05-06-2001, 10:46 PM
It is very unlikely an intense weight trainer will stay in a positive nitrogen balance with 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight.
I think this article is a very good read for those interested in the subject:
Bodybuilders & Protein
By Tom Venuto for Iron Magazine Online, September 2000
Original Publisher: Fitness Renaissance
Why are bodybuilders infatuated with protein?
Bodybuilders are infamous for their love affair with protein. The way iron-pumpers see it, muscle is protein, so they associate eating more dietary protein with gaining more muscle. Devouring egg whites by the dozen, meat by the pound and protein powder by the bucketful is the norm for hard training physique athletes. But is all this carnivorism really necessary? Why the infatuation with eating huge amounts of protein? Are bodybuilders correct in their habitual practice of pounding down the protein or is this immoderation unfounded? To answer these questions, it is first necessary obtain a solid understanding of what protein is and how it is used in the body. Only then can we objectively look at the protein consumption practices of bodybuilders and compare them to what the scientific evidence says in order to make some sensible and productive recommendations.
Protein Turnover; the dynamic human body
Although your body appears quite solid, it is always in a constant state of flux. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "You cannot step in the same river twice." What he meant was that a river may look the same every day, but it never is the same because of the constant flow of new water running through it. This is also true of the human body. Body protein is constantly being turned over as old cells die and new cells replace them. Best-selling author and mind-body expert Dr. Deepak Chopra describes this ongoing cellular renewal process like this:
"It is as if you lived in a building whose bricks were systematically taken out and replaced every year. If you keep the same blueprint then it will still look like the same building. But it won't be the same in actuality. The human body also stands there, looking much the same from day to day, but through the process of respiration, digestion, elimination and so forth, it is constantly and ever in exchange with the rest of the world."
Quantum physicists have proven that 98% of the atoms in your body are replaced within one year. In three months your body produces an entirely new skeleton. Every six weeks, all the cells have been replaced in your liver. You have a new stomach lining every five days. You are continually replacing old blood cells with new ones. Every month you produce an entirely new skin as dead cells are shed and new cells grow underneath. The proteins in your muscles are continually turned over as muscle is broken down and new tissue is synthesized. Every cell in your body is constantly being recycled.
Where do all these new cells come from? The answer of course, is from the protein foods you consume every day. That's why the saying, "You are what you eat" is literally true from a molecular standpoint. Once you've accepted this maxim, you'll start being awfully careful about what you put in your body every day.
Protein 101: What is protein anyway?
Its not surprising that bodybuilders put so much emphasis on protein. After all, protein is construction material for the human body like bricks are for a building. Body structures made from protein include skin, hair, nails, bones, connective tissue and of course skeletal muscle. Other proteins in your body include antibodies, enzymes, hormones such as insulin, and transporters such as hemoglobin. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in the body, making up approximately 15-20% of your weight. Of most interest to the bodybuilder is the fact that 60-70% of all protein in the body is located in the skeletal muscles. In order for muscle growth to occur, every day you must consume more protein than your body utilizes.
Like fats and carbohydrates, proteins are also composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The difference is nitrogen. Only protein can bring nitrogen into the body. Because muscle tissue contains most of the body's protein and protein contains nitrogen, scientists can study the effect of dietary protein on muscle growth by comparing the amount of nitrogen consumed with the amount excreted (in feces, urine and sweat). If the intake of nitrogen is greater than the amount excreted, then we know that protein is being retained and new muscle is being synthesized. This is known as positive nitrogen balance. If more nitrogen is excreted than consumed, you are in negative nitrogen balance, indicating that protein is being broken down and muscle is being lost.
Amino acids: The building blocks of protein
The smallest units of a protein are called amino acids. Like bricks in a wall, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Just as glycogen is formed from the linkage of numerous glucose molecules, proteins are formed from the joining of numerous amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body. From these 20 amino acids, there are tens of thousands of different protein molecules that can be formed. Each protein is assembled from the bonding of different amino acids into various configurations. Growth hormone, for example, is a protein chain of 156 amino acids.
