There are numerous questions surrounding protein and its importance especially from those who train regularly. Not getting enough protein can be the difference between gaining muscle after a workout and not. Contrary to popular belief too much can cause weight gain and is not just dispensed as waste as many believe.
Protein has always been associated with muscle gain which often leaves men eating as much as possible while pounding the shakes and woman avoiding it as much as possible through fear of muscle gain. As a personal trainer of 10 years I have help a lot of people to reach their muscle gain or fat loss goals, it may well surprise you to hear that when it come to fat loss in woman I more am more regularly confronted with those who eat too little food rather than not enough.
All dieting queues are taken from popular held beliefs and those beliefs are being turned over faster than ever. With all of the confusion most people will turn to someone who has the physique that they wish to have for their dieting strategy.
Those that get the best results from their training will tell us how they managed to achieve their results so quickly. Unfortunately this type of feedback is anything but scientific, it is unlikely that these individuals recorded the variables in their training and even more unlikely that the only variable was protein intake.
Most cover models are not only genetically suited to rapid muscle gain and low body fat they are no doubt following a specific diet and supplement routine and training plan.
What we are left with is a case of ‘after it therefore because of it’, and we have an entire industry based on following this system. There is a great deal of research available on the subject which is very helpful in dispelling many of the myths around protein and muscle gain.
How much should I take?
Research into quantity of protein required to support muscle growth and repair comes back with a fairly wide range of 0.8-3.0g of protein per kg of lean body mass (approx weight not including fat). The lower end of this range is fine for someone who is not weight training, but those training on a regular bases have a muscle greater breakdown and require much more for muscle growth and repair. Personally I would aim for the top figure to be on the safe side, protein can also have the added bonus of making you feel fuller for longer and in turn help you to consume fewer calories in all.
How often should I eat protein?
A prevailing myth is that the body requires a constant supply of protein as it can only ingest 20-30g of protein in one sitting. A myth that has led the protein supplement industry to put approximately 20g of protein in each serving.
One experiment worth noting took a group of elderly men (70+) and took them through a 12 week course of weight lifting during which they ingested their daily requirement of protein in just one meal per day. The result was an average muscle gain of 5lbs.
It seems that it does not matter when we take on our protein requirement, it only matters that we do. Our bodies are also very adaptive so if your protein intake is particularly high your body will adapt to this. If you are not burning off excess calories it will adapt by adding more body fat. However due to the massive satiating properties of protein it is very difficult to over consume.
The body is also able to convert protein into Glucose for fuel using a process called Gluconeogenesis. Although this is not the bodies preferred fuel it does go to highlight how the body survives when carbohydrate are not available.
Its worth noting that it takes the body around 5 hours to digest a 40g protein, 75g carb and 20g fat meal. With this in mind if you were to aim to eat the recommended daily intake of protein you would be better off trying to get in 2-3 meals. Eating more frequently is just putting one meal on top of the last.
I Want to drop fat not gain muscle why do I need protein?
As I mentioned during the introduction it is really common for woman especially to boost fat loss by increasing protein intake. If fat loss is your goal then aim for 2-3g of protein per kg of body weight. It will ensure the best recovery from your training while also keeping your much fuller longer thus reducing your overall calorie intake. The biggest problem we face while in calorie deficit is maintaining muscle mass and slowing metabolic rate. Keep your protein intake high and results should come quickly.
Should I ingest protein straight after training?
Immediately post workout protein synthesis and protein breakdown are increased this pushes the body into a catabolic state. This means that the body is breaking down nutrients for use in repair. Ingesting protein at this time will push the body into an anabolic state where it will look to build and repair muscle.
What kind of growth can I expect?
Most experiments are conducted on individuals who have never lifted weights before and programmes range in quality quite greatly in my opinion. Those new to lifting will see more rapid results than those who have been training for some time. Most research experiments are conducted over a 12 week period. During this time athletes saw average growth of 5-8lbs of muscle gain.
Body builders however will be happy with growth of 10lb over a year. I would add to this that if you are not training 3-4 times a week and you are not deadlifting or squatting then you are a beginner.
In light on this new information regarding required protein intake are protein powders necessary at all? Probably not but they are very convenient. For an 80kg man looking to gain muscle you should be aiming for about 200g of protein in a day. This would require 3 large meat/fish/egg meals I personally find that a protein shake a day can take the pressure of the size of meal you are required to consume. Also with busy work/family schedules lunch can easily be missed, a protein powder can provide an easy replacement. That said, a pint of full fat milk would have exactly the same effect and a post workout shake (assuming you can tolerate it).
What other supplements work for muscle gain?
Well I have heard nothing but big things about Steroids, Olympic sprinters swear by them. Assuming legal supplements are the focus here there is only one that has ever been proven to increase muscle growth during human clinical trials and that is Creatine Monohydrate.
There are many others that aid recovery or boost performance but results in clinical trial are sketchy at best. Caffeine is perhaps the only proven pre-workout supplement.
I would recommend that you try and get your proteins from quality sources such game, grass-fed meat and wild fish as well as being better for you there is more protein per gram of food so calorific intake and digestion time will be lower. These recommendations are designed to support muscle gain and fat loss for someone who is training using compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts and bench press and training 3-4 times a week.
If you are looking to support cardiovascular exercise I would suggest aiming for the 2/3 of the recommended intake and to aim for 1g per kg of body weight if you are sedentary.