More and more people are actively pursuing fitness goals.
They are working out regularly, whether at the gym, in a class, on their own at home, or with a buddy.
People want to not only get trim and manage their weight but many want to build more muscle.
They care about the foods they eat and want to be as healthy as possible.
When does health consciousness become too much?
Muscle Building Protein
One of the questions I get asked a lot whenever someone learns that I am a dietitian is how much protein do they need to eat to build more muscle.
It is often men who are trying to get ripped but also women who hope to replace body fat with lean muscle by pumping iron.
Many who ask this question are drinking one or more (or multiple) protein packed shakes a day in addition to high protein meal plans.
Protein is needed by cells throughout the body including muscles, blood, connective tissue, hair, nails, and skin. It is also needed to create enzymes to carry out cellular function. Amino acids form to create protein. They are essential to life.
Dietitians base their nutrition recommendations on science including how much, what kind, when and why we need to eat what we do for our health. Let’s see what the science says about protein needs and post-workout protein loading.
Evidence to Build Muscle
Is more protein better?
Is too much harmful?
When is it important to eat protein for rebuilding and repairing muscle?
The current literature based on research recommends we strive to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This is the dietary guideline for minimum intake in a healthy person.
Most exercise enthusiasts recommend protein in terms of pounds of body weight instead of the medical standard of kilograms therefore the minimum recommendations would be 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Example: A 170 lb. man (77.3 kg) would need approximately 62 grams of protein per day.
This recommendation is based on a normal, healthy individual in order to avoid the loss of lean muscle.
Because this is the minimum amount needed, someone who is physically active would need more protein for recovery and building of muscle tissue.
Your muscles only use a certain amount of protein at a time, estimated to be about 25-35 grams. This is the amount of protein used for skeletal muscle synthesis – repairing and building muscle.
It has also been shown that post-workout protein loading may not be necessary. Studies show that our muscles can benefit from protein eaten up to 24 hours after exercise. While one to two hours after a workout are optimal for protein synthesis, you can also see gains later.
Right now there is not sufficient evidence to say there is a magic amount that is too much or can be harmful.
Our Body’s Response to Over Intake of Protein
Research needs to continue so we know exactly how much is too much especially with someone who is working out or who has other health considerations.
People whose kidneys are compromised, such as in early stage kidney dysfunction, can put excessive strain on their kidney function if they ingest excessive amounts of protein.
The kidney filters waste from our blood and, as protein we eat is processed, more waste is created which needs to be filtered.
Another concern is failure to consume all essential nutrients. Some people who are focusing solely on the protein content of what they eat tend to push other foods out of the meal. The failure to consume more variety of foods could mean that they are missing other key and essential nutrients.
Animal based proteins eaten in large amounts can also bring along undesired elements. When increasing food sources of protein, some might think beef, they may be getting increased amounts of things they don’t want including saturated fat.
Hydration can also be negatively impacted. The more protein a person eats, the more waste byproducts they produce which requires fluid to filter. Flushing out waste products fully will need adequate amounts of fluid so drinking enough water can become a health concern.
Many people who are trying to boost their protein intake are doing it with the use of protein powders and shakes.
Some may not consider the full effect of protein from the foods they eat in addition to the protein powder and may be over-consuming to a dangerous level.
Instead of relying on protein powder to get protein in the amounts you desire, there are good plant based sources of protein that will also give you other nutrients in addition to protein.
Protein powders are usually 25 grams of protein per scoop but 6 oz. of Greek yogurt is 18 grams, 1/2 cup of black beans is 8 grams, 3 ounces of chicken is 28 grams, and 1 egg is 6 grams just to name a few.
Protein can add up more quickly than you might think depending on your portion sizes of the foods you usually eat. When you combine protein powders with food sources you may be eating more than you think (and more than you really need).
Recommendations for the Health of It
With the data we currently have, recommendations for safely increasing protein to achieve health goals such as muscle building include:
- Spreading protein intake out throughout the day is more beneficial for your muscles; don’t eat more that 25-35 grams at a time as your muscles don’t use more than that. It is best to eat that amount of protein at each meal about 4 times a day instead of supercharging with protein shakes, bars or powder in excessive amounts post-workout that could be wasted. Some suggest 20 grams of protein every 3 hours to total 4 times a day.
- Eating 20 grams of protein 1-2 hours pre-workout will also benefit your muscle building not just post-workout protein.
- Continue to include a variety of foods to get all nutrients.
- More realistic and healthy protein goal: 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5-0.8 grams/pound of body weight).
- Slowly increase your protein intake instead of quickly increasing amounts to allow time for your kidneys to adapt to higher filtration demands.
- Drink adequate amounts of fluid to keep your kidneys in good health.
How you choose food sources to get all the protein your body requires for normal activity, working out or building muscle is important for your overall health.
Eating too much protein may not be wise or even necessary. Hopefully the science will move more quickly to give us better knowledge to stay strong.
Finding a balance to eat what we need without causing harm should be our goal.