How much protein do you need?
How much protein
do you need to build muscle? The answer may surprise you, but first
a short story.
Two men volunteered
to live in an enclosed room for three months. The first man read
his favorite books and watched TV all day, ate nothing but steak
and eggs, and did not exercise. The second man consumed a varied
diet and exercised 12 hours a day using weights and a treadmill.
Question: At the end of three months, which man gained the most
The answer of
course, is the second man who exercised 12 hours a day gained
the most muscle mass. The first man, who passed the time away
by reading, watching TV, and eating steak and eggs, gained fat
tissue. So what does this mean?
It's exercise that builds
muscle, not the food we eat. A resting muscle will not grow larger
because you're consuming more protein. Although this explanation
is common sense to all of us, many still believe it's a high
protein diet that builds muscle. The fad diet industry, which
is profiting quite well, has managed to convince many people
that they need huge amounts of protein in their daily diet. Proof
lies in the millions of dollars being spent every year by consumers
on high protein products - powdered amino acid supplements, high
protein candy bars, high protein pasta, and diet books that promote
a lot of meat.
You might be
wondering, if the first man who ate a high protein, low
carbohydrate diet would have exercised for 12 hours a day like
the second man, would he have built more muscle because he was
eating more protein and exercising at the same time? The answer
again is No.
Do you need
more protein if you're trying to build muscle? The exercising muscle
needs slightly more protein than a resting muscle, approximately
5% more. The average person requires
about 40 to 70 grams of protein per day for normal functioning.
Based on 70 grams of protein, for example, if you want to start
building muscle, you'll need an extra 4 grams a day (yes, that's all), about ½ of a hamburger
patty. Because many people in this country are already consuming
three to four times more protein than needed, the recommendation
is to decrease the consumption of high protein foods because
of the fat and cholesterol that accompanies them.
And so, if you're
trying to build muscle (anaerobic) or participating in endurance
activities (aerobic), what should you eat?
In both aerobic
and anaerobic activities, the exercising muscle needs glucose
is a sugar produced in the body from carbohydrates - complex
carbohydrates, like fruit, vegetables, and grains, and simple
carbohydrates, foods made with table sugar.
The results of
studies conducted to demonstrate the effect of glucose on an
exercising muscle during aerobic events are clear. In one study,
two groups of athletes were chosen; the first group followed
a high protein, low carbohydrate diet, and the second group,
a high carbohydrate, low protein diet. The winners were the athletes
on the high carbohydrate diet who were able to exercise for a
longer time before fatigue set in. Simply put, the longer the
muscle has a steady supply of glucose, the longer it can be exercised
before lactic acid builds up and exhaustion sets in. Muscles that receive
a poor supply of glucose will fatigue more quickly.
to all of that excess protein you're eating? Protein breaks down to amino acids and then further
to nitrogen which is actually what is used as the "protein"
we speak of. The body doesn't store excess nitrogen, so what's
not used is filtered out by the kidneys and excreted into the
urine to leave
the body as waste! In
addition, a steady diet of meat, eggs, and powdered protein supplements
causes stress to the kidneys. Therefore, long-term consumption
of these foods can cause kidney damage.
You can become
dehydrated very quickly on a high protein diet for two reasons:
1-the metabolism of protein requires large amounts of water,
and 2- while excess nitrogen is being flushed out by the kidneys,
fluid is also pulled out with it. This dehydrating effect can
be seen while indulging in some of the popular high protein fad
diets that promise to deliver quick weight loss. At the end of
the week, most of the weight loss you see on the scale is due
to fluid loss; fat loss does not occur unless you decrease calories.
So, if you're involved in activities that cause a lot of sweating,
you'll want to avoid a high protein diet.
Along with high
protein foods, eggs, meat, and cheese, comes fat and cholesterol.
A lean steak, for example, is 60% saturated fat and 30% protein.
Unfortunately, like excess protein, excess fat and cholesterol
are not excreted. Instead fat is sent directly to fat tissue
where it is stored and cholesterol travels to your coronary arteries!
Did you know
that a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrate can cause
muscle deterioration? Eggs and meat contain no carbohydrate,
so a diet dominated by these foods will cause the body to break
down its own muscle tissue (this process
is called gluconeogenesis) to provide needed glucose. Therefore,
protein diet may actually cause loss of muscle, the opposite of what you may be trying to accomplish.
Approximately three to four hours prior to a sports event, eat
a meal high in complex carbohydrates and moderate in protein
and fat. This regimen provides time for the food to leave the
stomach and enter the small intestine. Here, it's broken down
to smaller components, absorbed into the body, and will be available
to the muscle as glucose while you're exercising. And be sure
to drink plenty of fluids before and during the event to help
*Note: Avoid sugared foods
and drinks immediately prior to vigorous exercise. Sugared foods
cause excess insulin to be released, resulting in low blood sugar,
and glucose to be unavailable to the exercising muscle. Once
you've engaged in strenuous exercise for one hour, sugared foods
and drinks are recommended to provide a quick source of glucose.
*Beware of dietary supplements:
Ephedra has a mild "upper" effect and can be stressful
on the heart during exercise. Click Here to learn more about Ephedra. Creatine,
a naturally produced substance in the body, is the end product
of protein metabolism and leaves the body as waste. Therefore,
taking supplements of creatine will not help to increase muscle
performance. Excess Choline can be metabolized to cancer causing
how to calculate your total protein needs for the day.
average male/female requires about 40 to 70 grams of protein
If you are
normal weight: Multiply
your weight in pounds by 0.454 to get your weight in kilograms
(kgs). Multiply this figure by 0.8 to get the total grams of
protein you'll need for the day. For example, if your weight
is 175 pounds, then 175 x 0.454 = 79.45 kgs x 0.8 = 63 grams
of protein per day. Add 5% if you're trying to build muscle:
63 grams x 0.05 = 3 grams of extra protein.
If you are more than 10 pounds overweight - Multiply your
weight in pounds by 0.454 to get your weight in kilograms (kgs).
Multiply this figure by 0.7 to get the total grams of protein
you'll need for the day. For example, if your weight is 190 pounds
but you feel you are more than 10 pounds overweight, then multiply
190 x 0.454 = 86.26 kgs x 0.7 = 60 grams of protein per day.
Add 5% if you're trying to build muscle: 60 grams x 0.05 = 3
grams of extra protein.
Note: You may want to tally
the total amount of protein you eat each day by using the Nutrition
Facts labels on packages. But remember to count the protein in
all of the food you eat including vegetables and grain products,
like bread, pasta, and cereals. Most vegetables contain 2 grams
of protein per 1/2 cooked cup. Fruit is not a source of protein.
Where do you get your nutrition
information? Most states now have licensure laws for Dietitians
and Nutritionists. Be sure your nutrition advisor is "Licensed"
by the State as a Licensed Dietitian (LD) or Licensed Nutritionist
(LN), or in states that don't have licensure laws, a Registered
Barbara Herondorf, L.D.
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