by Josh Hodnik
Protein is a nutrient that is essential for the repair and development of tissue throughout the human body. Without adequate protein, the body is forced to break down its own muscle tissue to repair damaged tissues. This prolonged catabolic state will result in muscle wasting, a weakened immune system, and poor organ function. Protein is a versatile nutrient that is comprised of a series of amino acids linked together chain. These amino acids are considered the building blocks within the body. Carbohydrates and fats are the body’s first option for supplying energy, but when they have been depleted over a period of time, protein can be broken down and converted to glycogen to be used as fuel. While protein has the ability to fill in the energy gap in the case of missing carbohydrates and fats, carbs and fats cannot perform the job that protein does of repairing tissue.
It is known that protein provides numerous benefits for optimal health, and most of the benefits are advantageous to bodybuilders. Keeping a positive nitrogen balance by consuming enough protein helps to keep the body in an anabolic state, which equates to the construction instead of destruction of muscle tissue. There are several ways that a surplus of protein can positively impact muscle growth. Growth hormone contains 190 amino acids and eating enough protein insures that the body has the building blocks required to construct growth hormone. Low growth hormone levels slow the metabolism and can lead to muscle loss.
IGF-1 is required for muscle cells to properly respond to growth hormone. IGF-1 contains over 70 amino acids and without proper protein intake, IGF-1 levels can be lowered. This can make it harder to utilize available growth hormone. Protein also has been shown to aid in fat loss. This happens a few different ways. First, more energy is required to digest protein making high protein foods thermogenic. The human body uses 30% more calories digesting protein than it does carbs and fats. Protein also helps to lower insulin levels in the blood, which helps control cravings for high glycemic foods.
Whether or not protein should be a staple in a bodybuilders diet is obviously a no-brainer, but how much protein should be consumed to be most beneficial is another big question. The recommended daily allowance in the United States is .36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For a 180-pound person, the minimum requirement is only 65 grams of protein per day. Many bodybuilders laugh at this requirement, while often taking in this much protein in one sitting. For years, bodybuilders have believed that consuming 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight would yield the most beneficial muscle mass. While 1.5 grams was the standard number for maintaining muscle mass.
There is a large variance between the protein requirements suggested by the recommended daily allowance and the bodybuilding community. With this large gap, many people are confused about how much protein they should consume to gain quality muscle. Recently, many coaches and nutritionists have started to suggest what the medical community has reported for years, and that is large amounts of protein is not needed to build muscle.
Some are now reporting that the average person can assimilate no more than 25 to 30 grams of protein at one time. These reports are true in one sense, but false in another. If an individual that ordinarily consumes a diet low in protein is switched to a high protein diet, the protein wont all be utilized in the beginning. It will take some time to adjust to allow enzyme production to increase in order to assimilate larger amounts of protein. This can be compared to a person that rarely drinks milk that would suffer from an upset stomach after drinking several glasses. Many believe that they are completely lactose intolerant, when in fact; they just don’t produce enough of the enzyme needed to breakdown the lactose because there hasn’t been a need for it. Bodybuilders carry more muscle mass and exercise at a higher level than the average person. This increases the need for more protein intake.
Whey protein continues to rise in cost and now there are many options to replace this once most popular protein supplement, such as pea and wheat proteins. With less emphasis today on high protein intake, consumers are not as concerned about switching to an inferior protein, especially if it is more cost effective than whey protein.
Many intra and post workout formulas have been marketed that contain a variety of free-form amino acids and numerous other ingredients. These products are intended to decrease muscle breakdown and increase muscle recovery. While the concept behind many of these products is good, the amino acid content is not high enough to repair muscle tissue alone. These products should not replace high protein intake after training or on a daily basis. Many consumers don’t understand this and protein supplementation is no longer a staple for the majority of gym goers. A few large supplement companies are responsible for this while downplaying the importance of protein powders and hyping up other products with deceptive advertising. The new generation of athletes and bodybuilders have been sucked in by this deception, which is a win for a few large supplement companies. Newer recovery formulas cost only a fraction to produce compared to protein powders. This has pushed the industry to focus on products that have a higher profit margin than whey protein and other protein powders.
The protein craze that had supplement companies marketing protein powders as their top product may have to come to an end, but the amount of protein needed to pack on quality muscle remains the same. It is still wise to consume 2 grams of protein or more per pound of bodyweight to experience the most from protein’s muscle building capabilities.