Whether you love it in steak form or frequently chug it down in shakes after your workouts, protein is one of those ingredients that seems to be popping up everywhere we look. While most of us have a good general idea that protein is good and necessary for muscle growth, there’s still a surprising amount of confusion, miscommunication and bro science surrounding this macronutrient. As an authority of all things protein, we’re going to answer some of the most common questions and bust some myths regarding protein.
1. How Much Protein Should I Be Consuming Per Day?
How much protein you consume is by far one of the most common questions regarding protein. A lot of numbers and figures are thrown around including 2g per kg of body weight or 1g per lb (pound) of body weight. Both figures are commonly quoted thanks to its ease of measurement, but are on the upper ends of what you really need.
Regardless of whether you’re a trainer or not, 0.8g/kg of bodyweight of protein is definitely required. If you’re serious about training and gaining muscle, ramp that up to 1.5-1.8g/kg. Anything higher and you’re most likely just breaking that protein down. The only exception is during a severe cutting phase or a rapid weight loss period, in which you might need a bit extra to help preserve muscle mass.
2. Can You Only Digest & Use 30g of Protein at a Time?
No to the digestion part. Your digestive system is working all the time and whatever you feed it, it will digest. If you eat 100g of protein at a single sitting, your body will digest that. Your body may use all of that protein, but chances are, a lot of it will be oxidised and some of it may be stored. The background behind this concept is vague, but there is research that suggests that muscle building processes are maximised at about 20-30g of protein.
This has led to the idea that one should consume 20-30g of protein multiple times a day to maximise muscle protein synthesis. The only problem there is for people who are bulking and who might be consuming over 3000 to 4000 calories a day. If you consumed 6 x 30g serves of protein, that’s only 720 calories. Making up the rest of those calorie requirements with fats and carbohydrates may just negatively affect your body composition. This is why you should generally base your protein intake on percentage of calories required rather than absolute figures.
3. How Many Times Should I Take Protein Shakes to Build Muscle?
This really depends on how much protein you’re having throughout the day. As mentioned in point one, you need an adequate amount to help support muscle building. Most people will get enough through food, but having a protein hit around workout times can boost the results over those who don’t. Ideally, you’d want a protein before and after training, but if you feel as if you’re consuming enough throughout the day and/or want to save some money, one shake after training should suffice. If you’re trying to bulk and using mass gainers, base the amount of protein shakes you have on two things:
- Your overall diet
- How fast you’re gaining weight
A good general rule of mass gainers is to increase by half to a full serve if you feel as though you’re not gaining weight fast enough.
4. Is Having a Higher Protein Diet Harmful?
There has long been thoughts that higher protein diets may be harmful and can impact negatively on specific organ function such as the kidney and the liver. In addition, some people suggest that higher protein intakes might lead to more acne, anger, hair loss and even bone detriments. However, there is very little research to show that any of these things happen. When it comes down to it, unless your actually experiencing serious medical conditions such as chronic kidney disease, there is no need to restrict your protein intake or be worried about having too much protein.
Of course, increasing your protein intake will impact your calorie count, and some of the excess might be stored as fat. Another issue of concern is that higher protein intakes might cause some gastrointestinal discomfort including bloating, cramping, flatulence, gas and possible diarrhoea. If you do start experiencing these symptoms, try to reduce your intake, but it might not be indicative of a protein issue and might be a reaction to another ingredient such as a flavour or sweetener.
5. What is the Best Protein?
If you’re talking about food sources of protein, there really isn’t a ‘best’ protein per se. Of course, meats, fish and dairy offer complete sources of protein and are generally higher in protein if compared gram for gram to plant sources of protein. However, grains, vegetables and fruits all provide important nutrients that aren’t found in meat. Ideally, you should make up your protein requirements through a variety of foods.
In terms of supplements, blended proteins are perhaps the best type, suitable for almost every trainer. They typically contain blends of whey proteins, casein proteins and some other types such as egg. Plant proteins supplements such as soy or pea are still as good. They might digest slightly slower, but nothing significant. The best protein depends on your needs and will be based on your diet and training. If you’re unsure of what you should get, don’t be afraid to ask your supplement experts.1. Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38.
2. Moore DR, Robinson MJ, Fry JL, Tang JE, Glover EI, Wilkinson SB, Prior T, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. ‘Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men.’ Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):161-8.
3. Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D. ‘A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects.’ J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Sep;109(9):1582-6.
4. Tipton, K.D., B.B. Rasmussen, S.L. Miller, S.E. Wolf, S.K. Owens-Stovall, B.E. Petrini, and R.R. Wolfe. 'Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise'. Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab. 2001. 281:E197-E206