While the nutrition world is filled with contradictions, there’s one thing all experts agree on: getting enough protein is crucial for optimal health and body composition.
Protein helps with the formation of bones, skin, muscle, and various other tissues. Besides, eating enough of it is essential for the production of hormones and enzymes.
Quite important stuff, that protein. But how much do you need each day?
The amount increases to 1.0, 1.3, and 1.6 grams per kg of body weight for individuals engaging in some, moderate, and intensive physical activity, respectively.
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Why We Should Care About Protein
Protein is a macronutrient that sits center-stage in diverse health-related areas. These include:
- Repair and maintenance: Many tissues such as your bones, skin, and muscles are mainly made of protein. In these tissues, proteins are continually being built up and broken down. We call this the protein turnover rate. To maintain the quality and quantity of those tissues, you must consume enough of this macro.
- Enzymes: Most enzymes are made of protein. They perform a wide variety of functions, including signal transduction and cell regulation.
- Hormones: Those are molecules your body uses for communication, for example between organs. Many are made up of protein, and we call those “peptide hormones.” The best-known one is insulin, which allows your body to use glucose for energy.
- Transportation: A transport protein is one that moves other materials within your body. Hemoglobin is such a protein, carrying oxygen through your bloodstream to your body cells.
Protein deficiency can lead to the exact opposite of what we stated above: it saps bone strength, impairs skin quality, and hampers muscular power.
On top of that, it interferes with hormone production, the work of transport proteins, and enzyme levels. This, in turn, can lead to anemia, edema, and inadequate immunity.
How Protein Help for Fat Loss
When it comes to losing fat, getting enough protein is one of the easiest – and tastiest – ways to get the job done. Why’s that? Because protein is the most satiating macronutrient .
- You will lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn.
- You will gain weight if you consume more calories than you burn.
To grasp the calorie-reducing power of protein, consider a study from the University of Seattle . As part of it, the researchers increased the protein intake of their subjects from 15% to 30% of their daily calorie count.
As a result, their daily energy consumption dropped by an average of 441 calories. This caused an average weight loss of 12 pounds in 11 weeks!
Impressive results, right? And all it took was eating more protein! But why is protein so satiating? Because it raises the level of satiety hormones, including Peptide YY, GLP-1, and cholecystokinin [11–13]. In addition, protein suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin .
But that’s not all. Besides helping you lose weight, getting enough protein also ensures that it comes at the expense of actual fat mass (not muscle tissue, as is the case with many “get ripped now” crash diets).
The reason is that protein prevents muscle loss while you diet . This not only makes certain that your sex appeal remains intact, but it also keeps your metabolism in full gear. The explanation is that the more muscle mass you carry, the higher your metabolic rate is .
How Much Protein to Shed Fat?
As we’ve seen, getting enough protein supports your fat loss efforts. It helps you hold onto muscle mass and keep your hunger in check. But this doesn’t mean that more is better. There’s one very compelling reason why you shouldn’t over-consume protein.
If you eat too much of it on a fat loss plan, there won’t be enough room left for carbs and fat. This, in turn, can negatively affect your health, performance, and results.
Here’s what to do:
(This number is based on lean body mass. It represents your body weight minus your fat mass. So, if you weigh 80 kg and your body fat percentage is 20%, you have a lean body mass of 64 kg. In case you’re unsure, this calculator will help you determine your lean body mass: [https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/lbm_calculator.htm].)
So, if your lean body mass is 64 kg, get between 147 and 198 grams of protein per day. If you have much body fat to lose, the lower end of the range is enough. In case you’re already fairly lean, go for the higher end of the range . That’s because lean individuals need more protein to prevent muscle loss when shedding fat.
How Protein Help for Gaining Muscle
You often hear protein called the be-all and end-all solution for gaining muscle. Hence, take away the protein from bodybuilders, and they’ll get the mood swings of a pubescent girl whose iPhone has gone kaput.
And it makes sense. Well, not the mood swings part, the one about the importance of protein for muscle gain. After all, protein balance is what muscle growth is all about :
- If your body builds up more protein than it breaks down, you gain muscle.
- If your body breaks down more protein than it builds up, you lose muscle.
Therefore, it is crucial to get enough protein. It helps you build strength and muscle mass . But how much do you need?
How Much Protein to Build Muscle?
If you flip open a bodybuilding magazine, you’ll get bombarded with claims that you must eat truckloads of protein to gain new muscle mass.
But do you really need such hefty amounts of protein? Or will this strip your bones of calcium and cause your kidneys to explode?
First off, protein in large quantities isn’t damaging to your kidneys. There is zero evidence to suggest this is true. And when it comes to your bones, research has shown that protein does not harm but actually strengthens them .
So, how much protein do you need to optimize muscle growth? That’s a question recently tackled by some of the world’s best fitness researchers, including Brad Schoenfeld, Eric Helms, Menno Henselmans, and Alan Aragon.
They did a meta-analysis, looking at data from 49 studies with a total of 1,863 participants. What they found is that the strength and muscle-gaining benefits dry off at exactly 1.6 grams of protein daily per kg of body weight . Anything beyond that does not lead to faster gains.
So, you need much less protein to gain muscle compared to what you’ll require if want to lose fat. This makes sense. After all, your body has more nutrients available because of the higher calorie intake.
Here’s what to do:
If you’re used to consuming the ridiculous amounts touted in bodybuilding magazines, then this number may seem low. Well, you can go higher, but it doesn’t have any added benefits for building muscle. This is shown by many studies on subjects ranging from regular gym-goers to hard-training bodybuilders [25–27].
The Truth About Protein Timing
Timing is everything, or at least that’s what many bodybuilders claim. They believe that consuming specific nutrients at the right time helps you shed fat and build muscle.
That’s why many trainees gulp down a protein shake the minute they finish their workout. In other words, they rush to take advantage of the “anabolic window.”
But is it really necessary to do that? Or is scheduling protein around your workouts a myth?
Well, if we look at scientific data, we see that nutrient timing isn’t as critical as often claimed. Here’s what scientist Eric Helms and his colleagues concluded in a review study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition :