Health Fitness

How much protein do you need to build muscle?

How much protein do you need to build muscle? I think there has been disagreement on this for the last 100 years. In fact, ever since the man (or woman) first lifted a rock, he pressed it into the bench and struck a monster-sized pose, the most muscular; There has been a clash between the “eat until the protein is out of your ear” crowd and the “you don’t need any blank protein to build muscle; look at a rhino.”

When I started lifting weights, the two camps seemed best represented by Bill Pearl with the “you don’t need a lot of protein” and Vince Gironda who advocated serious protein use. Following some of what Vince suggested; I ate nothing but steak and eggs for breakfast during football season and loaded up on carbs with a ton of spaghetti on game day. It seems crazy now.

I guess I’ve followed high protein thinking pretty much my whole life. When he exercised heavily, he averaged one gram of protein per pound of body weight. I would eat between 180 and 220 grams of protein a day. Those where I didn’t exercise as much, I was still consuming about 100 grams a day. Did it work for me? Was it the high protein content that helped me put on about 210 pounds of decent muscle a few years ago (or eight)? Maybe or maybe not; I definitely couldn’t tell because I didn’t have a point of reference to guide me.

So how much protein is enough protein? That question sounds a lot like another question that asks, “How long should a man’s leg be?” An answer might be, “as long as it takes to get to the ground.” You need as much protein as you need to build muscle, for you.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that protein intake be 10% to 35% of a 2,000 calorie diet. That amount translates to a whopping 50 to 175 grams of protein. That’s a huge range and it’s not very helpful. Even among the experts, there are some question marks, or at least that’s how I interpret it being given such a wide range.

And it’s no wonder, after all; The importance of protein in everyday life, let alone building muscle, cannot be underestimated. Protein is essential for human life. Your skin, bones, muscles, and organ tissue contain protein. Proteins are also found in the blood, hormones, and enzymes.

You need protein. The question is again, how much do you need? Your body takes ingested protein and breaks it down into its amino acid components for use. The body cannot store unused protein. Any unnecessary amino acids are stripped of their nitrogen and stored as fat (or used for energy). Nitrogen elements are processed as waste by the kidney and liver. Not being an expert or a guru here, you might want to check all of this out, but I think I’m in the ballpark.

So if you only need 100 grams but eat 180 grams, guess what, the rest of the 80 grams is fat around the gut or poop. Either way, too much puts undue stress on the body. Protein isn’t a good source of energy, unless you’re a big cat roaming the Serengeti plains. Therefore, there is no incentive to eat more protein than you need. Quite the contrary, you punish your body by consuming more than you need.

But understand this, after all the thousands and thousands of years, there is still no scientific basis for thinking that a high protein intake is better for building muscle. There is no scientific justification for thinking that you need one gram of protein for every pound of body weight. There are none that I know of.

Nothing less than what appears to be common sense. Yes, your average bear needs 45 to 70 grams of protein (female and male, respectively); So wouldn’t it stand to reason that your muscle-building grizzly bear would need a lot more? The red flag, however, is that many supplement companies use this kind of reasoning to push a lot of expensive protein powders.

As for what I suggest, well, this is what I do. At almost 49 years old, I just don’t have the energy or desire to go back to being a gym rat. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in exercising or being healthy. On the contrary, with two little girls, I have a tremendous incentive to live a long life; long enough to see my little girls eventually have little girls of their own.

I follow a balanced diet with lots of vegetables and fruits. And I drink between 10 and 15 glasses of water a day. As a true carnivore, I probably easily get my 75 grams daily. But because I work out about 45 minutes every other day pretty hard, I now drink about two large glasses of milk a day. And I probably eat about 12 eggs a week, give or take. All of that probably bumps my protein intake up to an average of 110 grams a day, which I think works for me.

But it is all an inexact science. How do I know it works for me? Well, less than that; I’m hungry and I’m in a bad mood. Vince Gironda used to say that protein keeps hunger pangs away and makes you feel full. I’m going to buy that. I know that if I drink less water, I feel thirsty. Less protein and I feel cranky. Is that really a real reason to eat my 100 to 110 grams of protein? No, but it’s my way of listening to my body.

And that’s ultimately the key here, I think. You need to listen to your body. Your body will tell you if you are not consuming enough complex carbohydrates. Your body will tell you if you’re eating too much protein (increased girth will be a sign).

If nothing else, start with your baseline protein need of 75 grams and add 50%; then assess how he responds. How are your workouts? How are your energy levels and how fast are you recovering? Based on those observations, reduce or add a little more. I have talked about the 3 circles and how you should move them; well, same here.

Lastly, I no longer recommend buying tons of protein powder. Instead, I think you’d do well to drink more milk (or soy) and eat a few more eggs a day. These are quality protein sources and pennies on the dollar compared to protein powders on the market today. A quart of milk and 3 eggs will add an excellent 56 grams of protein to your diet. You need more?

Also, if you eat three balanced meals a day with about a quarter pound of meat as part of that meal; you will probably consume around 28 to 30 grams in that seat. That gives you between 80 and 90 grams a day. Now add the additional milk and eggs; that will put it in the 150 gram range. And guess what, you didn’t have to buy a super premium Nitrogen Enhanced Whey Concentrate and a super duper high proof protein powder.

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