In part one of “Bodybuilders & Protein,” we talked about the ABC’sof protein: what it is, what it is used for, and how it isprocessed in the body. We also looked at what the scientificliterature says about protein needs. From this discussion, we came to five important conclusions:
1.Protein is the only nutrient directly responsible for buildingmuscle.
2. Exercise increases protein needs.
3. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein (.36 grams perpound of body weight) is woefully inadequate if you work out on aregular basis.
4. Studies by the world’s top protein researchers such as Dr. PeterLemon, have determined that .8 grams per pound of body weightshould be your minimum for protein if you exercise regularly (morethan double the RDA!)
5. Optimal intakes for hard-training athletes, such as
bodybuilders, are still unknown and may be even higher. In onestudy of Polish weightlifters, 50% of the subjects were still innegative nitrogen balance, even while consuming 250% of the RDA.
Now that we’ve established these facts, that still leaves oneburning question: How do you determine the precise amount ofprotein that is right for you? Read on to find out.
Protein needs by body weight: The one gram per pound of body weightrule.
For body builders, one gram per pound of body weight has been arule of thumb for years – and it’s very close to the .8 grams perpound of body weight recommended in the most recent research.However, .8 grams per pound of body weight should be considered aminimum for strength athletes and bodybuilders. When you accountfor factors such as biochemical individuality, varying metabolicrates and the added protein needed to accommodate for intensetraining and gaining muscle, adding an extra margin of .2g/lb makes
sense. Under certain circumstances, one gram per pound might noteven be enough, but we’ll talk more about that later.
The one gram per pound rule is the easiest and most commonly usedmethod of calculating your daily protein requirement, but it doeshave drawbacks. For example, the more body fat you have, the morethis method will overestimate your protein needs. It also doesn’ttake into account whether your goal is to gain or lose weight.
Nevertheless, as long you are training regularly and you are withinthe normal ranges for body composition, then this simple formula isa solid recommendation and a good place to start.
You are female
Your total body weight = 130 lbs.
Your protein requirement = 130 grams per day
If you eat 5 – 6 meals a day (like you should) that’s 22 – 26 gramsof protein per meal
You are male
Your total body weight = 190 lbs.
Your protein requirement = 190 grams per day
Spread over 5 – 6 meals per day, that’s 32 – 38 grams of protein
Protein needs as a percentage of total calories
Another way to calculate your daily protein needs is to multiplyyour total calorie intake for the day by the desired percentage ofcalories from protein. To do this, you’ll need to know how manycalories you’re supposed to take in. There is not enough space todiscuss calorie calculations in this article, but you can find allthe formulas on my website in the article titled, “CalorieCalculators.”
For now, let it suffice to say that exercise physiologists tell usthe average maintenance level is 2000-2100 calories per day forwomen and 2700-2900 per day for men. After you’ve determined yourcaloric maintenance level, you then adjust it up or down dependingon whether you want to gain or lose weight.
30% of total calories should come from protein
The next step is to select the optimal percentage of calories fromprotein. The percentage you choose must be in line with your goals,
activity requirements, body type and metabolic rate. The idealratios may vary widely based on these factors, but as a “baseline”I recommend that 30% of your calories come from protein. Thatleaves 15% from fat and 55% from natural, unrefined complexcarbohydrates.
The Baseline Diet:
Once you’ve selected the proper ratio of calories to come fromprotein, simply multiply the percentage of calories from protein bythe total calories for the day. That will tell you how manycalories should come from protein.
The final step is to divide the protein calories by four (there arefour calories in each gram of protein) and that will give you howmany grams of protein you should eat per day.
You are a female, 130 lbs.
Your optimal calorie intake to lose fat is 1700 calories per day
To determine your protein intake, multiply your caloric intake by30%
1700 calories per day X .30% = 510 calories from protein
There are 4 calories per gram of protein510 protein calories divided by 4 calories per gram of protein =127.5 grams of protein
You are male, 190 lbs.
Your optimal calorie intake to lose fat is 2600 calories per day
To determine your protein intake, multiply your caloric intake by30%
2600 calories per day X .30% = 780 calories from proteinThere are 4 calories per gram of protein780 protein calories divided by 4 calories per gram of protein =195 grams of protein
Three times when higher protein is called for
You probably noticed in the example above that using 30% ofcalories from protein comes out very close to one gram per pound ofbody weight. However, the percentage of total calories method ismore accurate because it accounts for different goals. The examplesabove were for someone who wanted to lose weight.
Obviously your optimal caloric intake, and therefore your proteinintake, will vary depending on what you want to achieve. If you
want to gain weight, you’re going to need more calories, and asubstantial portion of those extra calories should come fromprotein. Clearly, there are times when a higher protein intake isnecessary. These include:
1) When you are trying to gain muscular body weight
2) When you are using a low carbohydrate diet for fat loss
3) When you are “carbohydrate sensitive”
Protein Intake and Gaining Muscular Body Weight
Let’s suppose you’re male, you weigh 190 lbs. and you maintain yourweight on 3000 calories per day. To gain weight you’ll need toincrease your calories. Makes sense, right? Specifically, you’dneed about 3500 per day. Now let’s do the math: 30% of 3500calories is 1050 calories per day. 1050 calories divided by fourcalories per gram is 262 grams of protein a day. That’s nearly 1.4grams of protein per pound of body weight!
