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Do We Really Need To Take Protein Supplement To Build Muscle?

February 22nd, 2010 · 4 Comments ·
 
 

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I have received many e-mails from readers asking whether they should take protein supplement.  If they do, how much protein should they consume and which brand should they go for?  I have also seen many male gym members drinking protein shakes before, during and after their workouts. Some of them, after taking so much protein for many months, body shapes remain the same.

Don’t get me wrong.  We need protein. But, I never encourage people to take too much protein, to the extent of drinking the protein shake before, during and after the workout.  Most people have overdone it.  So, in this post, let’s look into this topic and find out more.

Why You Should NOT Eat Too Much Protein?

First, carbohydrates actually is the one which provides energy for athletic performance. Professional marathon runners eat much pasta the night before an important race. Protein, one the other hand, provides little energy during exercise. Muscles rely on glycogen (the energy they use for fuel) to perform work. When you replace carbohydrate with protein in your diet, you actually have lowered muscle stores of glycogen. For that reason, a high protein and low carbohydrate diet will not provide enough glycogen for your muscles. So, you feel weak, tired, and fatigue quickly. As a result, if you are serious in building your body, you should also take in enough carbohydrates. They are used to fuel the muscles that you need to help build lean body mass. Lots of extra protein by itself will not add muscular bulk.

Second, our bodies need to convert excess protein by burning it as energy or to store it as fat. This process helps you to get rid of the nitrogen contained in amino acids (the building blocks of protein), which we urinate out. If you have to do this in high volume, you may be dehydrated causing muscle cramping. In fact, urea is a nitrogen-containing waste product that stresses on your liver as well as on kidneys.

Having said that, do weight lifter or athletes really need more protein than people who seldom exercise?

Yes. Only if you exercise regularly, you need protein for muscle growth.  Yes, let me emphasis the word “regularly”.

When I say you need protein, I do not mean that you need protein supplement or super high protein regime.

You can still get protein from natural sources.

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How Much Protein Should You Eat?
So, how much protein do you really need?

First, figure out how many calories you need. If you are not taking in enough calories, you cannot build muscle tissue efficiently. That is because your body will be burning most of your calories, not using them to repair muscle tissue. For example, take a 180 pounds guy (82 kilograms), if he is moderately active, he probably needs about 2700 calories a day (plus or minus) to maintain his weight. Besides his moderate daily activity level, he could burn about 500 calories during an hour of heavy weightlifting. If he wants to add one pound of muscle weight per week, he needs approximately 500 extra calories per day plus about 500 more to make up for the energy deficit from intense weightlifting. This makes his grand total to be around 3700 calories a day.

2700 calories for daily activity + 500 calories for 1 hour of weight training + 500 calories to build muscle = 3700 calories a day

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So how can we translate this number to his protein needs? About 0.4 grams per pound of body weight is required for average adults for normal use. This is not enough to build muscle mass for intense athletes. If you really want to build muscles with strenuous workout, your protein intake needs to be 0.7 – 0.9 gram per pound of body weight.

For 180 lb. (82 kg) person who does weight training, this would be 126 – 162 grams of protein per day. Since protein has 4 calories per gram, the total protein will have about 504 – 648 calories which is about 13 – 18 percent of his daily caloric intake of 3700 calories. The usual recommendation is about 12 – 15 percent. As you can see, in this case, 126 – 162 grams of protein is sufficient for 180 lb (82 kg) person. A huge excess of protein is not needed. Extra protein in this case may add more to the waste line than muscles.

You may go for higher amount than the one I mentioned (0.7 to 0.9 gram protein per pound of body weight). The variation depends on your age, training regimen, digestion and your goals. Some muscle magazines or bodybuilding websites also talk about at least 1 to 2 gram protein per pound. While you can believe what they claim, you must also know that these magazines or sites are in business to serve their advertisers.  And who are their major advertisers?  Supplement companies.

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Where To Get Protein?
It is easy to get enough protein from food and it is also quite easy for many people to overdo it. Here are some examples:

  • An average size of chicken breast contains about 30 grams to 60 grams of protein.
  • 3 ounce of beef contains about 30 grams of protein.
  • A cup of yogurt (200 grams) has 10 to 13 grams of protein
  • A medium size egg with only egg white gives about 4 grams of protein
  • A tablespoon of peanut butter gives 4 grams of protein.

Not that tough to get more protein, right?

Final Tips and In A Nutshell…
Eating more protein will not make your muscles grow faster. Exercising your muscles should be the way to make them grow. Many people take an easy way out – instead of working out regularly, they consume much protein shake. They should have worked out regularly, increase the resistance, change the repetitions, look at their rest and recovery period and the overall training method.

Next time if you look at those people with nicely toned body shapes with 6-pack abs, instead of just focusing only in what they eat, find out how they train – what workouts do they do and how frequent do they train.  For me, these elements are equally important, if not more important.

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As I mentioned earlier, if too much high-fat protein is taken in, and not used, gains may be seen in fat tissue rather than in muscle tissue. When this conversion from protein to fat takes place, they will look fatter and not muscular. Now, you understand why some people look more bulky even after going to gym for months.

“Protein Overloading” is not good. If you have worked out for months and tried eating natural high-protein food like eggs yet your muscles are not growing, then go ahead and consider supplements. Just remember that you should not overdo it. Opt for supplements made with soy and whey which are easily absorbed. You may hear the debate about the types of protein in different shakes or supplements, I am not going into that. The bottom line is that if you are just a novice weightlifter, you probably do not need added protein. You can get it from real foods and not processed supplements.  I got most of my protein from egg whites and chicken breasts.

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I leave it to you to decide whether you should take protein supplement.  If you are not sure, look at measurable results – your weight and body fat percentage, before and after you take it for 3 months.  Finally, before you buy a protein supplement, compare the amount of protein per serving to those high protein food. If you are getting less amount of protein from that supplement (as compared to getting them from natural egg white), you are wasting your money.

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Category: Nutrition


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4 responses so far ↓
  • sachin // Feb 23, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    yea great info
    supplements are only good for buzzy people
    if we take a proper diet we dont need any supplements

  • Imerson // Feb 28, 2010 at 9:53 PM

    Good info, thanks! I don’t take protein supplements myself, since I already have a high protein diet. Besides, I like having a toned body, but not overly bulky.

  • sandeep // Oct 9, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    i want to gain weight my weight is 52 kg and age 30 years i do regular excercise at home for 30min. can we take protein supplement to gain muscle and weight if yes which one is good their plan to take please comment

  • Mickey // Mar 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    Thanks for the advice! I’m trying to take on board what you said about needing carbs. But I have 2 questions:

    Is it a myth that, generally speaking, taking in a high number of calories late in the evening will mean I have no opportunity to burn them. And the calories will turn into fat? I do my workouts after work in the evening so I want to time my dinners effectively.

    Is it also a myth that, generally speaking, exercising before dinner will mean I burn stored energy reserves, so I won’t be able to bulk up?

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