"Amino acids are somewhat like letters in the alphabet. If you had only the letter G, all you could write would be a string of Gs: G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G. But with 20 different letters available, you could create poems, songs, or novels. The 20 amino acids can be linked together in an even greater variety of sequences than are possible for letters in a word or words in a sentence. The variety of possible sequences for polypeptide chains is tremendous."
-Eleanor Whitney and Sharon Rolfes, "Understanding Nutrition."
Essential vs. Non-essential amino acids
Out of the twenty amino acids, the human body can make eleven of them. These are called the non-essential amino acids (also known as "dispensable amino acids). The other nine amino acids are called "essential amino acids" or (indispensable amino acids). Essential amino acids are those which cannot be manufactured by your body and must be supplied from your food.
Essential (indispensable) amino acids
Non essential (dispensable) amino acids
Why bodybuilders must eat "complete" proteins every three hours
Foods that contain a balanced combination of all the essential and nonessential amino acids in the exact amounts required by the body for growth are called "complete proteins." In order for the body to synthesize muscle, all the essential amino acids must be available simultaneously. Any non-essential amino acids that are in short supply can be produced by the liver, but if an essential amino acid is missing, the body must break down its own proteins to obtain it. To prevent muscle cell breakdown, dietary protein must supply all the essential amino acids. If your diet is missing any essential amino acids, protein synthesis will be inhibited.
Carbohydrates have a storage depot in the body called glycogen. Glycogen can be stored in the muscles and liver and then drawn upon hours or even days later when it is needed. Proteins cannot be stored in the body. There is only a very small and transient amino acid pool in the bloodstream. To maintain the optimal environment for muscle growth (positive nitrogen balance), complete proteins must be eaten with every meal. This explains the rationale behind the common bodybuilding practice of eating six protein-containing meals per day (one about every three hours.)
Protein Quality: Complete vs. Incomplete proteins
Protein isn't just found in meat, eggs and milk. There is also protein in vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. However, the protein in these foods is not considered "complete" because it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids. Generally speaking, proteins from vegetable sources are lower in quality and that's the reason they are eschewed by bodybuilders. The complete proteins are those that come from animal sources such as eggs, milk and meat.
Many grains and legumes contain substantial amounts of protein, but none provide the full array of essential amino acids. Beans, for example, are very high in protein with about 15 grams per cup, however, they are missing the essential amino acid Methionine. Similarly, grains are lacking the essential amino acid Lysine. It has been frequently pointed out that combining two incomplete sources of vegetable protein such as rice and beans provides you with the full complement of essential amino acids. This may be true, but there's a decided difference between simply meeting your minimum amino acid requirements for health and consuming the optimal quality of protein for building muscle. Combining complementary vegetable sources of protein just doesn't cut it for the serious bodybuilder.
Is "Vegetarian bodybuilder" an oxymoron?
A pure vegetarian (vegan) diet is not conducive to building muscle. One thing you will never see is a rock-hard, massive and muscular vegan. Lacto-vegetarians (those who use dairy products) and ovo-lacto-vegetarians (those who use eggs and dairy products) can build excellent physiques. Bodybuilding champion Bill Pearl is just one example. Pearl is well known for his lifelong aversion to eating meat, but he does use complete proteins from eggs or dairy products. With this semi-vegetarian approach, Pearl won the Mr. America and Mr. Universe tittles and became a legend in the bodybuilding and fitness world.
