Protein for building muscle. How much is enough?
Why does an increased protein intake make sense?
In order to build muscle effectively, an adequate intake of protein is important. These serve primarily as a building material in the muscles, but can also stimulate the body's own protein synthesis. This means that an eaten protein stimulates the synthesis of the new protein in the body after it has been consumed and at the same time can be built there itself.
In situations in which the supply of carbohydrates via blood sugar or glycogen is insufficient or fats are insufficiently available as energy carriers, proteins can also be metabolized to produce energy. However, so that the protein for the energy supply does not come from valuable muscle substance, it is important to get enough protein or free amino acids through food. In addition to intensive training, this is the best muscle protection.
Protein is therefore not only anabolic, but also, depending on the situation, anti-catabolic. Especially in a diet in which carbohydrates and fats are restricted with increasing duration, it is important to minimize protein catabolism through a high protein intake.
Although a sufficient amount of (clean) carbohydrates and fats are generally beneficial for health and performance, excess and intake from poor sources quickly become a risk factor. An overdose of proteins, on the other hand, is more difficult to achieve. They have a higher saturation factor and are metabolized less efficiently due to the increased food-induced thermogenesis. Accordingly, protein is an important “building block” in the truest sense of the word, especially in a diet.
How Much Protein Do Bodybuilders Need?
We need protein to build muscle mass, as it both increases the synthesis rate and provides the necessary amino acids. But how much is actually required to complete these two tasks?
A meta-analysis by Morton and colleagues (2018) summarized the results of a total of 49 studies that examined the relationship between protein intake and the increase in lean mass, strength and muscle cross-section. No additional benefit in building muscle mass and strength was observed above an intake of 1.6 grams per kilogram of lean muscle mass.
Before you put your whey shake aside, it should be noted that the above value is an average. As the graphic shows, there have been a large number of studies that have shown values of significantly more than two grams as the optimal intake. If you want to use your full potential, you shouldn't save unnecessarily on protein.
In a diet, athletes benefit from increased protein intake to protect valuable muscle protein. In addition, as mentioned, protein is irreplaceable due to the degree of satiety and thermogenesis of eating behavior during a diet. But can too much protein be harmful to your health?
In general, it can be said that the frequently cited two grams per kilogram of body weight are not a problem for healthy people. If you consume more protein over the long term, you should pay attention to the blood values of the kidneys and possible digestive problems. In science, however, there is a multitude of indications that the digestion of proteins can be trained. Bodybuilders and fitness athletes in particular who have been on the iron for many years will certainly be able to confirm this from practical experience.
Attention to the protein quality!
Proteins of low biological value can also be insufficient in large quantities. If individual amino acids are missing, the body has to synthesize them or can even use the protein insufficiently. Correspondingly, this also means that good protein sources are sufficient in smaller quantities to meet the demand. If you have problems consuming larger amounts of protein, you should use a protein powder with a particularly high proportion of essential amino acids.
While athletes who rely on meat, fish and eggs in their protein intake combine high-quality protein sources, people who follow a vegan diet in particular have to pay particular attention to their protein intake. In this case, an increased protein intake can make sense to prevent a lack of individual amino acids.
So, how much protein do you need?
For building strength and muscle mass, an average of 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass is sufficient. However, it makes sense to increase your protein intake, especially with intensive dumbbell training or during diet phases. With a sufficient intake of fluids, there is no argument against two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or even more at times.
In addition, you should pay attention to the quality of your protein sources. Essential amino acids are an important criterion that can be a limiting factor, especially with vegan protein. In these cases, you should orientate yourself more towards the upper limits of protein intake if you want to achieve optimal results in training.