Regardless of whether you’re into conventional athletic sports or you’re into bodybuilding, protein in many respects is the name of the game. Building brute muscle means more strength and power on the field, while on stage competitive bodybuilders need to stack lean mass with a chiseled look to make the grade. Regardless, everyone needs to come to grips with what proteins work best for their bodies and their particular tastes. That’s what this guide is all about. The issue is that there’s so much data flying around the modern fitness world and tons of it conflicts. It’s no different online. What works best? What’s the safest form? What’s the appropriate intake requirements for specific fitness goals? What makes for optimal hypertrophy/performance? One issue is that it’s been widely claimed that huge intakes of certain proteins can lead to soft tissue (organs like the kidney or liver) or bone damage. What gives? Some claim it can lead to dangerous levels of molecular dehydration. Many people get confused when confronting this mountain of data. Where’s the evidence? Why does so much of it conflict? In this guide we’re going to tackle the RESEARCH and come to terms with findings. Let’s begin.
Safety ResearchForget about ebooks and Google search results, things can get really complicated quick when people sit down and talk to classically trained/amateur dietitians and nutritionists. They’re opinions seem to vary as much if not more…great. Recommendations vary from expert to expert. Then if you look at bodybuilder magazines or websites, you’ll get different answers. Who’s right? Well, as is typically the case you need to read between the lines and pay attention to the common ground that exists between them all. Here’s the truth: most amateur lifters in the gym under consume while the professionals tend to over consume protein. The question becomes, how much is too much/little for me? Good question because in reality your body is unique in many ways. Let’s talk research.
What Are the Health Risks?This should be the first question on everyone’s mind when they consider consuming large amounts of supplemental protein that they do not get from food intake alone. Now, it just so happens that there have been more than 100 studies done that examine possible adverse effects of high protein intake for athletes and here are some of the findings:
- Intakes of 2.8g/kg didn’t impair kidney function in the SHORT TERM (Manninen2004).
- Habitual consumption of 2.0g/kg showed no adverse effects to renal function (Martin at al, 2005). One study actually showed an improvement in kidney function.
- Athletes showed no link between high intake and heart disease. In fact it caused a decrease in heart disease risk, or risk of ischemic heart attacks. Keep in mind this was with proteins where the excess fat content was tightly controlled.
- Intakes of 150g showed the same effect on blood calcium balance as much less (50g). These findings threw proverbial dirt in the face of “experts” that claimed it would cause calcium leaching. The same rang true for bodybuilders who consumed more than athletes/non-athletes. There was no dramatic increase in calcium excretion.
- “Protein and amino acids for athletes” (Tipton et al, 2004).
- “A Critical Examination of Dietary Protein Requirements, Benefits, and Excesses in Athletes” (Phillips et al, 2007).
Further Relevant FindingsIt should be noted that similar studies conducted on non-athletic types found similar results across the board pretty much. This ruled out implications that athletic lifestyles created unique results that aren’t applicable to the rest of us. Here are two studies to that prove the point along with their basic findings:
- No adverse effects on kidneys when non-athletic people consumed 2.2g/kg per pound of lean body mass over the span of 1 year (Li et al, 2010).
- Diets composed of 25% pure protein with 50g of supplemental protein showed no adverse effects on overall health. In fact, it proved that this approach helps people maintain ideal body weights AFTER dieting as well! (Claessens et al, 2009).
So, How Much Protein Should You Eat Daily?Finally, we arrive at the gravy question everyone really wants to have answered. How much should we eat per day to achieve solid muscle growth? As per usual there is no universal answer…sigh! Here’s what IS known: optimal protein intake is typically going to be higher than the popular conservative recommendations. And, there’s nothing much to fear from these higher amounts (3.0g/kg or 40% of total caloric intake – Tipton et al, 2004). Ready for more research?
- 2.1g/kg vs. 1.2g/kg provides enough for hardcore hypertrophy (not necessarily strength) for weightlifters (Tipton et al, 2004).
- When combined with small caloric deficits of -100cals heavy activity (athletes) and recommended (conservative) protein intake isn’t always going to maintain adequate nitrogen balance (Manninen 2004).
- The upper level recommendations of protein intake while on a strict diet with caloric deficits makes it hard to really maintain tons of lean mass. It’s mild at best.
How About Protein Amounts Per Meal Including Frequency?Recent research into Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) indicates that when it comes to protein you use more of it when you give it to yourself in certain doses per meal throughout the day vs. big huge intakes. So you’ll get better results looking at it from a dose by dose basis rather than on a per day basis.
- MPS is stimulated most when you consume 3-4g of Leucine (branch chain amino acid) every 4 to 6 hours. That’s completely different than the idea of eating 6 meals a day, 2 hours apart, all day every day to lose excess body fat through increased metabolism.
- Depending on which protein source you’re using, this means you’ll need to consume roughly 30-50 grams of the stuff to get this specific amount of Leucine.