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The Protein Factor!

Anyone serious about their health needs to ask themselves the following questions: exactly what protein sources are the best in terms of cellular repair, and exactly how much of this protein is adequate? Find out here...

Research has shown that a significant proportion of ones diet should be comprised of protein if muscle size is to be developed exponentially. It is reasonably clear that between 1-1.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight is required, and 20-30 percent of the caloric value of ones daily diet is the ideal, when adding muscle on a continual basis is the aim.

However, all the talk of high protein diets for bodybuilding purposes is pointless when there is no firm criteria given as to the specifics of protein intake. There is no question that protein is of importance as it serves a variety functions and underpins a number of processes.

Primary functions of protein include, the repairing, rebuilding and recovery of almost all bodily tissues, the maintenance of enzyme levels, and hormone production. In fact, all of our 70 trillion or so cells are largely comprised of protein. About 60 trillion cells will be destroyed each year (165 billion a day or 115 million each minute), and these cells need to be replaced.

The bottom line is: if protein is not supplied for each of these cells, the body will leach it out of other areas to compensate, or the repair process will begin to shut down and protein deficiency symptoms such as hair thinning or loss, lethargy, poor recovery from illness and nail and skin weakening, will begin to present themselves. Everyone (not just the bodybuilder) needs an adequate supply of protein to maintain cell integrity.

The bodybuilder though, whose training promotes significant cellular damage (muscle cells in particular), actually needs significantly more protein than the average person.

However, as implied, protein intake is not simply a case of eating whatever is available and hoping for the best. Rather, anyone serious about their health needs to ask themselves the following questions: exactly what protein sources are the best in terms of cellular repair, and exactly how much of this protein is adequate? The answers to these questions will follow, but firstly we will have a look at exactly what protein is.

What Is Protein?

Protein is one of the most prolific substances in the body (15-20% of ones weight), and, of interest to the bodybuilder, 60-70% of all protein is located in the muscles. Protein is a large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids which are structured in a specific order. The order that the amino acids are placed in is determined by the base sequence of nucleotides in the gene that codes for the protein.

Amino acids themselves are, as implied, the building blocks of proteins. The amino acids are 20 different kinds of small molecules that link together in literally thousands of long chains, and these chains form proteins. The sequence of amino acids in a protein determines the structure and function of that protein. Each protein has a unique function. Examples are, enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Human growth hormone (HGH), for example, is comprised of 191 amino-acid molecules.

Chemically, amino acids are an organic compound containing an amino (NH2) group and a carboxyl (COOH) group. Amino acids are categorized as essential, non-essential and conditionally essential. An amino-acid is classified as essential if the body's synthesis of it is inadequate to meet metabolic need. Essential amino-acids must be supplied through ones diet.

The Essential Amino Acids Are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine - Learn More
  • Methionine - Learn More
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

The non-essential aminos can be synthesized by the body in sufficient quantity, and it is thought that, as a result, they do not need to be specifically included in the diet. However, glutamine (a non-essential amino) has been shown to be beneficial to athletes in relatively large amounts and, therefore, it is deemed wise to take it in supplemental form. Furthermore, all of the other, so called, non-essential aminos are, in fact, essential for proper metabolic functioning.

The Non-Essential Amino Acids Are:

The conditionally essential amino acids become essential, surprisingly enough, under certain conditions. Taurine, for example, is termed conditionally essential as it is essential for normal infant development.

It is thought, for bodybuilding purposes, that branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are particularly important. These are comprised of the three essential acids, leucine, valine and isoleucine, and are thought to be superior in terms of muscle building. These aminos are extremely anti-catabolic as they are metabolized in the muscle rather than in the liver, as would normally be the case.

Indeed, the BCAAs are taken to the various tissues of the body via systematic circulation. When this occurs they seem to be preferentially taken up by skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle appears to be the major site of both BCAA transanmination (the transfer of an amino acid group from one molecule to another) and oxidation in humans.

What Is The Optimal Amount Of Protein Needed For Muscle Building Purposes?

About 30 years ago, health departments set the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein at between 0.7 and 1.00 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for adults. It has since been suggested, and shown, that depending on activity type, and level, up to 1.7 grams of protein per pound of weight is closer to the mark. But only just. Many bodybuilders, in fact, consume almost double this amount to gain size without experiencing any adverse effects.

How Much Protein Do You Consume?

    1 Gram x Bodyweight / Day
    1.5 Grams x Bodyweight / Day
    2 Grams x Bodyweight / Day
    Over 2.5 x Bodyweight / Day

Furthermore, research has shown that 2.0 to 2.6 grams per kilogram per day of protein may be required for periods of very intense weight training, whereas protein intakes of 2.0 g per kilogram per day might maintain a positive nitrogen balance (a component of protein which can be measured to determine protein status) during periods of less intense weight training (Paul, 1989).

It has almost become a general rule in bodybuilding that the more complete protein one can consume the quicker they will grow. The golden rule in this instance would be: always consume more protein on a daily basis than your body utilises. If one is unable to test their nitrogen balance, to ascertain protein utilization, they would be advised to increase their protein consumption until gains are witnessed. In some, this can mean eating around 50 grams of protein at each of their six daily meals.

It is also vitally important that complete proteins are consumed at two to three-hour intervals as the muscles need a constant supply of protein to continue the building process. If they do not get the proteins they need at the right time, the body will break down established muscle to obtain them. At least 20-30% (or more) of ones diet should include a high-quality, complete, source of protein is gains are sought.