The bottom line is that you can get fit and healthy without consuming animal proteins, but unless you include eggs or dairy products, you will never develop a physique worthy of the bodybuilding stage. If a hard and muscular physique is what you're after, then heed the advice of Robert Kennedy, publisher of Muscle Mag International and author of "Rock Hard, Supernutrition for Bodybuilders:"
"The bodybuilder would be ill-advised to adopt a true vegetarian diet. You can be one of the millions who are eating less meat and more vegetables. You may even want to drop all flesh entirely. But is would be a mistake to try for pure vegetarianism. Only 3.7% of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, and of those only a fraction of 1% are purists. In the bodybuilding world of champions, that percentage is currently.... ZERO!"
Lean sources of complete proteins
Complete proteins come from animal sources including meat, eggs and dairy products. The obvious problem with animal proteins is that they also contain large amounts of saturated fat. To stay lean, bodybuilders must always keep fats in the diet low. Fortunately, fat from animal proteins can easily be avoided simply by making the correct choices. For example, use egg whites instead of egg yolks, lean meats such as turkey breast and chicken breast instead of fatty cuts of meat, and 1% low fat or non-fat dairy products instead of whole milk dairy products. These are some of the best sources of lean protein for bodybuilding purposes:
Shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, etc)
Lean red meats (top round, lean sirloin, and flank)
Nonfat or low fat dairy products
Protein powders (Whey protein, for example).
The great debate; The RDA vs. the "protein pushers"
For years a heated controversy has raged over whether or not extra protein will boost muscle development. On one side of the debate you have the conservative dietitians and medical community who stubbornly insist that the recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is all you need to develop muscle. The RDA's are the official government guidelines set by the national research council. Currently the RDA for protein is based on body weight and is set at .8 grams per kilogram of body weight (that's .36 grams per lb. of body weight). For a 172 lb. man that equates to a paltry 62 grams per day. It is important to note that the RDA's were developed for the "average" sedentary person to avoid deficiency, not for athletes in hard training to gain muscle and strength. In fact, the RDA handbook even says, "no added allowance is made for stresses encountered in daily living which can give rise to increases in urinary nitrogen output."
On the other side of the debate, you have the "protein pushers" who claim that megadoses of protein are the key to muscular growth. These high protein fanatics often suggest intakes of 300-500 grams a day or more. More often than not, the protein pushers are in some way affiliated with a supplement company and have a vested interest in selling you protein powder. In other cases, these high protein advocates may be professional bodybuilders who are taking large amounts of anabolic steroids, which can allow the body to utilize more protein than normal.
So who is right, the conservative medical and scientific community or the protein pushers? The answer is neither; the optimal intake is clearly somewhere in between the two extremes. An "optimal" protein intake for bodybuilders is still unknown at this time and will require further research, but one thing is for certain: The RDA is not enough to support the added requirements for intense bodybuilding training. Even the RDA handbook itself says, "No added allowance is made here for stresses encountered in daily living which can give rise to transient increases in urinary nitrogen output. It is assumed that the subjects of experiments forming the basis for the requirement estimates are usually exposed to the same stresses as the population generally." If bodybuilding isn't an "unusual stress" beyond what is normally encountered in daily living then I don't know what is.
What the current research says about protein and bodybuilding
Research has conclusively proven that exercise increases protein needs. Dr. Peter Lemon is the world's leading researcher on protein requirements and athletes. In the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" (19:5, S179-S190,1986) Dr. Lemon writes;
"Several types of evidence indicate that exercise causes substantial changes in protein metabolism. In fact, recent data suggests that the protein recommended dietary allowance might actually be 100% higher for individuals who exercise on a regular basis. Optimal intakes, although unknown, may be even higher, especially for individuals attempting to increase muscle mass and strength."
Dr. Lemon's most recent research published in "Nutrition Reviews," (54:S169-175, 1996) indicates that strength athletes need up to 1.8g of protein per kg. of body weight to maintain positive nitrogen balance. That's .8 grams per lb. of body weight or almost 140 grams a day for someone who weighs 172 lbs. This is very close to the long-held belief of bodybuilders that 1 gram per pound of body weight is optimal. Some studies have shown that even higher protein intakes may be necessary in hard training strength athletes. In one study of Polish weightlifters (Nutr. Metabolism 12:259-274), 5 of 10 athletes were still in negative nitrogen balance even while consuming 250% of the RDA.
