The moment you decided to change your body composition whether by loosing weight, building strong muscles or both… you are no longer considered an average sedentary person! Therefore the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein that represents a bare minimum may not be sufficient enough to support your fitness goals. Remember if there aren’t enough bricks then you can’t build the house!
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests consuming 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram or 0.35 grams per pound of body weight daily to general population (1). This is an adequate amount of protein to support all vital processes in a healthy body. Remember, amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are involved in almost every aspect of body functioning from cells structure to wound healing. And even if you happened to consume less protein one day your body will make sure you eat a little extra the day after. How? You’ll crave protein rich foods like meat, eggs, fish, seafood or even beans if you are vegan or vegetarian! The body turns on its compensatory mechanism to achieve the needed balance and restore the missing essential nutrients – amino acids (2).
Now let’s talk about YOU and not about an average person the statistics are based on. Just imaging, you are or about to engage into a regular fitness regimen of 2-3+ strength workouts a week and maybe some cardio in addition to that. You’ve set a goal to transform your body so you are more likely to fall into one of the two camps:
- You want to loose weight and tone up
- You want to build muscles to a certain degree
No matter which group you’ve placed yourself into; some form of strength training will be a significant part of your fitness routine on a weekly basis. What’s the goal of strength training? Oh…where do I start! Let’s name a few major ones:
- make you healthier
- make you stronger
- build/tone up muscles
- CREATE FAVOURABLE PHYSIOLOGICAL CONDITIONS FOR FATLOSS AND BODY WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
In order to achieve at least one (but better all) of these goals your strength training workout should be challenging. And by saying “challenging” exercise physiologists mean that with each exercise bout you should achieve a level of muscle fatigue at which no additional repetition could be done (3). Different approaches to training may be used but this rule stays the same no matter which aspect of strength training you are trying to improve.
Ok, let’s say you completed that well designed weight training workout. Some of your muscle tissues got damaged which was totally normal and expected. According to general adaptation syndrome (3) your body will respond to a stress of physical exercise by repairing damaged muscle fibers. But the body won’t just repair what was broken! It’ll make sure you can handle that kind of a “stress” better and with less effort next time. Therefore rebuilt muscle fibers will be larger in size (fiber hypertrophy), or in number (fiber hyperplasia), or both (3). Such process is called supercompensation in the athletic and fitness world (4).
The only material our bodies can use to repair muscles is amino acids. Since amino acids can’t be stored in large amounts like fats and carbs do, we often don’t have enough “building blocks” to repair the muscle properly or the body does this repair at an expense of “breaking” other muscle fibers (5). In this scenario the positive outcomes of strength training can be completely diminished! So all the hard work will result in minimum or no gains at all… The only way to provide our bodies with additional amino acids to ensure muscle recovery and growth is through dietary proteins. Put it simple – a physically active person that has a goal of changing his/her body composition has to consume more protein than a non-active individual.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend the following protein intake based on body weight (2)(6):
- 1.6 to 1.7 grams/kilogram a day for people who do resistance training on a regular basis
- 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram a day for people training for a running or cycling event
Natural bodybuilders are known to consume even larger amounts of protein. Recent research overview of scientific literature relevant to competition preparation reveals “most but not all bodybuilders will respond best to consuming 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein” (7).
At last, let’s clear the question about high protein intake and potential kidney damage. Many studies observed kidney function of well-trained athletes and bodybuilders who are known for their extremely high protein consumption over the years and concluded no impair of renal function.
“Although excessive protein intake remains a health concern in individuals with pre-existing renal disease, the literature lacks significant research demonstrating a link between protein intake and the initiation or progression of renal disease in healthy individuals. More importantly, evidence suggests that protein-induced changes in renal function are likely a normal adaptative mechanism well within the functional limits of a healthy kidney.”(9)
While this information load may seem to be a little (or a lot!) overwhelming, take a deep breath…and make one step at the time.
- First, evaluate your present protein intake. You don’t know anything until you calculate so please don’t skip this step! A variety of food logging apps is available on the market at the moment. Please choose the one with large food database and MACROS (protein, carbs, fats) calculator. Log everything you eat and drink for about a week and check an average amount of protein you consume daily. This will be your starting point.
- Evaluate your training load. If you are doing at least 2-3 resistance training sessions and some cardio in addition to that weekly, then you can definitely benefit from increased protein intake. If you are only an occasional gym goer then increase in dietary protein isn’t necessary. In any case it may still work to your advantage when you are on a calorie-restricted diet.
- If your training load is sufficient, increase your protein intake to 1.2- 1.4 grams/kilogram a day first. Let your body adjust to it for a week or two.
- Increase protein intake to 1.6 – 1.7 grams/kilogram a day if you are doing intense strength training 2-3+ times a week. Some fitness professionals suggest that 1.5 grams/kilogram is the upper limit for women, while male bodybuilders may consume up to 2.5-3 grams/kilogram a day.
- Choose lean sources of protein! You should not compromise other aspects of healthy nutrition principles in order to increase your protein consumption. Red meat can’t be your primary source of protein on a daily basis. Opt for lean sources such as eggs (egg whites), skinless poultry, fish, seafood, yogurt and plant-based proteins. At some point it will be reasonable to include protein powders into your diet because they provide you with at least 20-25 grams of protein per serving and are usually low in carbs. Remember! You cannot rely solely on protein shakes in meeting your daily protein needs. They are a good supplements but NOT a substitution!
After all, don’t underestimate the importance of proper nutrition! It should support your goals not sabotage them.
There are a few more articles that can expand your knowledge and help you understand some key things about proteins & fitness:
- Weight Training for Women: Why You Should Put Your Fears Aside
- Light Weights and Steady Pace Cardio Won’t “Tone Up” Your Body
- Proteins in Your Diet: Choose Lean Sources and Include Them in Every Meal
- Nutritional Philosophy
P.S. If you find this article helpful then you probably have a couple more people in mind who can really benefit from it too… Share it! This would mean so much for us:)
P.P.S. We’ve done our research so you don’t have to! Feel free to learn more about this topic from the sources that were used. As you see, we only trust academic and accredited institutions’ materials.
(1) Journel, M., Chaumontet, C., Darcel, N., Fromentin, G., & Tomé, D. (2012). Brain Responses to High-Protein Diets. Advances in Nutrition, 3(3), 322–329. http://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.002071
(2) American College of Sport Medicine. (n.d.). PROTEIN INTAKE FOR OPTIMAL MUSCLE MAINTENANCE [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved April 4, 2016, from http://www.acsm.org
(3) Bryant, C. X., & Green, D. J. (2010). ACE Personal trainer manual: The ultimate resource for fitness professionals (4th ed.). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise. p.321
(4) Gambetta, V. (2007). Athletic development: The art & science of functional sports conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
(5)Skolnik, H., & Chernus, A. (2010). Nutrient timing for peak performance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
(6) Caspero, A. (2014, December 10). Protein and the Athlete – How Much Do You Need? Retrieved April 04, 2016, from http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete
(7) Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11, 20. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
(8)Manninen, A. H. (2005). High-protein diets are not hazardous for the healthy kidneys. Retrieved April 04, 2016, from http://ndt.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/3/657.full
(9) Martin, W. F., Armstrong, L. E., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2005). Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2, 25. http://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-2-25