Hopefully after reading Part 1 of this article series you’ve started to include more protein into your daily diet especially since you now know that it is completely safe and beneficial. Organizations such as The American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine even support the consumption of a higher protein intake for regularly active folks in the range of 1.2-1.7 g/kg of bodyweight (0.5-0.8 g/lb of bodyweight) . Basically, if you want to get one step closer to becoming better, faster, and stronger you need to be consuming ample amounts of protein. No one really knows how much protein an individual needs but it’s definitely great to set a goal number in grams as a daily target. It’s actually fun because it becomes sort of like a game of filling in the gaps knowing you have to hit X amount of grams but I digress.
Allow me to simplify things by giving you ranges to work with based upon your particular fitness goal. By now you should have some sort of idea of what it is you’re doing to better your health if not your aesthetics. To spare confusion, most people will want to do one of three things with their body composition: lose weight/fat (there’s a difference), maintain the same weight but maybe performing a recomposition in terms of trading body fat for lean tissue (varies with training status), and weight gain (lets assume you’re wanting lean gains and minimal gains in body fat).
Losing Body Fat
Remember in order to lose weight/body fat, you MUST create a caloric deficit through diet, exercise, or both. This is the law of physics and if anyone tells you calories don’t count then they likely do not fully understand energy balance and thermodynamics. Saying calories don’t count is like denying the laws of gravity exist.
There are a few other very good reasons you’ll want to pack on the protein while dieting such as keeping your hunger under control. Many people fail to maintain a chronic energy deficit due to giving in to temptations of hunger or sheer gluttony. Consuming more protein at every meal will provide a more satiating effect which is critical after prolonged periods of dieting. To add to that, protein has a higher thermic effect (TEF) than carbs and fat, respectively . This means that more energy is required to breakdown protein so you actually end up eating less food and burning more of the food you eat. The TEF of protein is about 20-30% which means you’re only getting roughly 3 calories per gram of protein instead of the usual 4. This can easily add up through the day and week to week.
Since you’re in a calorie restricted state, the human body is more likely to break down muscle at higher rates meaning your protein needs increase to prevent muscle loss (and potential strength losses) [3,7]. This is absolutely paramount if you’re an athlete or figure competitor. Multiple studies [3-8] have confirmed that maintaining a higher protein intake while dieting aids in preventing muscle loss and prevents weight regain with some even reporting greater losses in body fat when compared to a group that consumed less protein but was matched for total daily calories. In a very recent review written by Eric Helms, MS, CSCS, it was concluded that “Protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g/kg of fat-free mass scaled upwards with severity of caloric restriction and leanness .” That basically means that the leaner you get and the more severe the caloric restriction, you should probably consume closer towards 3.1g/kg of protein. For those of you that are metric system challenged, that range equates to approx 1.05g/lb up to 1.41g/lb of bodyweight while dieting down. This is of course already assuming you are very lean. Again, heavier individuals should aim for protein amounts based off of target bodyweight.
Maintenance & Weight Gain
Unless you’re an athlete, whether it be professional or recreational, you’re likely not one of those individuals that wants to intentionally put on weight. Now when I say putting on weight , I’m not referring to how Oprah Winfrey puts on weight but more for the purpose of making lean gains. Some will do it purely for aesthetics such as bodybuilders. Others may do it for competition to make a certain weight class.
When intentionally gaining weight regardless of why, more often than not you’ll want to add the least amount of body fat as possible while adding the most lean tissue you can during your caloric surplus. Just like dieting down, results won’t happen over night meaning you’ll have to strategically add in calories in the right amounts and be PATIENT and CONSISTENT. Some individuals will do anything and eat everything in sight to gain weight but jeopardize their body comp by adding too much body fat. I’m guilty of this myself from my personal experience of eating whatever and downing weight gainer shakes at the cost of adding unwanted amounts of body fat. Similar to weight loss and also depending on your current body composition, aim for slow weight gain of 0.5-1.5lbs per week. I’d also strongly suggest taking weekly body fat percentage and circumference measurements to monitor progress making sure to keep all the conditions the exact same.
Oppositely of a caloric deficit, carbs will make up the largest portion of your total daily calories and macronutrients meaning there is much less emphasis on protein. Yes, less protein is required during a phase of weight gain due to less protein oxidation from the surplus in calories . When the body is spending less time oxidizing protein, it can build new lean tissue more efficiently . Don’t get me wrong, protein is very important if you are physically active and regularly weight training BUT more is not always better in this case, nor is it efficient in terms of adding pounds (or kilos) to the scale. The increase in carbs not only helps to increase total work volume in the gym and on the field but also serves as a natural anabolic catalyst for muscle growth in combination with protein due to the increase in muscle glycogen stores . For you low carb advocates, try obtaining lean gains on a low carb diet and let me know how far that gets you.
If you’re interested in maintaining or gaining weight, i’ll already assume you are fairly lean. So how much protein do you need? I’d suggest keeping it closer to one gram per pound of bodyweight as opposed to the higher end when dieting down. This should be plenty to support recovery and stimulate new muscle growth.
- Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine. “Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance.” J Am Diet Assoc. (2009)
- Tappy L. “Thermic effect of food and sympathetic nervous system activity in humans.” Reprod Nutr Dev. 1996; 36 (4): 391-7.
- Mettler S et al. “Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 2010; 42 (2): 326-337.
- Frestedt JL et al. “A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study.” Nutr Metab 2008; 5: 8.
- Westerterp-Plantenga MS. “The significance of protein in food intake and body weight regulation.” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2003; 6 (6): 635-638.
- Leidy HJ, et al. “Higher protein intake preserves lean mass and satiety with weight loss in pre-obese and obese women.” Obesity (Silver Spring). (2007)
- Pikosky MA, et al. “Increased protein maintains nitrogen balance during exercise-induced energy deficit.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2008)
- Helms, Eric R., Caryn Zinn, David S. Rowlands, and Scott R. Brown. “A Systematic Review of Dietary Protein During Caloric Restriction in Resistance Trained Lean Athletes: A Case for Higher Intakes.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2013): n. pag. PubMed. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24092765>
- Frank, Kurtis, and Sol Orwell. “The Protein Bible: Part 3 – Protein Requirements for Goals.” Schwarzenegger.com. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 31 July 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013. <http://www.schwarzenegger.com/fitness/post/The-Protein-Bible-Part-3-Protein-Requirements-for-Goals>.
- McDonald, Lyle. “Muscle Growth and Post-Workout Nutrition.” Body Recomposition. N.p., Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. <http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/muscle-growth-and-pos-workout-nutrition.html>.