So much research has been done on protein and athletes that it's amazing that so many conservative registered dietitians and medical professionals still cling to the outdated notion that the RDA for protein is sufficient for muscle growth. The biggest irony is the fact that many of these "RDA pushers" are overweight, flabby, out of shape professors, researchers or white lab coat types. I don't know about you, but I have a very hard time taking advice from "armchair experts" who don't walk the walk. After years of being criticized by the academic and scientific communities for their "excess" protein intakes, bodybuilders today have received their vindication; It is no longer a theory that protein intakes higher than the RDA are more effective for building muscle, it is now scientific fact.
Now that we've established these facts, that still leaves one burning question: How do you determine the precise amount of protein that is right for you? Read on to find out.
Protein needs by body weight: The one-gram per pound of body weight rule
For body builders, one gram per pound of body weight has been a rule of thumb for years - and it's very close to the .8 grams per pound of body weight recommended in the most recent research. However, .8 grams per pound of body weight should be considered a minimum for strength athletes and bodybuilders. When you account for factors such as biochemical individuality, varying metabolic rates and the added protein needed to accommodate for intense training and gaining muscle, adding an extra margin of .2g/lb makes sense. Under certain circumstances, one gram per pound might not even be enough, but we'll talk more about that later.
The one-gram per pound rule is the easiest and most commonly used method of calculating your daily protein requirement, but it does have drawbacks. For example, the more body fat you have, the more this method will overestimate your protein needs. It also doesn't take into account whether your goal is to gain or lose weight. Nevertheless, as long you are training regularly and you are within the normal ranges for body composition, then this simple formula is a 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 grams of 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 per meal
Protein needs as a percentage of total calories
Another way to calculate your daily protein needs is to multiply your total calorie intake for the day by the desired percentage of calories from protein. To do this, you'll need to know how many calories you're supposed to take in. There is not enough space to discuss calorie calculations in this article, but you can find all the formulas on my website in the article titled, "Calorie Calculators." For now, let it suffice to say that exercise physiologists tell us the average maintenance level is 2000-2100 calories per day for women and 2700-2900 per day for men. After you've determined your caloric maintenance level, you then adjust it up or down depending on 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 from protein. The percentage you choose must be in line with your goals, activity requirements, body type and metabolic rate. The ideal ratios may vary widely based on these factors, but as a "baseline" I recommend that 30% of your calories come from protein. That leaves 15% from fat and 55% from natural, unrefined complex carbohydrates.
The Baseline Diet:
Once you've selected the proper ratio of calories to come from protein, simply multiply the percentage of calories from protein by the total calories for the day. That will tell you how many calories should come from protein.
The final step is to divide the protein calories by four (there are four calories in each gram of protein) and that will give you how many 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 by 30%
1700 calories per day X .30% = 510 calories from protein
There are 4 calories per gram of protein
510 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 by 30%
2600 calories per day X .30% = 780 calories from protein
There are 4 calories per gram of protein
780 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% of calories from protein comes out very close to one gram per pound of body weight. However, the percentage of total calories method is more accurate because it accounts for different goals. The examples above were for someone who wanted to lose weight. Obviously your optimal caloric intake, and therefore your protein intake, will vary depending on what you want to achieve. If you want to gain weight, you're going to need more calories, and a substantial portion of those extra calories should come from protein.
Clearly, there are times when a higher protein intake is necessary. 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 your weight on 3000 calories per day. To gain weight you'll need to increase your calories. Makes sense, right? Specifically, you'd need about 3500 per day. Now let's do the math: 30% of 3500 calories is 1050 calories per day. 1050 calories divided by four calories per gram is 262 grams of protein a day. That's nearly 1.4 grams 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, there is a very logical reason for this extra protein, so stay with me for a minute. Granted, there's no scientific "proof" that high protein intakes this high will grow more muscle, but that's not the reason for the extra protein. The reason is your protein intake has to go up along with your calories in order to keep your nutrient ratios "balanced."
