Protein is the most important nutrient when it comes to building muscle. Despite its immense importance, it is amazing how many rumors and myths are out there about how much protein you should eat and when you should eat it. Let’s set the record straight.
How much Protein?
Eating the optimal amount of protein is the most important first step. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is only 56g for men (or 0.8g/kg body weight). Many people (including nutrition professionals) incorrectly interpret this into meaning that you shouldn’t eat more than 56g of protein per day. This is false. The RDA is set at a level that will prevent a nutritional deficiency for 99% of the population. The RDA is determined to prevent deficiency, NOT optimize body composition or muscle growth.
That’s a huge distinction. When it comes to maximizing protein intake for building muscle and increasing performance, research shows that ~1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is what you need to optimize this process. There is really no benefit to eating 2 or 3 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
You may have heard about the dangers of eating a high protein diet. Nasty side effects like liver problems, weak bones, kidney damage...feel free to ignore the fear mongers that spout these statements due to their inability to read and understand scientific literature. There is no evidence that eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (or even 2g/lb) has any negative health effects. In fact, the opposite is true! Eating more protein is positive for your goals, no matter what they are.
Timing Your Protein
The next important step is to time your protein correctly. The days of always having a shaker full of whey so you can sip on it throughout the day are over. This could actually be counterproductive to your muscle building efforts. The reason is that you need to eat protein to spike your blood amino acid levels. This stimulates the muscle building process. You then need to let your blood amino acid levels fall back down (e.g. have a couple hours where you aren’t eating protein) and then eat protein again to spike your blood amino acid levels and recharge the muscle building process. The time between meals would ideally be 4 hours.
It is best that you spread your protein intake out evenly across these meals ensuring that each meal has at least 30g of protein. That is the approximate threshold for protein that you need, in order to maximize the muscle building protein synthesis stimulus. The 30g of protein mark is also the point at which you reap the satiating benefits of protein. You can eat more than 30g, but try not to eat less than 30g at each meal.
But here is one extra wrinkle. You can use free form amino acids (like in AminoLIFT or Modern BCAA+) between meals to get an extra bump in protein synthesis. Research shows that quick digesting, free form amino acids (most importantly the amino acid leucine) can be consumed sooner, every 2 hours, while providing an additional bump in protein synthesis and not interfering with the protein synthesis stimulus from your actual meals.
The best-case scenario would be that you eat a protein rich meal every 4 hours and at the 2-hour mark between these meals, have an amino acid cocktail/BCAA drink.
The Truth About Eating Protein
The information provided in this article, as well as this web-site blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice for any condition. Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. By reading this disclaimer, you hereby agree and understand that the information provided in this column is not medical advice and relying upon it shall be done at your sole risk.