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The topic that most novice lifters ask is ‘how much protein should I ingest daily to gain mass?”  The answer to this question comes in many forms and from multiple sources.  But who is correct?

A quick Google Search of “Protein intake for muscle building” retrieved these answers (the first five search hits):

  1. 2.75 grams per kilogram of body weight
  2. 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight
  3. 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight
  4. 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight
  5. 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight

SO if I was to make a general conclusion based on what I had found, the answer would be pretty clear.  I would need to consume 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight to gain muscle.  Right?

Wrong.

Protein Breakdown and Synthesis

When one performs resistance training, they cause minor destruction of their muscle tissue.  This destruction of muscle tissue signals repair and hypertrophy so that the next time it is used, it can withstand destruction.  This constant breakdown and overcompensation with hypertrophy (also known as protein synthesis) is what people see as muscle growth.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein molecules which make up our muscles.  To increase our lean body mass, we need to perform resistance exercise to stress the system and cause minor damage.  Our body will automatically repair and increase the tissues strength provided there is sufficient building blocks available to do so.  Where do we get these building blocks? Our diet.

But here is the catch – do we actually need to eat about 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight? For a person who weighs 200 lbs, that is approximately 200 grams of protein, the equivalent of 6 chicken breasts worth of protein!

Science’s Answer

In a review written PhD Stuart Philips, he outlines the findings of many studies trying to find the answer.  Below is one of his figures dictating the results.

1-s2.0-S0899900704001005-gr4

Positive nitrogen balance, in its simplistic form, means that you are consuming more protein for energy or storing it in the form of triglycerides or as glycogen and excreting the nitrogen waste product.  Therefore the extra protein is a waste since it does not get used for what you want it to be used for – muscle building.  Alternatively, if you are in a negative nitrogen balance, then the body is breaking down protein from endogenous stores (ie: muscle) to maintain energy balance – a bad response if you wish to gain mass.

Daily Protein Intake

The true definition of a Registered Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the daily dietary intake considered enough to meet the requirements of 97.5% of the population.  Therefore for sedentary adults, the RDA for protein that will allow for 97.5% of the population to be in nitrogen balance is approximately .7 grams per kilogram.

Using the figure above, it is clear to see that the best amount of protein to consume daily is approximately 1.3-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.  This is a safe bet to ensure positive nitrogen balance for 97.5% of the population who wish to gain mass.  Eating any more than this would be useless and you would be throwing your money down the toilet – literally.

Too Much Protein?

As of yet, there has been little evident to suggest that too much protein is bad for you, however that does not imply that high protein diets are safe.  Reports have been circulating that high protein diets can lead to kidney or liver problems.  Therefore, by eating 1.3-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, you will be sure to stay clear of harmful side effects and gain mass at a constant rate!

References:

Philips, SM (2004). 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