You need more calories to gain weight, but if you only add the extra calories from fat or carbohydrate, you would probably find yourself getting fat - and fast! As bodybuilders know all too well, excess carbohydrates, especially in the presence of a calorie surplus, can easily cause fat storage. The same goes for dietary fats. A high calorie diet with 70% of the calories from carbohydrates might be ok for a long distance runner, but chances are, a bodybuilder would get as smooth as a baby's butt eating like that!
Protein intake and low carbohydrate dieting
The second time when more protein is justified is when you are using a low carbohydrate diet. The baseline diet of 55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15% fat is without a doubt the healthiest, most balanced way to eat, and most people will lose weight on this diet, as long as calories are below maintenance. However, take a look at the diets of the world's best bodybuilders and fitness competitors and you'll discover that nearly all of them use some variation of the low carbohydrate or moderate carbohydrate diet 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 carbohydrates and leave the amounts of protein and fat right where they were. If carbohydrates are decreased substantially, the protein (and to some extent, the healthy "good" fats) must be increased correspondingly so 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 a bodybuilder wants, is it? So, to offset the drop in carbohydrates and keep your calories above "starvation level," your protein intake must be increased - sometimes to very high levels. Exactly what ratio of protein to carbohydrate you take in depends entirely on your type of metabolism and can only be determined through trial and error.
Not only does a high protein level fend off muscle loss while on low carbohydrates, but it can also speed up the fat burning process. Protein has the highest "thermic effect" of any food. That means that protein foods speed up your metabolism because your body has to work harder to digest, process and utilize this nutrient compared to fat or carbohydrate. The "thermic" effect of protein is one of the reasons that a higher protein 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 stored as body fat, but protein is less likely to be converted to fat than any other nutrient.
Protein intake for the carbohydrate sensitive or insulin resistant
A high protein, low carbohydrate diet may not be appropriate (or healthy) for year round maintenance, but there is no question that a higher protein diet makes it easier to lose body fat. One reason for this is because of the thermic effect of proteins, but another reason is the effect of moderate or low carbohydrates and high protein on insulin and blood sugar levels. Let me explain:
Some people are very "sensitive" to carbohydrates. This means that when they eat a lot of carbohydrates, they "overreact" and there is an unusually large surge in their blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin is an important anabolic hormone and is responsible for moving glucose into body cells, but too much is not a good thing. Large concentrations of insulin in the bloodstream activate fat storage enzymes and promote the movement of triglycerides in the bloodstream into fat cells for storage. Too much insulin also inhibits enzymes that promote the breakdown of stored body fat. The only solution to this problem is less carbohydrates and - you guessed it - more protein.
There are no "rules"
The one-gram per pound of bodyweight guideline is good as a general rule of thumb for bodybuilders, and the 30% of total calories guideline is even better. However, it's impossible to set hard and fast rules about protein intakes, because no single rule could possibly apply to everyone. The amount of protein you need depends on how hard you are training and on whether you want to gain, maintain, or lose bodyweight. It also depends on whether you decide to take the high carbohydrate, low fat approach or the high protein, 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 highly individual issue and you must make adjustments to your diet to account for the differences in your metabolism and your body type. If you've tried the conventional, high carbohydrate, low fat diet and it hasn't produced satisfactory results, a diet with moderate or even low carbohydrates might be the answer. If you decide to take the low carbohydrate approach, you're going to have to increase your protein to make up for the lower carbohydrates. If you don't, you'll end up losing your hard-earned muscle. You're also going to have to eat more protein if you want to gain lean body weight.
Even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom and seems excessive, it's entirely possible that you might need as much as 1.25 grams to 1.5 grams of protein per day - or more - to get optimal results.
This article is based on a combination of scientific research and my personal observations from 17 years in the sport. I'm a firm believer in the scientific method, but too often, scientists refuse to accept ideas that haven't been "properly tested," even if evidence of their effectiveness is right in front of them. Placebos, double blind studies, control groups and all that other lab rat stuff is great, but being too scientific can hold back your gains. Could it be that bodybuilders, with their high protein diets, are ahead of the science? There's no doubt that eating more protein works - just ask any successful bodybuilding champion (or just look at them for that matter!) The million-dollar question is... "How much more?"
It's a common practice for bodybuilders to increase protein exorbitantly before contests. Typically, competitive bodybuilders consume 1.25 - 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight during the off-season. Before competitions, it's not uncommon for a bodybuilder to increase the protein to as much as 1.75 - 2.0 g./lb.
In parts one and two of this series, we looked at some of the most recent protein research, which concluded that bodybuilders need about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So why is it that virtually 100% of the world's top bodybuilders take in one and a half to two times that amount? Do they know something the scientists don't?
There is very little scientific evidence that protein intake higher than .8 - 1.0 g./lb. will increase muscle growth. But wait! Before you trade your chicken and eggs whites for pasta and bagels, read on; bodybuilders don't just eat more protein because it builds more muscle (which they believe it does), they also eat a high protein diet because it helps them get ripped.
Mainstream dieticians and scientists condemn high protein diets. They argue that it is wasteful and expensive to eat so much protein because the excess will be converted into glucose and used for energy (or stored as fat if there's a calorie surplus). This is true, but in the absence of large amounts of carbohydrates, it's this conversion of protein to glucose, a process called gluconeogenesis, that helps bodybuilders get leaner. The process is "metabolically costly." In other words, you actually burn off calories and speed up your metabolism by eating too much protein.
Critics question whether this practice is healthy. More will be said about that later, but let me just get this off my chest right now before I explode: Yes, it's true! I admit it! I confess! We bodybuilders are all guilty; we eat entirely too much protein before competitions. And perhaps, if sustained for a long period of time, it might not be the healthiest of all diets. I can't argue that a diet with higher fiber content and more variety isn't healthier than one that is mostly protein.
But guess what? We do it anyway - knowingly and on purpose! We do it for a reason - because it works! This goes beyond a mere health and nutrition lecture; this is about the competitive nature of an athlete. Bodybuilders are highly competitive, and competitive athletes will do whatever it takes. They are willing to put greater strains on their bodies in order to achieve the rock-hard, dried-out look that is necessary to win.
This phenomenon is not isolated to bodybuilding. Take a look at the training regimens of any Olympic, professional or world-class athlete in any sport. You will find that extreme training or nutritional practices are par for the course. Is it "normal" to train or work out for 6 or 8 hours a day like some Olympic athletes does? Is it "normal" to run 10, 12, 15 miles a day? Is it "normal" for a wrestler to lose 20 pounds in one week to make a weight class? Is it "normal" to practice your stroke or swing for hours and hours and hours every day? Who is to judge what is healthy or what is normal anyway?
The fact is, competitive athletes are never "normal." You could easily argue that the training and preparation for any sport at a high level is "unhealthy." Competitive athletics is an extreme arena and competitive bodybuilders are the most extreme athletes of all. Putting your body under abnormal stresses and strains is part of the business.
This is not to say that you should throw all caution to the wind and adopt unhealthy nutritional practices as part of your lifestyle just for the sake of a trophy. A key distinction must be made: A pre-contest bodybuilding diet is temporary. Diets should be cycled just like training programs. Bodybuilders wouldn't train for power and strength all year round and neither should they diet the same all year round either. After the contest is over, an intelligent bodybuilder will cycle back to a much more balanced diet that contains a wide variety of foods, with more carbs and less protein.
