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“How Much Protein is enough for Bodybuilding?” A unique perspective

I don’t think any question among muscle building enthusiasts has been asked more often than ‘how much protein is enough for bodybuilding.’ Since I was a teenager, I’ve heard the question asked and answered with at least a half-dozen conflicting opinions. We’ve all heard:
  • A gram per pound of bodyweight.
  • A gram per pound of “lean bodyweight.”
  • 1.5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight
  • 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight
  • 1 milligram per kilogram of “lean bodyweight.”
… and on and on; the debate is never settled.

Added to the question of ‘how much protein is enough for bodybuilding’ is the question ‘how often should you eat protein for bodybuilding?’

We’ve heard we should eat ‘every three hours.’

We’ve heard we should ‘eat every two hours’ (hardcore)

We’ve heard 4 to 6 meals per day… 6 to 8 meals per day… no fewer than 3 meals per day and you’ll be alright… and on and on…

Interestingly, I’ve made great gains with all these (now seemingly superficial) prescriptions (more about that later).

The topic of ‘how much protein is enough for bodybuilding’ gets no less confusing when those addressing it don’t take all sub-issues into account. They’ll say, for example, that you need ‘X amount’ of “protein for bodybuilding” and anything more is “a waste.” But this takes no account of the fact that many people who want to build muscle also want to lose body fat and keep it off.


Bodybuilding Meal
'Bodybuilding Meals': Eating a full meal of protein, carbs, and dietary fats might increase protein synthesis - as might eating less often than the customary 2 to 3 hour intervals.


Why is this important? Because…

  • 3.5% to 4% of calories taken in by way of dietary fat are burned by your body in digesting and processing those dietary fat calories.
  • 5% to 10% of calories taken in by way of carbohydrate foods are burned by your body in digesting and processing those carbohydrate calories.
  • 20% to 30% of calories taken in by way of protein food sources are burned by your body in digesting and processing those protein calories.

In short, protein is more “thermogenic” than carbohydrates and dietary fats. At the same time, protein is filling and can help prevent overconsumption of those other two macro-nutrients that are less thermogenic. This helps keep hunger pangs at bay when cutting calories.

The reason I’m reminding you of this is simple: When someone addresses the ‘how much protein is enough for bodybuilding’ question, the full range of protein intake benefits should be considered.

Interestingly, when it comes to gender differences in over-eating, women tend to eat too many carbohydrate calories and be deficient in their protein intake while men tend to eat plenty of protein and overload on calories from dietary fats.

“How Much Protein to Build Muscle”… and “How Often”: A Unique Perspective


An article titled ‘Protein: How much and How often’ by competitive bodybuilder Layne Norton  challenges some of what’s become orthodox knowledge in muscle building; namely, that the body needs a feeding of protein every two to three hours in order to create an anabolic environment conducive to muscle growth. Norton cites research suggesting an interlude of four hours between protein meals might actually be more stimulatory of protein synthesis and thus, more anabolic.

I’ve linked to the article, but I’ll summarize it with some takeaway bullets right here for those in a hurry:

  • The human body is extremely efficient at absorbing amino acids. Our nomadic ancestors often required surviving on one meal per day and wouldn’t have lasted long if their bodies were inefficient with nutrients.
  • The “how much protein is enough for bodybuilding” question isn’t one of how much protein/amino acids can be absorbed at a meal, but rather how much protein at a meal gives maximum benefit for muscle building.
  • The optimal level of protein at a meal and frequency of meal consumption should be determined by the level/frequency that maximally stimulates protein synthesis.
  • The amino acid leucine could be responsible for the stimulatory effect of dietary protein on protein synthesis.
  • Approximately 15 grams of ‘essential amino acids’ are required for maximizing skeletal muscle protein synthesis.
  • 15 grams of essential amino acids contain 3.2 grams of leucine.
  • To determine how much of a particular protein source you’d need for maximum protein synthesis per feeding, calculate based on how much leucine the source contains. Example: Whey protein contains 12% leucine per gram, so you’d need 27 grams of whey protein to get your 3.2 grams of leucine: 27 x .12 = 3.2. By contrast, chicken is comprised of 7.5% leucine per gram and would require a 43 grams-of-protein serving in order to get the desired amount of leucine: 43 x 7.5 = 3.2
  • Assuming maximized protein synthesis by achieving the required leucine/protein threshold at each meal, research shows that each whole food meal containing protein, carbohydrate, and fat raises protein synthesis above baseline for three hours. A whole meal seems to prolong the duration of protein synthesis. Although protein synthesis returns to baseline after three hours, plasma levels of amino acids remain elevated above baseline, and leucine is elevated almost three times above baseline.
  • Protein synthesis appears to become refractory to constantly elevated levels of amino acids.
  • Eating an additional meal between 2 to 3 hours from the previous one will be unlikely to raise the level of protein synthesis since leucine levels are already elevated at that point anyway.
  • Recent research indicates that it may be more beneficial to eat 4 to 6 larger protein meals per day and wait 4 to 5 hours between meals rather than the customary bodybuilding standard of consuming 6-8 meals per day with 2 to 3 hours time between meals.

I’ve observed anecdotal evidence from my own life that supports Norton’s findings on this topic. In my two and a half decades of training, I’ve certainly never encountered a setback in muscle building progress from allowing hunger to build with a 3 and ½ to 4 hour window to elapse between meals.  I typically eat at about the 3 1/2 hour mark and find it to be about right in terms of the hunger/satiation balance. However, the longer I wait beyond this point, the more likely I am to overeat due to hunger build-up.

I encourage you to read Layne Norton’s article and share your own experiences/opinions on the ‘how much protein is enough for bodybuilding’ topic.

Comments

scott

Hey Mass Protein,

Good job!

Do you attribute your bench press gain to the specific amount of protein you ate each day? Or the Creatine Ethyl Ester? The combination of both? Or was it the workout you used in conjunction with these two other factors?

Also, what prompted you to stop there? And are you a power lifter or bodybuilder?

These are questions relevant to readers for putting your mentioned progress into a workable context.

Personally, I've not been as impressed as you with CEE.

Thank you for posting.

Scott

Mass Protein

Last year i used the formula of 2g protein per kilo of body weight. At 104 kilos, that meant around 210g protein per day. i also started using CEE after a W/O and in 4 months (of HARD work) i went form benching 100kg to benching 140kg without gaining any fat.
4 protein shakes per day.

Protein Shakes

i go on the formula of 1.5g protein per pound of body weight

Dean Crawford

I can only speak from my own perspective and don't suggest that everyone else might be the same, but I tried every different 'level' of protein consumption and in the end rejected them all. I eat healthily and always after a work-out, but apart from that I just eat when I'm hungry. In one year of body-building I've seen perfectly steady growth with no excess fat gain ( 37 yo, 6 ft tall, 174 pounds - 20 pound gain in 12 months ).

I concede that I might possibly have grown larger had I eaten more protein, and that as one grows larger so protein consumption might need to gradually increase, but so far I consider the debate to be somewhat overhyped. Friends of mine are now commenting on my physique, asking me how long I've been working out etc, so for me at least normal protein consumption has had no ill affect on my progress.

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