Which Protein Sources Are Best?

Most of the foods we eat contain protein. For example, rice and tofu each contain a reasonable amount of protein. However, irrespective of the health value of these foods, rice and tofu both contain an incomplete protein which will not adequately provide the requirements for cellular growth. A desirable balance of the essential amino acids is simply not supplied by these foods (Blashki, 2004). Rice, for example, is very low on isoleucine and lysine - key amino-acids.

Indeed, complete protein sources are required if one is to obtain all of the essential amino acids to adequately promote cellular repair. It is, however, thought that by combining certain foods, one will obtain all of the essential amino acids they need. Rice and beans, for example, will combine to make a complete protein source.

However, this combination is not perfect and, given the choice, one would be wise to focus on alternative, superior, sources of protein. If the bodybuilder, beginner or otherwise, relied exclusively on vegetable sources for their protein needs, they would probably witness their muscles shriveling up before their eyes (over a period of days).

Even animal proteins (regarded as one of the superior complete protein sources) do not have a perfect amino acid ratio, as they generally contain between 60 and 80% of usable protein. Animal proteins can include chicken, fish and beef.

Superior forms of protein that have an ideal amino-acid balance, are rapidly digested, and are able to build muscle faster due to the amount of re-synthesized protein they retain, have ascribed to them a high Biological Value (BV). The Biological Value is a scale of measurement used to determine what percentage of a given nutrient source is utilized by the body. When it comes to protein, the higher the biological value the better the protein source.

The Following Are Biological Values For Some Of The More Superior Protein Foods:
(Whey Protein Institute, 2001)

  1. Whey protein: 100.
  2. Whole egg: 88-100.
  3. Egg white: 94.
  4. Whey protein isolate: 94.
  5. Chicken (white meat): 81.
  6. Beef: 80.
  7. Fish (cod): 60.
  8. Soy protein concentrate: 74.
  9. Casein: 80.

Foods & Corresponding Protein Content:

  • One large chicken breast: 30-50 grams of protein.
  • Beef: seven grams per ounce.
  • Milk: eight grams per cup.
  • Baked potatoes: nine grams per eight ounces.
  • Cashews: five grams per ounce.
  • One large egg: seven grams.
  • Cheese: 25 grams per 3.5 ounces

Supplements & Corresponding Protein Content:

Is It Important To Supplement?

As mentioned, when it comes to superior protein utilization and digestibility, whey protein is the recommended source (as far as biological values are concerned). Whey protein is nothing short of miraculous if 10 years of extensive research, showing significant increases in cell repair, recovery and immune function due to whey protein intake is anything to go by. Whey proteins success rate has underscored the importance of correct supplementation for bodybuilding purposes.

Whey Protein Can Be Used In Two Forms:

  1. Isolate
  2. Concentrate

Isolate is superior to concentrate as it is a more pure and concentrated form of protein. It contains 90% or more protein and very little (if any) fat and lactose. Concentrate, on the other hand, contains between 28 and 89% protein depending on the product.

Whey protein, both isolate and concentrate, also contain a rich source of branch-chain amino-acids. Following training when the muscles require easily digestible, and rapidly absorbed protein, whey is ideal. Whey protein also has an excellent anti-oxidant effect and can therefore boost immune system function, and enhance overall health and well-being.

In addition to whey, there are other protein supplements which have proved effective. Casein (80% of the protein composition of milk) is useful as it has a slower digestion rate. Micellar casein (an undenatured form of isolated casein protein) can release a steady supply of amino-acids over a seven-hour period. This is thought to enhance overall protein balance. However, compared to whey it is thought to be inferior. Whey protein is more soluble than casein and also has a higher quality rating. Branch-chain amino-acids and free form aminos can also be used to increase overall protein balance and complement the effect of whey.

So yes, supplementing with whey protein (preferably isolate) seems to be the preferred choice, and is advised if gains are sought.

The Most Effective Protein Supplements Are:
(in order)

  1. Whey Protein Isolate - Learn More.
  2. Whey Protein Concentrate - Learn More.
  3. Branch-Chain Amino-Acids - Learn More.
  4. Micellar Casein - Learn More.


Protein consumption, through supplementation and whole foods, is crucial when aiming to build muscle. This has been common knowledge, among bodybuilders the world over, for quite some time.

Over recent years an emphasis has been placed on large quantities of protein, in contradiction to the early health department recommendation of 0.7-1.00 grams per pound of bodyweight. This emphasis on high protein dietary content has become standard practice with good reason: it works. Now, many bodybuilders typically consume between 1-1.7 grams of protein or more per pound of bodyweight. The wise ones also tend to supplement with a high quality protein source.

Calculate Your Protein Needs:

Enter Your Bodyweight In The Box Below:

Your Bodyweight In Pounds: OR In Kilograms:

Upon reviewing the literature and the extensive range of protein products available, it appears that whey protein isolate, and other whey products, are superior in terms of digestibility, biological value and tissue-building. Probably the most significant step one can take toward promoting increases in muscle size, and, indeed, the quality of their health overall, would be to increase their consumption of complete, high quality, proteins.


  1. Blashki, L.(2004). Protein- Friend or foe? Living Now Magazine [Online]
  2. Paul GL. Dietary protein requirements of physically active individuals. Sports Med 1989; 8:154-176.)
  3. The Whey Protein Institute. The Benefits of Whey Protein. [Online]