After everything we’ve discussed so far, you’re probably wondering,”isn’t that entirely too much protein?” True, 1.4 grams per pound
of bodyweight seems like a heck of a lot of protein. However, thereis a very logical reason for this extra protein, so stay with mefor a minute. Granted, there’s no scientific “proof” that highprotein intakes this high will grow more muscle, but that’s not thereason for the extra protein. The reason is your protein intake hasto go up along with your calories in order to keep your nutrientratios “balanced.”
You need more calories to gain weight, but if you only add theextra calories from fat or carbohydrate, you would probably findyourself getting fat – and fast! As bodybuilders know all too well,excess carbohydrates, especially in the presence of a caloriesurplus, can easily cause fat storage. The same goes for dietaryfats. A high calorie diet with 70% of the calories fromcarbohydrates might be ok for a long distance runner, but chancesare, a bodybuilder would get as smooth as a baby’s butt eating likethat!
Protein intake and low carbohydrate dieting
The second time when more protein is justified is when you areusing a low carbohydrate diet. The baseline diet of 55%carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15% fat is without a doubt thehealthiest, most balanced way to eat, and most people will loseweight on this diet, as long as calories are below maintenance.However, take a look at the diets of the world’s best bodybuildersand fitness competitors and you’ll discover that nearly all of themuse some variation of the low carbohydrate or moderate carbohydratediet to achieve the “ripped” look necessary to win competitions.
If you decide to choose the low carbohydrate approach to dieting,the problem is that you can’t just drop out all those carbohydratesand leave the amounts of protein and fat right where they were. Ifcarbohydrates are decreased substantially, the protein (and to someextent, the healthy “good” fats) must be increased correspondinglyso the calorie deficit doesn’t become too large.
When your carbohydrates are too low and your calories are also low,the result is almost always muscle loss. Not exactly what abodybuilder wants, is it? So, to offset the drop in carbohydratesand keep your calories above “starvation level,” your proteinintake must be increased – sometimes to very high levels. Exactlywhat ratio of protein to carbohydrate you take in depends entirelyon your type of metabolism and can only be determined through trialand error.
Not only does a high protein level fend off muscle loss while onlow carbohydrates, but it can also speed up the fat burningprocess. Protein has the highest “thermic effect” of any food. Thatmeans that protein foods speed up your metabolism because your bodyhas to work harder to digest, process and utilize this nutrientcompared to fat or carbohydrate.
The “thermic” effect of protein is one of the reasons that a higherprotein diet is more effective for fat loss than a high fat diet or
a high carbohydrate diet. Too much of any food type can be storedas body fat, but protein is less likely to be converted to fat thanany other nutrient.
Protein intake for the carbohydrate sensitive or insulin resistant
A high protein, low carbohydrate diet may not be appropriate (orhealthy) for year round maintenance, but there is no question thata higher protein diet makes it easier to lose body fat. One reasonfor this is because of the thermic effect of proteins, but anotherreason is the effect of moderate or low carbohydrates and highprotein on insulin and blood sugar levels. Let me explain:
Some people are very “sensitive” to carbohydrates. This means thatwhen they eat a lot of carbohydrates, they “overreact” and there isan unusually large surge in their blood sugar and insulin levels.Insulin is an important anabolic hormone and is responsible formoving glucose into body cells, but too much is not a good thing.
Large concentrations of insulin in the bloodstream activate fatstorage enzymes and promote the movement of triglycerides in thebloodstream into fat cells for storage. Too much insulin alsoinhibits enzymes that promote the breakdown of stored body fat. Theonly solution to this problem is less carbohydrates and – youguessed it – more protein.
Conclusion – There are no “rules”
The one gram per pound of bodyweight guideline is good as a generalrule of thumb for bodybuilders, and the 30% of total caloriesguideline is even better. However, it’s impossible to set hard andfast rules about protein intakes, because no single rule couldpossibly apply to everyone. The amount of protein you need dependson how hard you are training and on whether you want to gain,maintain, or lose bodyweight. It also depends on whether you decideto take the high carbohydrate, low fat approach or the highprotein, low carbohydrate method. Neither way is right or wrong.What’s right is what works for you.
No single diet will work for everyone. Nutrition is a highlyindividual issue and you must make adjustments to your diet toaccount for the differences in your metabolism and your body type.If you’ve tried the conventional, high carbohydrate, low fat dietand it hasn’t produced satisfactory results, a diet with moderateor even low carbohydrates might be the answer.
If you decide to take the low carbohydrate approach, you’re goingto have to increase your protein to make up for the lowercarbohydrates. If you don’t, you’ll end up losing your hard-earnedmuscle. You’re also going to have to eat more protein if you wantto gain lean body weight.
Even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom and seemsexcessive, it’s entirely possible that you might need as much as1.25 grams to 1.5 grams of protein per day – or more – to getoptimal results. In the third installment of Bodybuilders andProtein, we will conclude the series by looking at the often
extreme protein consumption habits of competitive bodybuilders.Then we will answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: “Isn’teating too much protein bad for your health?”
This article was provided courtesy of Tom Venuto. Tom is a lifetimenatural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writerand author of “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle” (BFFM): Fat BurningSecrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models.
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Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author of Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 140 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.