Let me give you an illustration:
Suppose you are a male bodybuilder and you weigh 195 lbs. Your minimum protein requirement would be approximately 1 gram per pound of bodyweight or 195 grams. But remember, that's the minimum - As a bodybuilder, I'd rather err on the side of too much - I'm not waiting around for some new study to confirm what I already know from experience.
In the off-season, your baseline diet for gaining muscle should be high in calories and high in carbs. It would look something like this:
Bodyweight 195 lbs.
Protein per pound of bodyweight = 1.4 grams
55% carbs = 2090 calories = 522 grams carbs
30% protein = 1140 calories = 285 grams of protein
15% fat = 570 calories = 63 grams of fat
Now, suppose you decide to compete; you'd begin phase 1 of your contest diet simply by reducing your calories and adding in more cardio. No change is made to your nutrient ratios. This kick starts the fat burning process. If you have good genetics and you are not carb-sensitive, you might not need any other changes; you could get very lean on this diet, just from the cardio and the calorie deficit:
Bodyweight 195 lbs.
Protein per pound of bodyweight = 1.23 grams
55% carbs = 1760 calories = 440 grams carbs
30% protein = 960 calories = 240 grams of protein
15% fat = 480 = 53 grams of fat
As the show gets closer, you enter phase 2 of your contest diet; this is where you start to reduce your carbohydrate intake. You also increase your calorie deficit, but to avoid letting your calories drop into the dangerous starvation zone, you increase your protein intake. This is the phase where you will do most of your dieting and where you will lose body fat the most efficiently:
Bodyweight 190 lbs
Protein per pound of bodyweight = 1.6 grams
40% carbs = 1200 calories = 300 grams carbs
40% protein = 1200 calories = 300 grams of protein
20% fat = 600 calories = 66 grams of fat
Phase 3 is the last leg of your contest prep. At this point, you are already lean and you want to go from lean to "ripped," so you reduce your carbohydrates even further (never eliminating them completely). To avoid metabolic slowdown, you carb-up at regular intervals:
Bodyweight 181 lbs.
Protein per pound of bodyweight = 1.8 - 2.0 grams
25% carbs = 675 calories = 169 grams carbs
50-55% protein = 1350 - 1485 calories = 337 -371 grams of protein
20- 25% fat = 540 - 675 calories = 60 - 75 grams of fat
You're now ripped to shreds, you weigh 181 lbs. and all you have to do to make middleweights is lose some water a few days before the show. Your protein intake is now up to a whopping 1.8 - 2.0 g./lb./bodyweight.
1.8 to 2.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight? That's an awful lot of protein, and I know what you're thinking...
"Holy Chicken Breasts, Batman! Isn't all that protein bad for you?"
I knew this question would pop up. This "high protein is bad for you" myth never seems to go away, so let me squash this ugly bug right now once and for all.
At one time or another, you've probably heard the myth that high protein diets are bad for your kidneys; they dehydrate you and give you osteoporosis.
Well, here's the truth: It's a medical and scientific fact that except in the case of pre-existing kidney disease, there is no documented evidence that a high protein intake will cause kidney damage in a healthy kidney. In fact, there is not a single study that has been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal using adult human subjects with healthy kidneys that has shown any kidney dysfunction whatsoever as a result of consuming a high protein diet.
In the textbook, "Total Nutrition: the Only Guide You'll Ever Need," from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, the authors, Victor Herbert and Genell Shubak-Sharpe, had this to say about protein and kidney disease:
"High-protein diets have never proven to be a serious hazard for healthy people, although processing excess protein can overburden a liver or kidney's that are damaged by disease. That's why individuals with kidney or liver disease are often put on protein-restricted diets. Likewise, very high protein formulas can also be detrimental to very young or premature infants whose kidney function is not fully developed. Some nephrologists have also speculated the eating a high-protein diet throughout life may be the reason for the 'slight' decline in kidney function that usually occurs with age, but this connection is still under investigation."
