You know you need lots, but why and how much?
In the UK, the RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) for protein in men aged 19-50 is 55.5 grams per day. This, they say, is more than enough for 97% of men in this age bracket. Thank God, then, that most bodybuilders know that this is nowhere near enough protein for the average hardcore bodybuilder.
Why we need more protein?
First things first – why is it that for the average individual 55 grams is enough yet for the average bodybuilder it isn’t? The answer is that we bodybuilders consume more amino acids (the building blocks of protein) than average (as we burn them up whilst training, especially branch chain amino acids), we need more to repair the damage our training causes to our muscles and we use up more protein by incorporating them into our muscles as we grow.
Quite simply – our requirements are higher because protein is a fundamental building block of our endeavors in the gym. Without adequate protein, in our diet, our bodies are limited to how much they can repair and enlarge (hypertrophy) our muscles.
By not consuming enough protein we will seriously affect the results we will get from our weight training. It might mean it takes you twice as long to gain an extra inch on your biceps or if your deficit is really high then you might not grow at all, despite working out like an animal in the gym. Nightmare or what.
How much protein do we need?
This is where things start to get a little tricky. We’re all so different, and all lead completely differently lifestyles – some of us are more active outside of bodybuilding – and even the amount of weight training we do is different. These things all affect how much protein we need to ensure growth isn’t affected at all.
Most experts recommend that us bodybuilders get at least a gram per pound bodyweight per day. I.e. if you weight 200 pounds then consume at least 200 grams of good quality protein per day.
In my opinion, backed by twenty years experience and a Nutrition, Physiology and Biochemistry degree, I would say that the one gram per pound per day figure is a great starting point for you to begin from. If you aren’t eating this much, increase it to this figure (protein drinks and bars are a great way of increasing your intake) and then monitor over a period of a few weeks your bodybuilding progress – whether your weights are going up in the gym and your bodyweight / physique is improving.
If not, increase the protein more – though only after you check the other factors that could be affecting your progress, such as overall calorie intake (if it’s too low you won’t grow), water intake (get lots and lots!), activity levels outside the gym (too much will affect your results) and your sleep, rest and stress levels. If all these are fine then increase your protein intake and go from there.
What foods should we eat?
Luckily for us bodybuilders, there are lots of great ways to eat high-quality protein. Most meats (avoid really fatty ones if possible such as pork), fish, milk, and dairy products, eggs, soya protein are fantastic sources and come in enough variety that if you work at it, you can have an incredibly varied and interesting diet whilst still consuming large quantities of protein.
If you find, however, that you aren’t getting enough protein from your normal food then don’t hesitate to take protein drinks – one to three a day (smaller and more frequent is much better than large, infrequent drinks which can cause stomach upsets). Aim for a good brand such as Met-Rx so that you can feel confident that the powder matches what they list as ingredients. A whey-based powder is great for most circumstances (lower fat versions are available if you are dieting).
I recommend that you take a protein / carbohydrate mix powder drink after each workout and this can easily be incorporated into your one gram per pound body weight per day regime. Indeed, in my opinion, it’s the most important part of your daily diet – do not miss eating immediately after a workout – ever!
Your protein intake is of prime importance to your bodybuilding results – if you don’t consume enough you will not grow as quickly – or at all – as you could if you eat enough. This cannot be emphasized enough – all your hard work in the gym will be for nothing if you do not concentrate on your diet and get enough protein.