Ergogenic aids: Evaluating sport nutrition products, International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 6(2), 191-197.
- Calbet & Maclean (2002). Plasma glucagon and insulin response depend on the rate of appearance of amino acids after ingestion of different solutions in humans, Journal of Nutrition, 132(8), 2174-2182.
- Cribb & Hayes (2006). Effect of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(11), 1918-1925.
- Crum & Langer (2007). Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect, Psychological Science, 18(2), 165-171.
- Food and Nutrition Board (1989), Institute of Medicine. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- Grunewald & Bailey (1993). Commerically marketed supplements for bodybuilding articles, Sports Medicine, 15(2), 90-103.
- Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness. Perseus Books Group, Cambridge, MA.
- Lemon, P.W. (1991). Effect of exercise on protein requirements, Journal of Sports Sciences, 9, 53-70.
- Lemon, P.W. (1995). Do athletes need more dietary protein and amino acids. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 5, S39-S61.
- Lemon, P.W. (1996). Is increased dietary protein necessary or beneficial for individuals with a physically-active lifestyle? Nutrition Reviews, 54(4 pt 2), S169-S175.
- Lemon & Mullin (1980). Effect of initial muscle glycogen level on protein catabolism during exercise, Journal of Applied Physiology, 48(4), 624-629.
- Lightsey & Attaway (1992). Deceptive tactics used in marketing purported ergogenic aids, National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, 14(2), 26-31.
- Lowery et al. (1998). Conjugated linoleic acid enhances muscle size and strength gains in novice bodybuilders, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Suppl 182.
- Maganaris et al. (2000). Expectancy effects of strength training: Do steroids make a difference? The Sport Psychologist, 14, 272-278.
- Malina et al. (2004). Growth, Maturation, and Physical Activity. 2nd edition, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
- Manz et al. (1995). Effects of high protein intake on renal acid excretion in bodybuilders, Zeitschrift fur Ernahrungswissenchaft, 34(1), 10-15.
- Mero, A. (1999). Leucine supplementation and intensive training, Sports Medicine, 27(6), 347-358.
- Miller & Wolfe (1999). Physical exercise as a modulator of adaptation to low and high carbohydrate and low and high fat intakes, European Jounral of Clinical Nutrition, 53(1), S112-S119.
- Nisson et al. (1996). Effect of leucine metabolite B-hydroxy- B-methylbutyrate on muscle metabolism during resistance-exercise training, Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(5), 2095-2104.
- Poortmans & Dellalieux (2000). Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 10(1), 28-38.
- Rangachari & Mierson (1995). A checklist to help students analyze published articles in basic medical sciences, American Journal of Physiology, 268 (6 Pt 3), S21-S25.
- Rasmussen et al. (2000). An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise, Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(2), 386-392.
- Schwarzenegger, A. (1998). The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
- Shoepe et al. (2003). Functional adaptability of muscle fibers ot long-term resistance exercise, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(6), 944-951.
- Tarnopolsky et al. (1988). Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass, Jouirnal of Applied Physiology, 64(1), 187-193.
- Tarnopolsky et al. (1992). Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes, Journal of Applied Physiology, 73(5), 1986-1995.
- Tesch, P.A. (1988). Skeletal muscle adaptations consequent to long-term heavy resistance exercise, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 20(Suppl 5), S132-S134.
- Tipton et al. (2001). Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise, American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, 281(2), E197-E206.
- Volek et al. (1998). The effects of dietary supplementation on hormonal responses to consecutive days of heavy resistance exercise, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Suppl. 182.
- Volpi et al. (1999). Oral amino acids stimulate muscle protein anabolism in the elderly despite higher-pass splanchnic extraction, American Journal of Physiology, 277(3 Pt 1), E513-E520.
The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not serve as a replacement to care provided by your own personal health care team or physician. The author does not render or provide medical advice, and no individual should make any medical decisions or change their health behavior based on information provided here. Reliance on any information provided by the author is solely at your own risk. The author accepts no responsibility for materials contained in the article and will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages arising from the use of information contained in this or other publications.
Copyright © Ivan Blazquez, 2008. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder and author of this publication.