What about the claim that high protein diets cause osteoporosis? In inactive people, some studies have shown that increased protein intakes lead to elevated calcium excretion. This is because high protein intakes increase the acidity of the blood, and the body must "leach" calcium from the bones to buffer the acidity. The researchers theorized that this calcium loss could lead to accelerated osteoporosis, especially in women.
While this phenomenon has been observed in sedentary individuals, there is no clearly established link between high protein intake and osteoporosis. Women with risk factors for osteoporosis should be more cautious, but if you are athletically inclined and participate in aerobic and resistance exercise, you will probably have few risk factors. Here's what Herbert and Shubak-Sharpe had to say on the subject:
"Our typical high-protein, high-meat diets have also been implicated as a factor in the development of osteoporosis, but these claims may be the results of misinterpreting scientific research. Studies have shown that adding purified protein supplements and amino-acid mixtures that have had their phosphate removed do increase excretion of calcium by the kidney in both animals and humans. However, several long-term controlled human studies carried out by Herta Spencer, M.D., at the Hines VA Medical Center in Illinois have shown that high intakes of protein from natural protein sources such as meat, which have their phosphate intact, do not significantly increase calcium loss."
A post-menopausal sedentary woman would not be well advised to go on a high protein diet, but if you're a bodybuilder, or even if you just train with weights recreationally, then you will have denser bones than someone who doesn't work out. Therefore, extra protein should not be a cause for concern.
Probably the only legitimate problem created by a high protein intake is dehydration. Metabolizing protein requires more water than protein or carbohydrates, so it is very important to consume extra water if you increase your protein intake. The standard recommendation is 8-10 8 oz glasses per day (64 - 80 oz). However, the higher your protein intake, the more water you should drink beyond the standard guideline. For bodybuilders on high protein diets, a gallon a day (124 oz) is more like it.
I sincerely hope that this article has helped to clear up some of the mystery, confusion and controversy surrounding bodybuilding and protein. If there's a single take-home lesson in all this, then here it is: Never do anything at the expense of your health, but understand this; in bodybuilding, the bottom line is the results you produce. If a diet works for you, then it works, period. So forget about what the critics, the conservatives and the textbooks say; if bigger, harder, leaner muscles are what you're after, then try increasing your protein intake using the guidelines this series has suggested. If it works, stay with it. If it doesn't, then throw it out and try something else; but you'll never know if a high protein diet will help you get leaner or build more muscle unless you give it a try.
Tom Venuto is recognized as one of the nation's leading experts on fitness and nutrition. He is a certified personal trainer, a certified strength & conditioning specialist and a nutrition expert with over twelve years of experience in the field. Tom's educational background includes a degree in exercise science and two certifications; "Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist" (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) and "Health and Fitness Instructor" from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Venuto is a published author and has written dozens of articles for bodybuilding and fitness publications. He has been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers including Ironman, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men Only, Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness, Muscle-Zine, Scoop Magazine and Steele Jungle.
Tom is also the nutrition editor for Female Muscle. He has also given seminars and lectures on fitness and nutrition to many different groups and organizations.
Tom's specialty is nutrition and he has developed individualized diet programs for over 500 people. Venuto's innovative nutrition system, called "Fitness Renaissance," is a personalized twelve-week program designed to help people optimize their metabolic rate and improve their ratio of muscle to body fat.
Tom Venuto is a natural for life competitive bodybuilder and has won numerous titles including the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York State championships. He has also served as a judge for the North American Bodybuilding Federation (NABF) and has been a featured guest poser at NABF competitions.
Tom is the general manager of Empire Fitness Clubs, a health club chain serving the New York Metropolitan area, and he is the founder and president of "Fitness Renaissance," a fitness and nutrition consulting company based in Hoboken, New Jersey.
You can contact Tom by email his address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Taken from www.ironmag.com
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